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Ryan Taggerty is a dedicated practitioner in a highly skilled -- but nostalgic -- field of expertise. Dr. Tagg, as he is known professionally, is a doll doctor. His is a disappearing discipline because, as Ryan says, “they are no longer made to last.”

The same might be said of brands.

Here’s a look at what marketers need to consider as we endeavor to create, nurture and even repair brand relationships to make them last.

Customer Chemistry is a Journey

Remember how you felt about your first doll or teddy bear? They were the center of playtime, wherever you went, and you never wanted to let them go. Companies that strive to create that intense relationship for their brands are finding they need to update both marketing practices and technology in order to achieve success.

Our personal relationships and psyche have long been compared to the attachments we form with brands. Recent research confirms that our goals and identities do drive our relationship with brands. In "Consumer Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice" contributors Michael Breazeale and Nicole Ponder examine what they call customer chemistry. They find that customers use consumption to create and express their own identities, and favorite places like stores play a significant role in forming brand attachment. Social sites, virtual communities and online stores have now joined the list of favorite places.

As marketers we need to inhabit those favorite places to create brand attachment. Customer chemistry is largely dependent on generating a holistic customer experience, which in turn correlates to the holy grail of loyalty and revenue.

The percentage of customers that plan on repurchasing products is 18 percentage points higher of organizations that have excellent CX [Customer Experience] ratings.

As I’ve previously written in A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, customer experience requires focusing on the entire customer journey, across all channels. WBR found that the ability to follow digitally connected consumers wherever they go offers brands unprecedented access to their customers.

Best-in class retailers are already focusing investment in these areas, because they recognize the potential to enhance customer engagement and provide satisfying, streamlined customer experiences.”

With a nod to the precept of customer chemistry, Temkin Group has identified five questions that we can use to propel customer journey thinking: 1. Who is the customer? 2. What is the customer’s real goal? 3. What did the customer do right beforehand? 4. What will the customer do right afterwards? 5. What will make the customer happy?

The value from customer journey mapping comes from using that effort to change the decisions made across an organization. In 2015 Temkin expects to see many more companies adapting to use customer journey maps to change how they think and act upon brand customer relationships.

Are You In a Relationship?

Intense, positive and long lasting attachments should in theory be what brands strive to create, but there are a whole range of brand relationships that can drive results. Some close brand relationships are actually love–hate scenarios much like the attachment many have to Walmart and Bank of America. There are also platonic “Best Friends” connections where the brand is seen as trustworthy, understanding of consumer needs, reliable, and committed. In a benchmark study, brands with high Best Friends ranking had an average of five times the share of wallet and three times more positive word of mouth than those with low Best Friend rankings.

And then there are the short term dating relationships and flings. In perhaps my favorite chapter of "Consumer Brand Relationships" -- Flings: When Great Brand Relationships are Not Made to Last -- Susan Fournier and Claudio Alvarez look at the notion of strength and duration of brand attachment. Brand flings are short-term engagements of high emotional reward but devoid of commitment. The authors cite three studies that found that the majority of brands identified as best exemplars of flings are in the life-stage specific fashion retail category like Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale. Ironically this could be a reflection of marketing successfully delivering on their brand promise.

Delivering on brand promise is impossible if each customer interaction is a separate, opaque, disconnected experience. Here’s where technology is coming to our rescue, but firms need to also evolve practices to align with the new customer expectations. The HBR article "Unlocking the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships" made the point that while consumers have always had relationships with brands, sophisticated tools for analyzing customer data are finally allowing marketing organizations to personalize and manage those relationships.

With this new power comes a new challenge: People now expect companies to understand what type of relationships they want and to respond appropriately -- they want firms to hold up their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, many brands don’t meet those expectations.”

While technology is clearly important, emotional intelligence is as well. Reorienting the marketing function around relationships, creating relationship-oriented roles for employees, and expanding marketing’s purview is an optimal approach. Operational aspects of a company can also be tailored to meet relationship goals. In an effort to deepen its relationship with customers, TD Bank redesigned its service experience to recognize customers as friends “with pens that weren’t bolted to tables, doors that didn’t slam shut at 5:00, and lobbies that didn’t shuttle customers like cattle through ropes and stanchions.”

Technology has enabled firms to develop true one-to-one customer relationships. The theory and practice of customer chemistry would suggest firms need to reorient the technology away from just collecting economic data and toward capturing and acting upon relationship data.

Operating at the Speed of Digital

Marketers are finding they need to adapt quickly across a number of dimensions to deal with brand relationships. New approaches and technologies are increasingly playing an important role in efforts to effectively generate customer demand.

How Top Brands Create Killer Omnichannel Customer Experiences reports that 60 percent of all goods purchased are on the basis of brand communications. It shares examples of “companies that provide amazing experiences so customers love their brand.” For Nike, are they selling running shoes or dreams of a healthy lifestyle to create their customer chemistry? GoPro, a camera manufacturer who acts like a media powerhouse, has met success by personalizing relevant content based on consumer's interactions with the brand.

CMO Sanjay Dholakia's (@sdholakia) series of insightful conversations with fellow marketing experts, shares thoughts on the changing roles of marketers. “A more analytical approach to creating, publishing and distributing content is going to become increasingly critical in a world where consumers are setting the terms for how they want to be engaged.”

In his interview with Unilever’s SVP of Marketing Marc Mathieu, Mathieu observes that “it is a staggering fact when you pause to reflect on it academically. NO other function is transforming at such a rate.”

Three years ago… I would not have spent a lot of time on data or marketing platforms or artificial intelligence or start-ups. I think it says a lot about how vast the change is. To me it proves that marketing is changing at an incredible pace and the biggest driver is technology -- how we connect with people, learn from people, connect with entrepreneurs and follow everyone.”

All About that Brand

As the Temkin Group so aptly states, “Without a strong brand, companies lack the ability to make cohesive decisions about where to focus their customer experience efforts.” A strong brand provides guidance and motivation, and clarifies priorities for how we connect with customers.

Here’s the thing. New or old, digital or analog, mobile or "brick and mortar" -- top brand marketers pay attention to managing customer relationships, and take care to encompass all the different attachments that can derive from customer chemistry. Nike, Apple and Starbucks are on the most admired top brands list, and are also on the flings list. Apple is also on the love to hate list, and both Nike and Starbucks had to bounce back from corporate brand crises to repair and reassert their brand vows.

Dr. Tagg tells us that “we don’t own our dolls; we are just the caretakers of them.” Brands need to care for their customers as well, and blend technology advances with a high degree of emotional intelligence if they want relationships to last.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image cropped from original by  ShardsOfBlue