To develop a compelling brand system for 2020 and beyond, three pillars are needed: Personality, Behavior and Communication.
Customers no longer buy brands, they join brands. And for them to do this, the brand needs an organizing thought and a promise behind its existence. Google is known for many things but if you ask someone for one thought or word that describes Google they will generally say: ‘search’. Successful brands are generally known for one thing and when they do that thing well, they can enter new territories similar to Google with Gmail. In order to create a successful brand personality from the outset the brand must have an ambitious vision that everyone believes in.
This is the second pillar of the brand system: A brand’s behavior is how it interacts with consumers, or rather the user experience of interacting with the brand through different types of interfaces or mediums. Modern, successful organizations need to create experiences around user needs and desires while removing obstacles through process changes, technological advances and integrative innovation. Failing to do so can have catastrophic results, as we saw in the demise of high-street retailer Blockbusters. The company failed to focus on user experience or innovate as the digital world transformed user expectations and video consumption behaviors.
At its best, user centricity can result in habitual experiences where consumers come back, time and again, out of habit. Based on Nir Eyal’s Hook Model, this nirvana of the user centricity field, means the brand’s products or services have become sub-consciously ingrained in consumers’ daily routines.
Our brains store these actions as procedural routines, so that internal and external triggers will generate future user action and provide them with rewards that keep them hooked. This kind of habitual interaction gives brand an enormous competitive advantage by making it much harder for competitors to steal users away. If the user’s rewards are also variable (i.e. sometimes there, sometimes not) the habit strengthens. For example, LinkedIn’s ‘how I rank for profile views’ feature can be quite addictive, providing ‘hooked’ users with the incentive they need to ‘invest’ in the brand (e.g. by inviting friends to join and uploading personal data).
Communication is no longer one dimensional, but across multiple channels, and dialogue has replaced what previously was a branding monologue.
Some of the strongest brands have experimented with various channels, to see which combination works best for them. Nespresso, for instance, had been around for years but made a real breakthrough when they got their machines on first class and business class airlines. They also found that videos demonstrating how easy their machines were to use, really boosted sales, and in-store tasters resulted in a 6-fold increase in sales.
To make the most of a multi-channel world, successful brands put social connectivity at the heart of their communication, transforming multi-channel into omni-channel where there is a consistent user experience across channels, and communications are merely optimized for each touch point.
Some innovative brands have taken social connectivity and share-ability a step further by merging the digital and physical user experience across channels through a new type of interactivity. Warby Parker, an eyewear shop, doesn’t consider social media as part of their marketing department but an integral channel that is ‘baked-into’ the customer experience. Once users receive the physical samples, the user can upload selfies of themselves wearing the glasses to social media channels and get expert fashion opinions and live commentary from sales staff about which frame suits them better. Of course their friends on social media can also offer feedback, further sharing the brand’s messages. It’s not surprising therefore that in their first year of trading they hit their yearly revenue targets in 3 weeks with GQ Magazine calling Warby Parker ‘the Netflix of Eyewear’.
Attracting and retaining your customer base, while protecting price points, is only now possible when brands create a tribe-like following; inspiring consumer imaginations with their personality and narrative, behaving in an entirely customer-centric manner and interacting in a multi-channel dialogue with customers, through whichever medium they prefer. The pillars of personality, behavior and communication provide some solid foundations for developing the brand systems of tomorrow.