business alignment concept - Al Newton's cradle on a white background
PHOTO: Shutterstock

A brand strategy is not limited to logos, designs and names, rather, it encompasses every aspect of a business. A brand should present customers with an honest, transparent depiction of its mission and values, and a consistent, recognizable experience throughout all channels. Additionally, the actions of a brand and its leadership should align with the mission, vision and corporate social responsibility of the brand.

Brands should take the time to reexamine their mission and values to ensure that they are still in alignment with those of their customers, with a greater understanding of brand perception, customer needs and expectations, and segmentation.

Articulate a Clear Mission and Vision for Your Brand

A brand’s mission and more importantly, its vision, have never been more important to consumers. Simply put, a brand’s mission statement articulates what it does for customers today, whereas a brand’s vision statement explains what it seeks to do in the future.

The mission statement is the core of what the brand is about, and from it comes a brand’s business objectives and culture. The mission statement answers questions such as:

  • What is it that we do?
  • For whom do we do it?
  • How do we accomplish it?

The vision statement is about the future, and includes larger goals of what a brand wishes to become, and how it hopes to impact the world. It provides purpose and clarity about the core values of a brand, and seeks to answer questions such as:

  • What do we aspire to become?
  • How can we make our customer’s lives better?
  • How can we contribute to the world at large?

By articulating and promoting a brand’s mission and vision, both internally within the business, and externally to the public, employees and customers know what to expect from a brand, how the brand will define success, and what matters most to the business. A brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statement, mission statement, and vision statement help to define the culture of the brand, and how it is perceived by customers.

Here are a few examples of mission and vision statements from some of the largest tech brands in the industry:

Google’s Mission: “To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Google’s Vision: “To provide an important service to the world — instantly delivering relevant information on virtually any topic.”

Amazon’s Mission: “To delight our customers and make their lives easier, one innovative product, service, and idea at a time.”

Amazon’s Vision: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavor to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”

Netflix’ Mission: “To continuously improve the customer experience with a focus on expanding our streaming content, enhancing our user interface and extending our streaming service to even more internet-connected devices.”

Netflix’ Vision: “To become the best global entertainment distribution service, license entertainment content around the world, create markets that are accessible to filmmakers and help content creators around the world to find a global audience.”

According to Dean Forbes, CEO of Minneapolis-based branding agency Minnow, “the real transformation is invited in once you take a step back and look at your entire brand, from graphics to mission and values to the stories you tell, to determine what it is that makes your business different — and more compelling — than your competition.” He related a recent experience with one of Minnow’s clients, the Maranatha Christian Academy. “After a competitive audit, researching nearly 30 private schools in the Twin Cities metro area, and in-depth listening sessions with key stakeholders, Minnow determined that the existing brand didn’t align with the school’s vision. We honed in on how Head of School Brian Sullivan has been moving the school away from the 'mission monotony' of its competitors and toward a focus on innovation, and we used that revelation as a jumping-off point,” Forbes explained.

Forbes said that there are three primary questions a brand should ask as it is considering its mission and vision statements:

  • Is it a compelling statement or declaration of your purpose and values? Are you putting a stake in the ground or are you just another "me too" brand?
  • Does it clearly state what you do? Too many brands get so lofty building mission/value statements, they often forget to simply state what they do.
  • Is it realistic and achievable? Customers would rather you be able to confidently deliver what you say you do, than shoot for unrealistic goals. There is so much opportunity in the market for brands to win by simply delivering the best product they can, consistently.

Although the mission and vision statement of a B2B brand will differ from those of a B2C brand, they still have much in common. “Both B2B and B2C should both be human-centric — bringing value and purpose to the people it serves,” said Forbes. “Often B2B thinks too corporate, and forgets to think on an individual level — of the individual stakeholders whose lives could be changed for the better by an encounter with your brand!”

