Brands can be seen in a number of different lights - as guarantees, as relationships, as personalities, as an image, as a set of values. These capture different ways in which consumers react and think of brands. In some cases consumers will have no view of your brand, in others they will queue for 24hrs to get your latest product.
For the brand to work consistently and successfully the brand as a whole has to work for the customer from start to finish. We describe this as the brand experience - how does the brand deliver through all it's touch points.
When we make a purchase we weigh up a lot of elements about the product we are about to buy. These will include what the product it, what it promises to deliver to us emotionally and functionally, the risk involved with the purchase and what we know and feel about the brand or product. Consequently, the brand can be considered as a set of experiences and contacts with the customer or consumer both direct and indirect mediated through other people and other situations.
For something as simple as a bottle of water, the water itself is only part of the reason for buying. The bottle, it's packaging, it's advertising contains a set of promises and experiences. The way it not only tastes, but the way it feels and looks and the mood they experience when they purchase and when they consume the product and how that relates to the consumers own values and ideals. As a result the brand experience starts before consumption. It includes the way we experience the promotions for the product, where the product is bought, the opening of the packaging, after sales service and the website. All contribute to the brand experience. A useful metaphor is the brand as a journey. Strong brands ease and signpost the journey and deliver what is promised by managing the brand experiences.
Since the brand represents values and relationships, the brand experiences need to be managed to support these core philosophies. If the brand has simplicity as a core value, a brand experience that is complicated or convoluted such as having to negotiate a poorly designed telephone menu system through customer services, negates a core brand value and diminishes the overall reputation of the brand.
Many decisions that affect the brand experience are taken outside the marketing department. In a time of economic crisis there is pressure to reduce costs or change the way service is delivered. Operations may decide how a telephone call is answered, sales decide how strongly they keep their promises, manufacturing influence the end quality of the product. For instance in financial services, a mortgage lender may spend many millions promoting how good they are and how they look after customers, but if they are slow in bringing their rates down, or just offer the best deals to new customers, this works against the brand values they are trying to promote.
Marketeers sometimes refer to this as the pimple problem. Marketing for many companies is something that the marketing department does and it is about advertising and brochures. These influence brand attitudes, but unless marketing thoughts are endemic throughout the company these are mere pimples compared to reality of the brand experience generated by the company as a whole. For this reason a brand experience is reliant on the culture and values of the organisation. High quality marketing cannot make up for slipshod production. Consequently ensuring that brand values are reflected throughout the customers experience means incubating those values with employees first.
As a result, it means specifying and understanding what the core elements of the brand are and how these are valued by customers and capturing and nuturing this within the business. Many strong businesses have strong leaders who themselves embody the values of their company and ensure that the brand is not weakened or tarnished by measures such as cost cutting or changes in personnel. Tracking and maintaining brand values and measuring new products and new services or product extensions against these values are essential if the core of the brand is to be sustained.
However, this is not an excuse for never changing or reducing the underlying costs in the product. A core feature of successful marketing firms is the ability to manage change and costs within the confines of the brand requirements. This allows better prices to end customers and better margins for distribution with price as a strong intitial component of the brand experience
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