Earlier this year, The New Yorker published an article entitled "Twilight of the Brands," which posited that due to the abundance of information now available to consumers, brands are irrelevant. For all the die-hard brand marketers out there — myself included — it felt like a blow to the chest. But the analysis is flawed and the conclusion is erroneous because the abundance of information now available to consumers makes brands more — not less — relevant. Brands have always been a shortcut to decision-making, and in a world where consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with information, that role becomes even more important. But what has changed is the art and science of brand building. In the age of the customer, we see that:
Brand communications have shifted from controlled to chaotic. In the pre-digital world, marketers had the luxury of being able to control most of their customers’ interactions with their brands — through ads, packaging, POS, and carefully solicited PR editorial. But in today’s post-digital era, most of consumers’ information about a brand originates from sources outside of the brand’s control, such as user-generated content, ratings and reviews, or social chatter.
Is this the long-awaited year of mobile? Last week, Facebook announced that its quarterly profits had more than doubled, driven in large part by mobile; 62% of Facebook’s ad revenue now comes from advertising on mobile devices. Forrester forecasts that mobile will be the fastest-growing digital marketing category in 2014, increasing 47% in 2013 over the prior year. And Forrester believes that we are witnessing a mobile mind shift — “the expectation that I can get what I want in my immediate context and moments of need.”
But mobile’s marketing moment has not yet arrived. While consumers continue the rapid shift to mobile, marketers have not yet realized mobile’s brand building potential — because for too many marketers, mobile remains a tactical underfunded offshoot disconnected from a CMO's brand building efforts. This is a missed opportunity.
Marketing needs a mobile mind shift. To harness the power of mobile, marketers must start with the experience they want customers to have with their brand, not the technology. Then determine what role mobile can play in delivering, improving, or even reinventing that experience — by creating, anticipating, or addressing a customer's mobile moment. Because the new battleground for customers is the mobile moment — the instant in which a customer has a want or need — Forrester has identified three types of mobile marketing moments.
JetBlue built its brand on a new standard of in-flight customer experience when it launched in 1999. Guided by its brand North Star to “bring humanity back to air travel,” the fledgling airline offered beleaguered economy passengers better seats, better entertainment, better snacks, and an all-around better customer experience. JetBlue had the prescience to understand that customer experience is inextricably linked to brand experience.
Our TRUE brand compass research shows that JetBlue has established itself as a major airline brand with consumers but has not yet risen above the competitive pack. JetBlue ranks as a TRUE brand follower, alongside air transportation stalwarts like American Airlines and United Airlines. But will it rise to leader status? On the back of a couple of headline-grabbing passenger incidents, a recent USA Today article raised questions about whether this pioneer of a better airline customer experience has “Lost Its Heart.” For me, the question is not so much whether JetBlue has lost its heart but whether the brand has failed to keep pace with consumers’ rising expectations of brands. Does JetBlue still have the prescience to see what will build the airline brand of the future?
When I was 10 years old, I heard my father and my Uncle Bob talking about the car they’d most like to own. Noticing me, Uncle Bob asked, “How about you, Harley? What car do you want to drive when you grow up?”
I immediately answered, “A Mercedes!”
My father’s eyes widened as Uncle Bob replied, “You have excellent taste.”
Forty years later, Mercedes-Benz still symbolizes “excellent taste” for me and millions of other people around the globe. It’s not just about high quality: The Mercedes brand sets a standard of comparison; it’s shorthand for “great experience” and “luxury.”
And that’s why we’re so excited that Stephen Cannon, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, is our lead-off industry speaker at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East next week in New York. Cannon is just perfect as the keynote address for an event with the theme “Good Is Not Good Enough” — because for Mercedes-Benz, just being “good” would be a serious disappointment.
As we approach the event, Stephen was nice enough to answer some of our questions about the Mercedes-Benz customer experience. Check out what he has to say — and I hope we both see you out in the audience next week at the New York Hilton.
Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
Facebook will launch its new Paper product on February 3. The questions I have been asked are, "Why?" and "Should we be thinking about multiple apps rather than one large app?" Both good questions.
The first question -- I can only take a shot. Facebook, like many other media properties, depends heavily on advertising for revenue. To get advertising, you need eyeballs. More and more minutes per day are spent on mobile phones. Consumption of news, information, and media generally tops the list behind communication. Consumers also expect highly curated experiences on small screens that can be more challenging to navigate. At first glance, the Paper user interface and experience looks to be quite elegant.
It always makes me smile to see a product or app launched that takes a mobile first-approach. From the short video that was released, you can instantly tell that they didn't start with a web experience and think, "How can we strip this down and put it on a small screen?" They appeared to have done ethonographic research -- to watch and observe how people engage with their phones and consume information through the course of the day (e.g., the unfolding of the newspaper). This is one of the best practices in mobile design -- understand the needs of consumers on the go. Companies must ask, "What are those moments during the day when someone reaches for the phone to access information or a service?" Forrester calls them mobile moments. Companies must be ready to serve customers in those moments.
