The Altimeter Group is embarking on an ambitious attempt to understand and define the evolution of the customer experience, what they have coined “The Dynamic Customer Journey.” As they summarize it:
“The customer journey has evolved, yet organizations have failed to recognize and adapt to the change. Today, the new customer is empowered to make faster, smarter, more-informed decisions using technology, for instance, by accessing real-time information on their mobile devices or connecting with trusted peers across open and closed social networks. To respond to a dynamic customer journey, organizations must transform their rigid sales, marketing, and customer service programs and adopt an intrinsically more flexible organizational, technological, and go-to-market approach”
The Dynamic Human Journey
Their observations focus on organization, technology and process – but I hope they will also include, and invite others to comment on, core issues of human communication that arise from the often-bewildering challenges listed above. In fact, I submit that customers may not always be so “empowered” as “challenged” to “make faster, smarter, more informed decisions.”
Are Your Customers Developing a Complexity Complex?
Altimeter may be nodding in this direction when they note in a heading “The Factors that Impact the Dynamic Customer Journey Multiply Complexity.” Of course, we face more than just the question of how to control, minimize and seamlessly integrate structural complexities – we face the challenge of how to ensure that the composite end result amounts to useful, usable, human relations and communications.
“On the one hand, the steady stream of innovation continues to make it easier for consumers to watch, listen, share and communicate. But many companies in acquisition mode have expanded their profiles and portfolios and incorporated such a sea of product models and technology types that many customers feel lost as they attempt to navigate their way to a simple purchase.”
Simply Put, Brands Need to Put it Simply
The upshot seems to be that brands must embrace a unifying and simplifying approach to technology and communications. Easier said than done? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I suggest, and invite comment on, two guiding principles:
Brands that take the complexity burden off of consumers will step to the fore.
Of those complexity-defying brands, the ones that learn to also communicate in the simplest, most communally humanterms will be the long-term winners
Human-to-Human Communication vs. Brand to Prospect
Do you agree? Disagree? And do you believe that considering the dynamics of honest human communication – alongside organizational, technological and process-oriented factors – would enhance the Altimeter discussion?
Brian Solis had an interesting post recently (OK, many of his posts are interesting), touching on a critical corporate turf issue in the use, or misuse, of social media: namely, who within an enterprise should be managing social engagement? He notes that the marketing department and/or its attendant agencies typically control social media… and in much the manner, it seems, that they’d handle any traditional media: send out the message as if not expecting a response, or not being accountable for responding to consumer input, good or bad.
SOCIAL MEDIA TURNS ANTI-SOCIAL WHEN THERE’S NO RESPONSE
This reveals itself as an even more significant issue than you might imagine when Solis goes on to cite an Altimeter Group study that shows, as above, the corporate departments most likely to be controlling social media are marketing or marketing communications, while the least likely is customer service. So much for customer-centricity as a brand-building orientation, especially when you consider other research, by Maritz and evolve24, which documents the fact that 64% of consumers tweeting to a company expect a their tweets to be read… but only 29% get a response.
THROW A PARTY AND THEN IGNORE THE GUESTS?
Social media is the big corporate marketing party these days, and it’s attracting a standing room only crowd. But building brand engagement, trust and loyalty through social media – or even preventing its destruction – requires being a good host. That means not only serving up the tweets, but replying in a meaningful way, too.
The rewards for doing so are significant. The Maritz/evolve24 study shows that while a paltry 29% receive a response when tweeting a beloved brand, such responses elicit what can only be assumed as a loyalty-inducing state: “32% and 51.5% said they either loved [the response] or liked it, respectively.”
IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SOCIAL ME-ME-MEDIA
Of course, it’s more than just a problem of organizational responsibility – it’s an issue of corporate mindset. An A.T. Kearney report from December 2011 illustrates how marketers too often still see social media as they do traditional media, simply another platform for one-way messaging rather than active dialogue. According to the study, related in a post by Melissa McNaughton, some 94% of brands on Facebook direct fans to pages that offer no opportunity to comment or initiate conversation. In short, they’ve turned an interactive medium into an inactive one, simply inviting consumers to “turn the page” as they would with a brochure.