Related Article: What Corporate Social Responsibility Looks Like in 2020

Understand the Importance of Brand Perception

Brand perception is the culmination of the feelings, attitudes, and experiences that a customer has with a brand. It refers to the emotional reaction that a customer has whenever they come in contact with a brand, whether it is through an interaction on a website, using a brand’s product, service or solution, a visit to a local brand outlet, or viewing a commercial for a brand. Brand perception also encompasses a customer’s awareness of the brand’s position within the industry, its competitors, and similar brands within the overall marketplace. 

The way a customer perceives a brand affects their opinion of the culture of that brand. Do they see the brand as a business that contributes to the well-being of its customers and the world at large, or do they see the brand as a self-interested business that only cares about its bottom line? Is the brand socially conscious? Do they contribute to the lives of the people in the community around them? Have they taken a stand on important social and political issues, or have they remained silent during periods of crisis, social or economic unrest? Brand perception is easy enough to build, but very hard to change.

A 2019 report from GlobalWebIndex indicated that 68% of online consumers in the United States and United Kingdom would consider not doing business with a brand due to poor or misleading corporate social responsibility, and almost half would pay a premium for brands that have a positive socially conscious image. Additionally, a report from Accenture on “purpose-led brands” showed that 48% of consumers in the United States that are disappointed by a brand’s actions or message on a social issue will complain about it on social media. According to a survey from Mindshare, 65% of those who participated in the survey believe that brands should commit to making society better.

When asked how important brand perception was for aligning with the values of customers, Forbes responded “Infinitely. By definition it is your brand. Here's a perfect example of how important it is. Corona Hard Seltzer pushed out spring break ads that promoted a beach party at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak — completely tone deaf to everyone's fears/concerns.”

Compare this to the response of another brand. “Heineken, who ran their ad ‘Ode to Close’ during a similar time with the message ‘We're further apart, yet, we're closer than ever.’ Completely different tone/position. Heineken = 1, Corona = 0,” explained Forbes.

The impact that bad consumer perception has on a business can be measured in ROI. “Poor brand perception cost real dollars — 31% of consumers won’t spend money on a brand that poorly handled COVID-19. I don't know the exact numbers for the examples above but perception was definitely changed in both camps!” Forbes reiterated.

Brand perception is measured through various mechanisms including social listening (monitoring social media posts), feedback, reviews, blogs, Google alerts (which come from mentions of a brand online), website analytics, and third-party audits. It’s important to continually monitor brand perception, because it influences purchasing decisions, customer loyalty and is a good indication of whether or not a brand is aligned with the needs, expectations and values of its customers.

Ground Your Brand in Customer Needs and Expectations

By understanding the needs and expectations of customers, a brand can be in a much better position to create products, services, solutions and experiences that will elicit a positive emotional response from its customers.

If a customer is searching for a specific product — for example, monitor speakers for their home recording studio — and they visit a brand’s website with the expectation that the brand sells such studio monitors only to find that the brand only sells high-end computer speakers, obviously they will be disappointed. Perhaps they expected to see descriptions, pictures, and specifications for each monitor that is sold on the brand’s website, but there was only a single image for each monitor, with no additional information. In either situation, the customer is very likely to search for another brand that will live up to their expectations.

CMSWire spoke with Tara Sporrer, SVP of marketing at goMoxie. Sporrer discussed how brands need to take a deeper look at customer data to discover their specific needs and expectations. “At the top level you may be aware that customers often have questions about ‘shipping’ for example. When AI and Machine Learning are applied to the conversational data, specifics are revealed. The loyalty segment of your customers is struggling because free shipping is not being applied to their orders as expected. That’s the gold that you needed to know in order to understand the experience of your highest value segment. With that knowledge you can improve the perception of your brand by addressing the issue the customer is sharing in conversations that would otherwise be buried in a heap of data.”

Consider the customer that purchases software for the creation of organizational charts, and once purchased, searches the brand’s website for tutorials, videos or an introduction to using the software, but is only able to locate marketing details for the software — no instructional material is available. Disappointed, the customer visits YouTube, and is finally able to locate some video tutorials on how to use the product. They expected the brand to support their purchase with instructional materials, but ended up having to go to another website that is not associated with the brand to fulfill their needs.

