The brand experience

A brand is the socialization of prestige. It is somehow a natural process that must be speeded up within the companies. Brands have their own personnality when the target market associate them with a range of relevant, believable and differential features or virtues.

In many companies, especially those related to services, 80% per cent of their brand power is made from the quality of the experience. Hence, customer experience needs to be thematized by the brand features.

The key is to reach the customer’s heart and head

Customer’s head is reached when we manage to make them think that we have the best product, the best service and/or the best price. The head loves to maximize its advantage between available offers and choose the winner from a rational point of view. Instead, the heart is won when customers feel they are being listened to, they are known, they are valued, they are served, or the like.

Winning someone’s head and heart are two different approaches with apparently different goals but these converge on managing to connect the customer with the brand and make him “feel” like the owner.

Attributes tied to the heart of the brand must be experienced in the treatment received at the establishment where the service is created. On the contrary, brand personality communication towards the customer is diluted and the latter stops “believing” in the messages that the company send to him. A customer who does not believe anymore has little chance of becoming loyal.

Customer emotions have their logic and the latter ends to command the logic governing behaviour and human decision making. In short, to make customers have positive feelings about the brand: a) they need to trust the promise made to them, b) they must notice that what they are being offered has a novelty and humourous element c) they have to feel important, creating an aspirational value and finally, d) they must identify with it and associate with some of these brand features. Any company working with these core ideas will reach the “miracle” of emotional connection with its customers. These core ideas are to be developed from the communication policy of the brand but even more so from the treatment and experience that are given at the place of establishment of the service.

Applying the former guidelines to brand management we can conclude that loved brands are those that have won the customers’ heart and head. When one only reaches their head but not their heart, the brand turns to be a mere name in the market. When one reaches their heart but not their head, the brand will just be temporary fashion. When a brand does not reach either the head or the heart, the market reference will purely be the price of the product.

Customers are disloyal...until they become “believers”

Customers are loyal to their interests. They can become loyal to a specific brand when they are convinced that this brand is aligned with their interests in a way that exceeds the opportunism of the moment. Somehow, customers are only loyal if they are “converted” to the idea that the company looks after their interests in a sincere and professional way. This “conversion” is not

necessarily spontaneous but the result of a process requiring some stage performance in which the final scene will be the conversion.

Six Senses, a Thai hotel company, has translated these ideas into a model of priorities in the shape of a virtuous circle. The first priority is the design of new service concepts and the improvement of corporate culture. This priority is meaningful if one understands customer “conversion” as a small theatre play. The concepts are the script to be performed. The culture is the intellectual and emotional stimuli received by actors to do their best. Innovation is the interest to perform different plays that keep pleasantly surprising the customer.

The second priority for the Six Senses managing team is to develop commitment and pride in the work of their employees. Life teaches that people who have more faith in a project are the ones who get more converts. It is quite similar in this case. Employees that feel more conscious about their work are the ones gaining more loyalty among their customers. To make a good representation in front of the customers, stakeholders (employees) have to be good and believe in their roles.

The third priority is to exceed the expectations with which customers come to the hotel, which is really difficult when you have many returning customers. If the script, the stage and performance are appropriate, it is inevitable that customers end up believing what they see and are linked to the business. Here is when the fourth priority comes to the stage: a feasible business that managers can be proud of since they notice that the model works and its leadership is effective.

On the other hand, human beings are social animals. We like communities and the feeling that we share things in common with others, especially when there are other individuals with common interests.

This can explain why many brands are striving to create customer communities around a few emblematic shops and are developing educational and recreational activities to assemble their “congregations”. Another similar initiative is carried through webs 2.0, where contents are created together between customers and the company.

The background idea is that in a community of people with similar interests it is easier to preserve or increase the belief that a company is unique. Communities increase a lot the sense of belonging to the brand, they increase its aspirational value and manage to make the clients feel as if they were the owners of the brand. Examples are abundant in this area. From the Harley-Davidson communities, the Nike stores, Coca Cola websites or Apple shops.

Everything communicates: managing the moments of truth

Moments of truth are all those customer interactions that create perceptions or memories in the latter. In the moments of truth things must work out. Even if they are too many, all of them communicate and have their own impact on memory and thus, they must be managed.

