The Essence of Brand and Customer Experience

A few months ago, I asked a speaker, who represented herself as a ”marketing guru,” for an example of an excellent brand because she spoke about brand equity and brand reputation management. I could not relate these terms to actual processes involved. Without hesitation she answered, “Sony! It is one of the most valuable CE brands.” Someone in the audience followed with another question, “What Sony product did you personally purchase within the last 12 months?” “Oh, I never buy Sony products. They are crap!” she blurred out. The silence in the audience was deafening.

So what is a brand then? It turns out there are many very ambiguous definitions, most of which focus on graphics and advertising, but very few on Customer Experience. This one is one of more compelling definitions I found, the underscoring is mine:

Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. While many people refer to a brand as a logo, tag line or audio jingle, a brand is actually much larger. A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced.

Importantly, brands enable a buyer to easily identify the offerings of a particular company. Brands are generally developed over time through:

  • Advertisements containing consistent messaging
  • Recommendations from friends, family members or colleagues
  • Interactions with a company and its representatives
  • Real-life experiences using a product or service (generally considered the most important element of establishing a brand)

Once developed, brands provide an umbrella under which many different products can be offered–providing a company tremendous economic leverage and strategic advantage in generating awareness of their offerings in the marketplace.“

The only statement I would challenge about experience is “generally considered the important element of establishing a brand.” Considered by whom? Oh, I certainly agree, but the marketing guru speaker and many other practitioners don’t even mention the experience as an influencer of a brand value.

Assuming that a real-life customer experience is also critical to managing an established brand, how effective is the practice of monitoring Social Media (SM) buzz? Let’s consider the following scenario:

  • Your SM monitoring tool captures thousands of mentioning of your brand and establishes that the total sentiment is more negative than positive. You manage to track the original sources of negative comments, contact them, resolve their issues and earn positive buzz as the result of your efforts. Mission accomplished!

Really? All you did was to treat a symptom and ignore a “disease.”

Brands like Sony may have over 2,000 products on the market at any given period of time. I continue to use Sony only as an example. I have nothing but respect for the company and don’t share an opinion about the quality of their products expressed by the marketing “guru.” What effect on overall brand equity would bring pacifying a few outspoken and unhappy customers? I am not advocating ignoring them, but in my opinion, monitoring reputation of products within the brand is, by far, better return on investment. Here is a suggested process:

  • Identify problematic products (from the customer experience perspective).
  • Identify the causes of these problems.
  • Measure Social Media impact of these problems on the brand value and cost of containing it.
  • Measure overall impact by triangulating the information above, the product return rates/costs and customer support efforts/costs.
  • Make a decision – what is more economically advantageous:
    •  Fixing the root cause problems identified or
    •  Pulling the product off the market

Here is a specific example: JD Power reports quarterly on a heated battle between Apple and Samsung for the smartphone supremacy. Apple brand usually shows higher Customer Satisfaction and much higher margins than Samsung. Samsung now sells more handsets than Apple by offering consumers a choice of a dozen or more models at any given time vs. Apple’s latest version of iPhone. Some of the Samsung smartphone models rated higher by their users in terms of Customer Experience than iPhone. I wonder what would an impact on Samsung (smartphone) brand value and margins, if Brand Managers follow the process outlined above to evaluate viability of Conquer 4G (180 reviews), Stratosphere (911) and Intercept (411) models? Social Media analysis of these three products’ reputation consistently indicates measurable customer’s disappointment with their experience of these phones.






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