What is branding, anyway?
The word “branding” has always been very foggy, but it has recently become even more complex. Traditionally used to define the very broad range of activities to place a product inside its market (from logo to package design, from promotional strategy to pricing), the word has become more and more disembodied and presently revolves around ideas such as “customer experience” and “customer relationship”.
Yet everyday a new question arises. Can a brand really be summarized by something as simple as a logo with a catchy tagline? What makes a brand REALLY successful? How do you piece together the many many pieces that actually form a brand? How much of it is strictly self-determined by the company and how essential is the involvement of the public? Can a brand really define itself, or is it simply perceived?
The discussion can go on and on and even become quite philosophical… but one thing is now widely recognized: customers are an essential aspect of each and every brand. A brand isn’t simply made of a well designed logo, a carefully studied strategy and a couple of aptly placed slogans: a brand is essentially defined by its own customers and how they interact with it.
Quoting Wikipedia: “In 2001 Hislop defined branding as “the process of creating a relationship or a connection between a company’s product and emotional perception of the customer for the purpose of generating segregation among competition and building loyalty among customers.” In 2004 and 2008, Kapferer and Keller respectively defined it as a fulfillment in customer expectations and consistent customer satisfaction.”
Did you notice how many times the word “customer” appear?
The long quest for coherence
Companies are more concerned about their perceived image: they realize that their branding begins when they get in touch with the customer. But doing it effectively has become harder by the day…. especially through the web!
Coherence is essential, of course… yet achieving it requires something more than a cute little logo that (hopefully) matches with all the other aspects of the company’s brand.
To be entirely coherent in its overall communication a company must be crystal clear: in an age where customers can be so well informed and so easily connected, transparency is not an option anymore. Every possible problem must be addressed in an open and straightforward way: hiding has become simply impossible, and over the web a hushed failure can backfire.
Availability is also essential… and has become more and more difficult to provide because of the exponential growth of contact channels: email, webpages, social networks, chats. Too many touch points to get in touch become a nightmare to manage and effectively communicate with.
But what’s even more difficult to achieve is a sincere internal communication between all the companies departments that should really share the same ideals and methodology. Every company can brag for hours about its mission and its philosophy… yet the “customer” that the marketing department desperately wants to please is often treated in a completely different way by the customer care agents!
The branding starts with the customer
If the customer is such a vital part of the company’s branding, if the very definition of the word “branding” revolves around the ideas of “customer experience” and “customer satisfaction”, why do so many companies underestimate the importance of customer care? Customer care is often outsourced to third parties and delegated to external teams, that know absolutely nothing about the brand mission and the internal philosophy that the company prides itself in so much. So where does this “experience” start? And where does it end?
All companies give incredible importance to the selling moment, and tend to ignore the customer after it. So does traditional branding: it takes the utmost care of every aspect of the product that leads to purchasing it, and simply ignores customers afterwards. Yet the customer experience only BEGINS with buying! And branding should start from here, too.
Interacting with customers requires a great deal of attention to be consistent across different channels. Every single interaction must be carefully managed and should look, sound and feel coherent with every other aspect of the company’s communication. Such level of complexity simply cannot be achieved through outsourcing: a company must deal with it directly.
Multi-channel support is vital, too, but it’s also incredibly HARD to achieve: here a good software tool like Deskero can definitely make the difference, by helping all companies, even those with a small customer care team, to be available on a wide range of different media.
First and foremost, companies need to realize that customer care is an essential part of their branding process, and cannot be underestimated or outsourced: it needs to be taken care of in a transparent, personal and efficient way, in order to impress modern customers and so invite them to return.