Communicating is a complicated art. Between what you want to say and what the other manages to understand there is a substantial loss of content. Precisely because it is a complex matter, companies must pay close attention to the elements of service delivery to "communicate" messages.

Being a proactive customer at the meeting place

At the place of service delivery we notice a shift of the customer’s behaviour, from a passive behaviour in which they limit themselves to be members of the audience to another more proactive in which the content we want to transmit to them is absorbed by their own initiatives, or this proactivity is expressed in a customer immersion in the operations related to service delivery.

An example of the former would be the Apple stores where there are lots of events that bring "fans" of their products together and where the possibilities of using the products and programmes are explored. Another example, matching more with the second case, are Ikea shops, where customers are informed about most of the operations and where the immersion of the latter on decision-making, purchasing, warehouse product collection, transfer and assembly of furniture at home is almost complete.

There are many possibilities to shift operations from the company to the client, that contrary to what one might think not only do not destroy perceived value, but increases it. There are many customers who want to feel protagonists and like being “used” in the service delivery if this benefits them with a range of advantages.

The magic phrase: do original things to be remembered and talked about

The memory only records what was surprising. On the other hand, people tend to talk and tell others strange, surprising and unique anecdotes of customer experiences in which they were involved. This is a little unfair but it is like this. Therefore, if we want people to talk about us and remember us, we need to introduce an element of surprise, novelty, drama in the service delivery to make people talk about it, obviously possitively.

As customers we tend to create, spontaneously, a “magic phrase” made up of two elements combining, from the service received, the two things that have had the most surprising or pleasant impact on us.

Brand features must thematize the customer experience

Brands need to make clear what they want to make the customer think or feel about them. On the whole, they must no be more than 3-5 things. Once decided, you have to give it all you have got to communicate these messages to the customers.

The best way to reach the customer with these messages is by reflecting those features in the experience that the customer lives in service delivery. When we manage to thematize the customer experience and, besides, the latter is coherent with the image reflected through the most traditional communication, one manages to close firmly the brands’ virtuous circle.

In his book “Lovemarks”, Kevin Roberts suggests a half dozen of brand features that may enrich and make more attractive the brands of luxury products. Attributes such as mystery, magic, sensuality, privacy, charm, etc, are features connecting with the so-called “emerging sensitivities” of many market segments.

The brand personality is enhanced when seemingly contrary elements are integrated

The combination of opposing elements highlights the brand personality. And we all know how important it is for brands to have their own personality that distinguishes them from other competitors.

Take for example the Riu Hotels, whose natural market are Central-European customers. Its positioning strategy is “hotels where mass-tourism is customized” and “services delivered with the heart”. This apparently innocent identity statement, has been the central point or focus of many improvement initiatives of the customer experience with amazing results.

The success of employees in customer service work

The encounter between a customer and an employee is still a magical moment that impoverishes or enriches brands. Employees can have a positive magnetism that makes a memorable moment for the client, and the most important cause of their association with the company.

That is why the mood of individuals who deal with customers is fundamental and will have somehow to be managed. One of the most efficient ways is to select candidates on the basis of their behaviour instead of their CV. Another complementary approach is to make a great effort to design service processes that enable them to succeed in their efforts to care customers.

This is the approach used by Starbucks in its coffee-shops. The franchise managers of several European countries were very surprised by the sophistication of its business processes. In Starbucks they were told that they use process engineers similar to the level of NASA to make the work of the employees and interaction with customers a continued real success.

The reason why most of the Starbucks employees provide a good service is therefore as a result of a good selection process, processes that make the task attractive and a company culture where many highlighted values are perceived positively by its employees. Quite often specialized training in communication, persuasion, negotiating techniques and stress management will be needed.

Success in the daily tasks of those working in the meeting point with the customer is essential if one wants to get a positive attitude from the employees. One can explain this by the fact that there is a subtle but real link between the daily feeling of efficacy and people’s opinion about themselves. In addition, the opinion about oneself influences one’s self-esteem, the latter on attitudes and thus, finally, on behaviours.

If one wants to achieve excellent conduct and positive attitudes, one has to ensure that the probability of success in what one does every day is high.

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