IS YOUR BRAND TRULY SOCIAL?
What are your favorite examples of brands that are truly social – listening, posting, responding, and offering more than just promotional pap? How do they manage their process?
Why is “the power of story” such a hot topic these days? Largely because, in our over-marketed world, many feel that the straightforward sell, sell, sell, no matter how well targeted, is simply worn out, is increasingly ineffectual in convincing and converting ever-more sophisticated (or at least overexposed) consumers.
STORIES GET PROSPECTS TO SELL THEMSELVES ON YOUR BRAND
Instead of selling the prospects, brand storytelling – at least when it gets to the self-evident truth of a product or service – gets the prospect to engage, imagine, and ultimately sell them selves. (Of course, our perspective at Creative on Call is that all successful branding and marketing depends on identifying and communicating the simple truth about a brand, whether you’re creating an elaborate story-telling campaign or writing your next corporate brochure.)
A couple of very different forces in the popular story-telling culture – Peter Guber, the Hollywood power broker, and Ira Glass, the NPR maestro of telling real stories – share their perspectives on the art of a story well-told:
And now, for something completely different, Ira Glass, creator of “This American Life.” This is the first in a series of four short videos which are talking about what goes in to pure storytelling for TV and radio, but which are also instructive for anyone wanting to inject the power of story into brand communications.
The subject of brand voice gets a lot of well-deserved attention – most recently in a new Facebook-commissioned Forrester study. First among the “key takeaways” on the prerequisites for winning in a connected (read: primarily social) world is this:
“Articulate a brand’s social identity so the brand communicates with a unique, authentic and compelling voice.”
IN A TACTICALLY-DRIVEN ERA, BRAND VOICE STILL MATTERS
This is indeed key, but it is not news: the most effective brand marketing has always required a clear, consistent, compelling and, yes, unique voice. What is news is the fact that having a unique brand voice is not only still relevant but, in fact, of primary importance.
At Creative on Call, we see that importance virtually every time a client comes to us for online content, as they are most often looking to restore (or establish) a brand voice that some tactically-adept-but-strategically-and-creatively-inept online marketing “gurus” have managed to make indistinguishable from any other.
WHAT’S MISSING FROM ALL THE EXPERT ADVICE ON HOW TO CREATE A BRAND VOICE
Of course, there’s no shortage of advice on what brand marketers should do to create an effective voice for their brand – and much of it is quite good. For a peak at marketing 101 (actually, Marketing 353), try this assignment from a course at Stanford (although I would quibble with its mention of a “slogan” as a “catch phrase,” by which it should simply be remembered, versus a theme line crisply and, yes, memorably encapsulating a brand’s core promise). What’s missing from Stanford’s approach to creating a brand voice – and from many others – is a commitment to understanding what your brand truly, honestly has to say.
Yes, you need to cover the branding basics, what we call “3-D Branding”:
DISCOVER the attitudes and needs and desires of all parties involved
DEFINE the brand essence
DEVELOP a differentiating positioning statement and mastercommunications strategy
However, it’s in part two that the most critical work needs to be done: Define the brand essence – find the clear, simple truth about your brand. The beauty of finding your brand truth is that truth, when presented well, is self-evident. You don’t need to argue your points, you just need to present them in a clear, consistent, memorable way (OK, that last part gets tricky, but without that difficulty we creative types would be out of work).
The brand voice that arises out of your simple truth doesn’t have to bend the facts or manipulate to express it. It’s authentic, in the least buzz-wordy way possible, and it will be a voice that your customers are pleased to hear, and willing to converse with.
Can you cite brands that are good at speaking out of their simple truth?
And don’t forget absurdity…. A new survey on the impact of comedy, from, surprise, surprise, Comedy Central, finds that “More than music, more than sports, more than ‘personal style,’ comedy has become essential to how young men view themselves and others…”
Interestingly, the survey pretty thoroughly dissed distaff millennials (hey, “girls” just aren’t funny, right? For an alternative perspective, says the father of two girls, check out this New York Times feature). Of course “Comedy Central’s audience ‘skews 65 percent male.’ So does most of its talent…” and therefore the emphasis makes good business sense, if failing to rise to the level of broadly relevant research.