There’s a lot of effort exerted by marketing leaders to turn customers into brand advocates. But their customers have a lot of brand choices and a lot of other things on their minds. What these marketers are overlooking is the potential brand advocates in their own backyard. Their employees. Employees are fundamentally connected to, thinking about, and representing your brand every day. They are often your biggest fans.
Indeed, our research shows that one of the biggest shifts of brand building in the 21st century is that — for leading brands — it is now a companywide effort. A unanimous 100% of marketing leaders surveyed by Forrester agreed that brand building requires all employees to be brand ambassadors. But the companies they lead are not yet living up to this aspiration. While many marketers’ eyes light up at the prospect of tapping in to their employees' Twitter networks, just focusing on social is missing the point. Yes, social is a valuable tool to create conversation. But true employee brand advocacy requires chief marketing officers (CMOs) to go deeper. They need to make delivering a superior brand experience part of the enterprise culture. Brand advocacy can’t be another task on someone’s to-do list. Make brand building part of how employees do their job and guide them by the light of a clear brand North Star so that your powerful new army marches to the same drumbeat. Forrester’s three-step framework guides the way:
Excite with an inspiring brand experience. A PowerPoint presentation at the company meeting just won’t cut it. Bring the brand to life for your employees. Starbucks invested a staggering $35 million to create an interactive brand lab to bring the brand experience to life for its frontline employees.
Like many marketing leaders out there, you are probably still coming to grips with understanding and working with Millennials — the 20-somethings being courted by media and marketing alike. But now there’s a whole new generation to understand: Generation Z. Who are they? Why should you care about them? And how can you build your brand with them? Here’s what we know.
Who is Gen Z?
Gen Z is the first generation born into a digital world. While there’s no one commonly accepted demographic definition, they are generally considered to be born in the mid-1990s through 2010. They are true digital natives who have grown up in the age of technology. The only world they know is a digital one — where they can connect anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. As a result, they are highly promiscuous when it comes to media consumption; they will be the first generation to consume more media online than offline. And Forrester’s Technographics® research shows that today 84% of Gen Zers multitask with an Internet-connected device while watching TV — using an average of 1.5 other Internet-connected devices.
Why should marketers care?
The leading edge of this generation is now aged 18 to 23, entering college and the workforce. They are financing more of their own brand and purchasing decisions and experimenting with new products and brands. This makes them a key target for many marketers seeking to forge life-long brand allegiance.
How can you build your brand with them?
Gen Zers are open to relationships with brands, so long as those brands are authentic and live up to their high expectations. To win the hearts and minds of Gen Zers, marketing leaders must:
How many times have you been asked, “What’s your social strategy?” As Facebook’s IPO grabs the headlines, and new social sites like Pinterest and Tumblr grab consumers’ attention, many marketers are wrestling with what brand building looks like in today’s social world. But the real question you should be asking yourself is, “How does social media change your brand strategy?”
Marketing leaders now view social media as critical for brand building. In our February 2012 Marketing Leadership Online Survey, nine out of 10 marketing leaders told us that social media is fundamentally changing how brands are being built in the 21st century. In fact, they view it as second only to search for brand building. But many are still struggling to determine how to integrate it into their marketing plans. The truth is, while social is a great new tool, it lacks the power to build a brand alone. Marketing leaders such as Coca-Cola and JetBlue recognize this and are integrating social with paid and owned media to build a 21st century brand experience. In my new report, "How Social Media Is Changing Brand Building," I identify three ways social media can help marketers harness the power of social to build their brand by 1) building a relationship to become more trusted; 2) differentiating through an emotional connection to become more remarkable; and 3) nurturing loyal fans to become more essential.
How is social changing your brand building strategy? What challenges are you facing in the social brand building world? Comment here, or join the conversation in our community of marketing leaders.
The recent Earth Day celebration brought a slew of often-conflicting reports on consumers’ environmental or green attitudes and behavior, such as “consumers cut spending on green,” “green worth paying more for,” “Americans hate faux green marketers,” and “[Boomers] passionate for green.” Green marketing initiatives were also everywhere, from Jet Blue’s “One Thing That’s Green” pledge to Procter & Gamble’s “My Carbon Footprint” app and Target’s eco-conscious “Refresh Your Nest” home makeover sweepstakes. Faced with this barrage of information and activities, many marketing leaders will be asking themselves what this means for their brand. Should they bide their time until the dust settles, or jump in? What about the risks of green-washing? Do consumers really care about the environment, or is it just something that they think they should care about? In truth, there is no one answer, because green marketing and green consumer behavior is changing rapidly. That being said, the expectation for companies to be more sustainable, from consumers and CEOs alike, is not going anywhere. So marketing leaders need to figure out what level of green engagement is right for their brand and their consumer.
Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.
It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:
Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages.
Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.