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The gift. How brand Values define brand Value.

December 9, 2008

Ginger Conlon at 1to1media.com

“Every holiday season includes gifts, as well. Mine is to share with you some advice from several of 1to1’s colleagues and associates on how to harness customer centricity to stay competitive in 2009. I posed the following question:

“What aspect of customer strategy will be the most useful to survive or thrive in this uncertain economy, and why?”

My reply/contribution to Ginger on December 5,2008 follows. Readers may also want to follow this link to an  interesting 2nd annual global study by Edelman, “Mutually Beneficial Marketing – why businesses and brands need a good purpose.” regarding the growing importance good works programs have on consumer purchase considerations of companies and brands.

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Customers have always wanted value and it’s the responsibility of all employees to create value for the customer, not just for marketing or sales or the call centre.

Somehow, as we have gained the immediacy and expediency of digital marketing, we have forgotten that in addition to price, there is an entire value chain that reinforces the brand and actually has greater importance to customer relevancy. It’s up to us to learn what components in that chain are more important than others, how that value is perceived relative to the competition, and how we go about optimizing it.

Indeed while value is derived from the brand’s price it is also sourced from its convenience, quality/reliability, image and fun/escapism benefits. In addition to those purchase relevance triggers, we must also focus on consumption triggers by understanding the solution the brand provides, the support/knowledge network surrounding the brand, and the societal benefit the brand creates. All of these components can be emphasized in either the long term or in the short term.

Therefore the first thing I would suggest is to revisit your brand value chain and understand how strong or weak it is, especially in the context of the new economic conditions. Some portion of your customer base may no longer have the means to support your brand, be new to the brand or have new priorities.

What remains consistent however, is the more one relies on price (in the guise of DM or ecommerce relevancy) to drive business, the weaker/more precarious the brand value platform becomes. Challenge yourself to include as many of the brand value chain elements in your offer communication and give it more prominence than the price. Dell has successfully reconfigured their tactical promotions giving significant prominence to benefits over price.

Complicating matters is the fact that the ground has ‘shifted’ (more like heaved) at a time when we have pervasive social networks and inter-connectivity that didn’t exist just a few years ago. And so the brand’s role in the community takes on much greater importance.

With the financial crisis spillover onto Main Street, people are scared, angry, and skeptical. They are searching for stewardship and a sense of community in the rebuilding efforts that lay ahead. For marketers this means brands need to support their constituency as much as they seek that support themselves. In the process brands will earn a level of customer trust, relevancy, and intimacy that will be invaluable for future success; it’s what I call Share of Life marketing.

Tangible steps to be taken by brand leaders for the immediate crisis of confidence:

1. Stewardship: A brand’s values help define the brand value.
Recognize that enterprise value stems from the user base and not the investor base, that Return on Customer drives Return on Investment.

Give the brand community a reason to support your market offering. Customers need to hear CEO’s give voice and action to their principles of human resources and community support and how the enterprise they lead plans to be part of the rebuilding solution.

A corporate stewardship pronouncement will boost the rank-and-file morale. Pay particular focus to customer-facing employees to ensure that service support is at its highest levels. Consider deploying a CEO-driven customer service rewards program to bridge the next 4-6 months so that everyone understands you are serious about customer service. Share stories (not statistics) of the impact service delivery has on customers; preferably in the customer’s own words or better still on video. Consider redeploying retired or surplus/underutilized employees as secret customer service observers.

2. Leverage. Use current customers to drive acquisition of new customers and/or generate higher sales multiples. For example:

a. Allow brand users to herd and share in the benefits of conjoined purchases. Instead of (Buy One Get One) BOGO’s directed to an individual, engage the customer’s clan and turn it into mother-daughter, or boy’s day out/girl’s day out shopping event. Or set a purchase threshold above which the shopping party earns some discount or reward. Create themed events that capture the spirit of a shopping party with contest prizing geared around the group as opposed to the individual shopper.

b. Engage the larger constituency by promoting some local community/social benefit tied into brand purchases, i.e. $x for every purchase this month goes to support your choice from this group of charities. Blend national and local good works programs to maximize relevancy. Have customers vote on which good works program they wish to support. Don’t put a cap on the donation amount (to avoid looking like a scrooge) but do commit to a minimum or matching formula. Try to engage good-works partners to help promote your efforts to their constituency.

c. For B2B, consider implementing a customer appreciation program rewarding customer referrals by sharing some of the incremental profit, perhaps yielding longer payment terms (net 35 vs. net 30) or awarding soft benefits. The intent is to demonstrate the value of the solution based partnership to your customers.
3. Social Media. Now you really have something to talk about.
Share your stories with the community. Give your brand constituency progress reports with the same frequency and importance given to your shareholder community. Update the constituency on the impact their support is having with their charitable causes. Solicit their input on new product development, packaging, and promotional ideas. The greater the inclusiveness, the greater the customer’s ownership of the brand, the greater the partnership.

While this dialog is taking place, consider a program allowing customers to self select/self create promotional events. For example if if the CRM assessment indicates the customer is to be targeted with six promotional events skewing toward particular up-sell/cross-sell products, why not let them create their own events on their timelines. Keep track of the activity to ensure compliance within any overarching constraints (i.e. number of events, timeline for completion), but take this opportunity to change the focus of marketing initiatives from a campaign-centric to a customer-centric approach.

The ground may have shifted, but the path to success is the same: brand value derived from customer relevancy, solution innovation, co-creation and co-dependency.

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