Still, overlooking the majority of millennials allowed Comedy Central’s researchers to concentrate on the sophisticated tendencies of my much-coveted younger brethren, yielding such nuggets as:
• Young men like toilet humor (they had to do research to figure that out?)
• Millennials are “comfortable with uncomfortable truths” (Translation, anything goes)
• Irony is out, absurdity is in
• Millennial men have a short attention span (again, my observation from the first bullet above), so keep the humor short and fast-paced
Which is not to say millennial men are immune to comedy of substance (no, not those substances). Two of their favorite shows are “The Daily Show,” and its love child, “The Colbert Report,” arguably two of the funniest pretend/pretend attacks on the realities of political and cultural life as we suffer them today.
Laugh all you want… funny works. The upshot for marketers? Funny works. Always has. Always will – and with this group, more than ever. I’d also submit that, as the best humor comes from the truth of life well-observed, brand truth – and ensuing trust – can be built as well on laughter as on any other foundation.
The new report “2012 Mobile Future in Focus,” is full of interesting data points and trend tracking, and worth a read. But this new study, from comScore, is also much like the smartphone users and providers it analyses in that it fails to focus on one critical, looming issue for the future of mobile as a communication and marketing tool: trust. In fact, the word “trust” doesn’t even appear in this report.
When Mobile is App-t to Steal Data, Brands Stand to Lose In the last couple of weeks alone, major stories have broken about apps that are designed to blithely pinch the address books of smartphone users, without any notification, let alone request. Address books!
Granted, the consumers dubbed “digital omnivores” in this study all seem so gaga over what mobile devices do for them that they don’t even stop to think of what they’re doing to them. But consumers will eventually wake up – and many, many of them won’t be happy. This risks distrust and its inevitable by-product, disengagement – just the opposite of what mobile promises.
Will Explosive Mobile Growth Blow Up Brand Trust? What’s your opinion – will mobile’s explosive growth blow up in marketer’s faces by undermining trust, or will consumers choose to ignore the disrespect for their privacy and property and continue to fuel that growth unabated?
Conversations go better over a cup of coffee… so let’s make this another Free Coffee Card post. The first 10 to comment will get a Starbuck’s Coffee card. Enjoy!
I like to blog about marketing to millennials not simply because it’s the subject matter that consistently draws the most readers but because, as those readers know, millennials are no longer what’s next, they’re what’s now.
And while I have previously observed that for this generation brand interaction and attachment is less a matter of trust than transaction, I don’t mean to leave you with the impression that that’s entirely a bad thing (not that I can’t be a self-righteous, judgemental S.O.B when I want to be). It can, after all, lead to a much more dynamic, even kinetic (if unpredictable) brand-consumer relationship. As Nick Shore of MTV notes in a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog, it’s a relationship shaped by the fascination with, and extensive exposure to, video games. He makes a compelling case that marketers wanting to get to the next level with millennials have to observe a new set of rules to win in the “gamification of marketing.”
Here are brief highlights of what he had to say; I suggest that anyone interested in marketing to millennials read the entire post.
Principle #1: Play fair or you are “fair game” Millennials demand fairness, transparency, and clear, consistent rules in every aspect of life.
Principle #2: Leverage the Leaderboard Four out of five want to know how the deals they get compare to what others are getting. 74% percent feel that they’ve “won” when they get more than the average consumer.
Principle #3: Smart Cuts, Not Short Cuts Part of the “intrinsic” reward of gaming (the pleasure of playing versus the end reward) is a sense of efficacy and smartness. There’s a clear case for layering this into the marketing interaction.
Principle #4: Deliver dopamine/adrenaline fixes Half of respondents in our study — perhaps those more prone to Millennial micro-boredom — believe that “life can be less stimulating than gaming.”
Principle #5: Hand over that joystick. Millennials are accustomed to having a voice, and having it heeded. And they’re frustrated when big corporations don’t give them a voice or a true “role” as a consumer…
I’d like to forego a typical post today and think beyond branding, to join in remembering an event that is sadly fading from view along with its few remaining survivors (it’s worth reading today’s New York Times article on the subject).