Each of these instances is an example of how a brand did not live up to the needs and expectations of the customer, and in each of these examples, the customer is left feeling emotionally disappointed, and is not likely to be a repeat customer.

Contrast those examples with that of a customer who is searching for music production software. After researching and looking at reviews and feedback online, they decide to go with Native Instruments’ Komplete Start. They are pleasantly surprised to find that not only is it easy to browse the Native Instruments’ website, but that the software is free to download and use. More importantly, they find that Native Instruments has provided detailed tutorials on how to use Komplete Start, as well as a community of fellow musicians that they can turn to for additional help. The brand also provided easy access to customer service, local retailers, and worked hard to make the customer a part of the larger community of musicians that use its products and services.

In this example, the customer’s needs and expectations are met, and emotionally, they are connected to the Native Instruments brand, feel that they made a good decision to interact with the brand, and are quite likely to purchase Native Instruments’ products in the future. They will be very likely continue to visit the brand’s website, and will be happy to receive marketing emails from the brand because they know that the brand cares about them as an individual. Additionally, their perception of the brand is positive, they can identify with the brand’s values and mission, and they are left feeling emotionally happy and satisfied, because Native Instruments delivered an exceptional brand experience.

“Your brand is unique and customers that come to you need your expertise, but often don’t even know how or where to start. Offer customers your expert advice by identifying digital behavior that reveals the customer is hesitating or struggling. Get in front of the struggle by proactively offering context-based information before the customer even realizes they have a question. The brand experience of an issue or concern being addressed before the customer has to stop and ask for help is immeasurable,” suggested Sporrer.

Customer Segmentation Facilitates Brand Alignment

Customer segmentation refers to the process of dividing customers into groups based on their common characteristics. It applies to both B2B and B2C relationships, and enables a brand to more effectively provide a relevant, vertically-targeted interaction between a customer and the brand.

For B2C brands, customer segmentation uses demographics such as age, gender, occupation, interests, and purchasing history to discover the common characteristics of specific groups of its customers. This enables brands to more effectively provide relevant content and develop marketing strategies for those customers. It facilitates the creation of better relationships with customers, and allows a brand to determine and focus on those customers that are more likely to be profitable.

For B2B brands, segmentation is more likely to be focused on information such as business industry, location, the number of employees, and the purchase history of the business. The end result is the same, which is the ability of a brand to deliver more positive, relevant content and greater sales potential for its customers and potential customers.

Forbes understands the value of customer segmentation when it comes to brand experience and relevance. “First, when your brand understands their customer segments, you are much more relevant because you know how to have a conversation (the right conversation) with your target customer. You know who you are speaking to, their likes and dislikes, and you connect in a real way,” Forbes suggested.

While brands realize that customers have a busy life, they must consider that there are times when customers are more receptive to marketing, and times when they are not. “Second, by segmenting your customers, you can identify/align to when/where they want to buy your products, and align your brand messaging to that moment,” Forbes continued. ”Believe or not, customers aren't buying 100% of the time they are engaging with our brands. [For example], they are searching, learning, comparing, etc. so it's important to be relevant in those moments. It's the same as the social skills we need when we communicate with friends/family. No one wants someone doing business with them 24/7.”

Forbes also emphasized that every customer is unique, and the approach that a brand uses to reach its customers should be one that those customers are receptive to. “Third, it helps improve brand voice/tone — each customer segment may not receive brand messaging the same. It's important for a brand to know who they are, but have a voice/tone that translates well across multiple customer segments,” he shared.

Conclusion

Customers today demand that a brand live up to its stated mission and vision, as well as their expectations and perception. By articulating a clear mission and vision statement, understanding the importance of brand perception, grounding your brand in the needs and expectations of your customers, and carefully segmenting your customer base, a business can ensure that its brand aligns with its customers.