Originally published on Forbes
What is the world's most valuable brand? Amazon, Apple or Google — the leaders — probably spring to mind. They are now so integral to everyday life that it may seem difficult to picture a time before them. Yet, the fact is that they have only emerged on the leaderboard in the recent decade. Amazon's brand value has grown nearly 50% year over year, accounting for a $150 billion in brand value. At the same time, consider the brands that were once the behemoths of their times, now overtaken and many fallen from grace. Some of them have disappeared completely.
The reality is, brand equity is being created and destroyed at an unprecedented rate in today's digital-first world. And where your brand falls is now, more than ever, entirely up to you.
The brands that continue to fall could be one of yours. They are the ones that have only focused on engagement — the buzzword of the last decade that refers to fleeting interactions. Whereas the ones that have rocketed up the charts are entangling, a constant process of sustaining a meaningful two-way relationship with people. These brands are the ones that have managed to embrace technology as a part of ongoing efforts to understand and create deeper relationships with their customers. What technology has brought to light is that many brands established before the digital age are now scrambling to meet customers' needs and expectations, but that doesn't have to be a death knell.
Rethink Branding: Let's Talk About Entanglement
The digital age has shown us that the traditional approach to branding is no longer enough. How we see brands and their relationships with people needs to evolve. Yet, despite the digital development that has transformed how business is conducted, many organizations' approach to branding has remained the same.
Brands are built from the personification of a business, which is ultimately a process of discovery and identification. A business is typically concerned with declaring who it is, what it does, how it looks and who it serves. These aspects are fundamental pillars from which it builds a memorable identity, but it cannot end here. Too many businesses view the establishment of their identity as the end-all, without realizing that they have provided promises to people that they have not yet fulfilled. In a relationship that fundamentally involves two parties (the brand and the people), having a singular focus creates the illusion of an inherently imbalanced power dynamic and signals to the people that their priorities are less important, pushing them away.
Yet, many brands today still invest most of their marketing efforts on and for themselves. This is on advertising: airing TV commercials or buying display ad placements that focus on self-promotion rather than crafting the customer experience.
We need to remember that brands do not operate in a vacuum. They live in a space that is consistently defined and redefined by their relationship with people. And this relationship is not quantified by a straightforward count of brand-people interactions — because, in many cases, that's just a click. The real unit of measurement we should be looking at is the count of meaningful interactions between the brand and its people.
We Don't Go Online, We Live Online
We presently exist in a digital-first age. Technology has given brands a global platform and the ability to interact with people at scale. It has fundamentally changed how people get information, communicate and engage with one another. Ergo, it has changed the relationship between brands and people.
With all these digital interactions, brands have more information about people. However, data in itself is not worth much — especially if it's primarily used to harass people and intrude upon their online experience. What we need to understand is that the old adage, "information is power," is no longer the singular truth. Information is power only when it is interpreted and used to understand people to the ends of establishing a closer relationship with them. Through this understanding, brands have the potential and capability to create something magical and accessible.
Entangling Your Brand With Your Customers
Let's think back on the classic example of Blockbuster versus Netflix. What Netflix has done is give people a way out of Blockbuster. People hated the inconvenience of late fees, restrictions and the hassle of doing business with them, but they didn't have a better alternative. Until they did. And the rest is history: users did not hesitate to switch.
What if, instead of aggressively trying to court new viewers, Blockbuster had diverted some of its efforts toward grooming its relationship with its existing community and continually improving the experience for its current user base? Most CMOs are tasked with finding new customers, but how much of your existing budget and efforts are used to nurture your existing ones? Here's a statistic for you: 4% of customers account for 64% of a company's sales. If asked, do you know your brand's 4%? Do you understand them?
It's Time To Step Up
Instead of just spending dollars seeking new customers and focusing on campaigns shouting about how great your brand is, start by nurturing your existing relationships. Brands spend so much money on pre-customers but rarely consider the experience they offer to people once they become customers. When people take a chance on your brand, don't take that for granted. Don't impose your brand on people's lives. Rather, give people reasons to want your brand to be a part of their lives.
You don't have to strive toward trying to attract everyone — instead, strive toward investing in the people who would find it meaningful to entangle with your brand. Learn about your existing customers, care about them and invest in them. They will become your brand's strongest ambassadors and their experience will define your brand's finest moments. The best part is they are already here for you. All you have to do is reach out and do good by them.
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