Businesses of all shapes and sizes get wrapped up in data, planning, operations and hiring, sometimes forgetting the most essential aspect of their existence: the customer.
It’s easy to get myopic; it’s not hard to get stuck in the weeds. The reality is this: you can get all the internal things right and still fail if you don’t understand your customer’s desires and needs, and fold them into your brand.
Organizations that put the customer at the heart of their brand and marketing strategy are more successful than those that stay nearsighted and inward-looking. People don’t want to have a transactional relationship with a brand, they want to be part of something bigger. That something bigger needs to have the customer at the center of its universe.
In her blog, “How to Build Customer-Centric Companies,” HubSpot’s Sophia Bernazzani astutely framed this customer-focused paradigm: “A customer-centric organization should be easy to recognize. It starts with this simple mindset: when you make a decision, any decision about the way you think about a product, the way you market a product, the way you sell a product or service, the conversation starts with an understanding of who it’s for and what they need. It means that you start with an informed perspective on who your customers are, and work backwards from there to help them achieve their goals, at all costs.”
How can your business achieve a customer-centric brand strategy? Let’s take a look at some of the fundamentals for building a brand with the customer at its heart.
Create Your Tribe
Today, businesses have access to all kinds of data about their customers. However, in what some call the “Post-Demographic” age, customer data is not enough to win brand loyalty and advocacy. Customers want to be part of a tribe of people with similar interests and activities; they want to attach themselves to brand promise that aligns with these interests and activities. Therefore, customer behavior trumps demographics in today’s day and age.
The global nature of the internet and enterprise software’s ability to capture heaps of data creates problems for using customer demographics to determine your brand strategy. If you constantly react to demographic data without an overriding brand identity and promise, you cannot create a tribe customers will want to join. In other words, your brand promise must put your customer’s desires and needs at the center first in order to make use of demographic data, not the other way around.
Customers want to be part of an authentic brand, a belief system, and a group of like-minded people. By keeping your brand promise aligned with your customer’s needs and wants, you can build a tribe of loyal brand advocates, even if their demographics are different.
Understand Your Customers
To build your loyal tribe, you need to understand your customers in the deepest sense possible. Again, this is not solely based on transactional data; that is part of the equation, but understanding what is meaningful to your customers and what resonates with them on an emotional level is critical to building brand connections and commitment.
The key is to understand who your customers are individually while placing them within the larger context of groups. Your branding strategy, content marketing approach, and overall marketing strategy need to factor in this micro and macro context.
When creating customer profiles using both behavioral and demographic data, it’s critical to keep this micro and macro data top of mind. It’s simply impractical to build 40 customer profiles based on every difference between individual customers. Instead, once you have collected the micro, aggregate this data into a smaller number of 40,000-foot-view customer profiles.
“The heavy segmentation and profiling orientation within B2B has led to the narrow targeting of roles and titles. Oftentimes, we see B2B businesses confuse buyer personas for profiling the roles they are targeting within segments … When buyer personas are truly goal-directed, the emphasis is on helping buyers, within multiple segments, who share common goals, behaviors, attitudes, and aptitudes,” wrote Tony Zambito in his blog, “How B2B CMOs Can Achieve Customer-Centric Marketing with Buyer Personas.”
Again, your authentic brand promise, the magnet that will attract customers and build your tribe, is the overriding infrastructure that makes your data useful. Without an authentic brand that puts its customers at its heart, all you’re left with are numbers without a unifying context.
Appeal to Emotion
Customers are thinking, feeling human beings. Each time they interact with your brand whether it’s online, with a customer service rep or via chat bot, they have an experience. To build your tribe and loyal brand advocates, you need to deliver a consistent, memorable, and most importantly, emotional experience to your customers.
Customers want to feel connected to something larger than themselves and bigger than simply conducting a transaction online. Marketing strategies that appeal to customer emotions and create a feeling of connectivity are far more effective when it comes to building a brand.
Hubspot defines emotional marketing in the following way: “Emotional marketing refers to marketing and advertising efforts that primarily use emotion to make your audience notice, remember, share, and buy. Emotional marketing typically taps into a singular emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger, or fear, to elicit a consumer response.”
To elicit an emotional response and make that crucial connection, a company needs to know who they are as a brand and what their customers need and desire. Whether the emotional response generated is sadness, laughter, happiness, or weirdness, it will leave a more memorable impression on a customer than dry, rational argumentation.
Forbes recently gathered some interesting data points about emotional marketing:
- In a 2016 Tempking Group study, they found that when individuals have a positive emotional association with a specific brand, they are 8.4 times more likely to trust the company, 7.1 times more likely to purchase more and 6.6 times more likely to forgive a company’s mistake.
- Nielsen released a study in 2016 which revealed that ads with an above average emotional response from consumers caused a 23% increase in sales compared to average advertisements.
- The Harvard Business Review has also stated that a positive emotional bond with a company is more important to consumers than customer satisfaction.
Once you’ve established an authentic brand identity that aligns with your customer’s needs, desires, and emotional connectivity, consistent projection of a unified brand becomes essential to success.
Your brand promise and identity needs to drive the customer experience at all times across every client-facing channel. It’s not enough to define your brand and understand your customer; the brand needs to be tactically deployed to create a clear narrative that can attract brand advocates and retain them.
If different channels generate different perceptions of your brand, it loses its power to connect and spread. Building your tribe, appealing to emotions, and linking infinite data points to fewer, larger customer archetypes is only effective when your brand is projected by your people, materials, and digital assets in a unified manner.
Staying consistent and “on brand” requires documenting brand standards and indoctrinating employees across the organization on what it means to execute the brand and advocate for it.
You cannot have an authentic, genuine brand if the messages being delivered via different customer-facing channels is different; even if this is unintentional, brand communication inconsistency is anathema to authenticity.
“Consistency is the key to successful branding. And consistency goes beyond the product itself. The brand promise must be clear with every interaction each stakeholder experiences. That means every part of the organization has a role to play in branding from research and development to finance to talent development,” according to author William Arruda, a guest writer at Forbes.
Customer desires, needs, and emotions are the beating heart of successful brands. Delivering this aligned brand consistently across all channels keeps this heart healthy and propelling a business to new growth and success. Creating emotional connections, fostering trust, and generating loyalty are the result of an authentic brand aligning with like-minded people to create a brand tribe. The tribe grows and thrives as its members share a consistent brand story with others, bringing more brand advocates into the fold.
“Your brand is a gateway to your true work. You know you are here to do something—to create something or help others in some way. The question is, how can you set up your life and work so that you can do it? The answer lies in your brand. When you create a compelling brand you attract people who want the promise of your brand—which you deliver,” said branding guru Dave Buck.
A brand with heart connects customers with something so much larger and more meaningful than a dry transaction of goods or services for money. Connect your brand’s heart to that of your customers and you’ll succeed.