It’s Pearl Harbor Day
I don’t actually have to be reminded that December 7th is Pearl Harbor day; it’s the day that shaped my parent’s generation more than any other. And I’m proud to say that my young children at least know what Pearl Harbor Day is, although the date itself may not stick so vividly in their imaginations (I cannot help but visualize my own, very young father piloting a B-24 as I am currently reading… OK, listening to… Laura Hilldebrand’s book Unbroken.)
I hope that the millennial generation will likewise be positively shaped by what is sometimes called their Pearl Harbor, the events of 9/11. I hope that they, like The Greatest Generation, will rise to the challenges of their times and harness their considerable inventiveness to not just reclaim but re-invent America for peace and prosperity in its multi-cultural, multi-modal future. In short, I hope that, to twist the old trope, they learn from history and get it to repeat itself.
PS: As marketers, I believe we can help realize the hope above – help Millennials and the Homeland Generation that follows – by reinforcing the concept and experience of trust… hence, the brand trust focus of this blog.
As with any advancing army, it should be no surprise that people just can’t get their minds off Millennials (and no wonder that any variation of “millennial” makes a most attractive keyword in blog posts). But how well do you understand them, even if you are “them?” And how much are you like, or unlike, the Millennial generation?
Are you 20% Millennial? 50% Millennial? 100%?
The folks at Pew Research developed a handy little quiz to answer that last question: “How Millennial Are You? The Quiz.” It turns out that, while I am nearly a Gen Xer, at least according to this evaluation, I’m only 31% Millennial. (Damn, I guess I’ll have to take my hoodies back to Abercrombie.)
I’m not sure how valuable this “tool” really is in understanding the millennial marketing juggernaut, but it’s fun and at least mildly thought provoking (not to mention an excellent excuse to pack a post with high-value keywords like “millennials,” “millennial marketing,” and “millennial generation”).
It’s not about age – really. It’s about state of mind.
The quiz is quite quick – so please take it and let me know how youthful you really are.
PS: Pew did create a pretty good primer on Millennial beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, which you can download here.
A fundamental shift in the nature of brand trust, with millennials
Given that there may be underway a fundamental shift in the nature and importance of brand trust (which undergirds brand loyalty, a prerequisite of repeat business and its result, longer-term brand success) I can’t help but question what seems to be the emotion-driven interest in Groupon as the next hot thing (not that emotions aren’t constantly driving today’s wildly unpredictable market overall… a phenomenon that quickly drove the opening stock price up by nearly half on this, the first day of trading.)
This investor euphoria emerged in spite of considerable questioning – right up to the IPO – about the business-building value of Groupon, whose users are known to flit from deal to deal (as they are encouraged to do by the very concept of the daily deal) rather than form bonds with and return to merchants they’ve discovered via The Big G. I’m just not sure why investors aren’t paying attention to the discussion.
And why should a blog about branding be concerned with an IPO?
Indeed, why should I, a lowly brand strategist and creative director, be opining on financial matters? Because branding – good or bad – has a bottom line effect. According to both investor relations practitioners and academics, branding affects valuation, the core concern of shareholders everywhere. Creating business-building brand trust is, or should be, a primary duty of branding professionals, like me.
So, back to Groupon. Since market upticks generally drive IPO interest and valuations higher, it’s no surprise that Groupon went public at “a premium to reality.” The reality which will bring any momentarily skyrocketing stock price back to earth will likely be the habit of Millennial consumers to gravitate not toward the most reliable, dependable or even proven-to-them resource… but to the deal, the offer, the “gimme.” This is a tendency they’ve been trained in by marketers of all sorts, one that can only further undermine the dynamics of loyalty and trust upon which either Groupon or its customers might build businesses of more lasting value.
It’s your choice: daily deals or lasting brand value
The upshot for brand marketers? If you want to have a healthy, long-term brand, look beyond the deal, daily or otherwise. Create a brand of lasting, inherent, self-evident value, and, even in this short-term world, market it in a way that respects and preserves that value over the long haul. Millennials, and the rest of us, deserve no less – and in the long term will respond to that more.