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Evolution of the brand: from a logo to an experience

A couple of weeks ago, along with my 10-year old daughter and husband, we experienced our first-ever Disneyland adventure. I had always heard that Disneyland was a place where magic comes alive. And I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

As one of the world’s most admired companies – Disney – takes delivering a great customer experience to a whole other level.

We experienced the “magic” in everything: from the shows and the beloved Disney characters, to the impeccable service, all the way down to the beautifully-kept Disneyland grounds. We were wide-eyed. We were giggly. We were “wow-ed”.

As a marketer, I couldn’t help but wonder how does a company create a “wow” experience? What is the secret?

It’s about interactions, not transactions

The world is in the midst of a digital transformation. Digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we operate, including the way we do business. Where we used to meet and talk face to face, conversations and relationships now take place over social media and online.

Buying habits have also changed. As consumers, we are much more informed than ever before: we seek opinions, read reviews and compare prices, deals and terms – all online. We explain our decisions and state our opinions in a forum of shared experiences. And we use these shared experiences to help us to decide what fits our budget or needs.

Conversations and connections are happening online, non-stop, 24/7, around the world. These online conversations not only define the times that we live in, but also the ways that brands are perceived.

A report by eConsultancy found that this “culture of immediacy” has changed the way brands interact with customers. 64% of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real-time, and the percentage of business buyers who expected real-time interaction was even higher.

In this “new world”, today’s consumers, especially millennials and Generation Z’ers, want interactions with brands. They don’t buy into things! Instead, they want experiences that create lasting emotional connections.

As marketers, this means that we don’t just focus on selling a product, but instead use our skills to create stories that touch the heart. This is how we build a more authentic and closer bond with our existing and potential customers.

Product doesn’t make a brand

Just to be clear – A brand is more than just a product. In fact, people don’t buy a product for the sake of buying a product. They buy a product for what it can do for them. They buy a product for the feeling that it gives them.

If you think about Disneyland, it’s really just a bunch of rides, balloons and cartoon characters. But what Disney did, was to package it all together with a promise of creating magical experiences. A promise which they live up to each and every day.

Think of any of the Apple products. If you wipe away the marketing fluff, they sell electronic devices – mobile phones, computers and tablets.

So why buy an Apple product? Consumers buy Apple products because they are different and they inspire their customers to be different.

And this is where the brand promise comes in.

A brand promise is a statement made by an organization to its customers stating what customers can expect from their product and services. It is the value proposition. It represents the uniqueness of the brand and is the most important aspect of a brand, for this is what customers remember.

Consider these brand promises:

  • BMW: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”

This bold statement is the driving force behind BMW’s brand. They aim to produce only the most efficient and elegant vehicles and their brand promise states this with confidence.

  • Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

This brand promise doesn’t even mention Nike products, but instead tells the consumer how they think and what they aim to do on a much larger scale than sports clothing and equipment.

  • Harley Davidson: “We are Harley Davidson.”

Harley Davidson have had a number of different brand promises through the years, but all of which revolve around the simple fact that there is nothing like a Harley. This brand promise doesn’t attempt to be anything; instead, it is simple and to-the-point, promising a consistent experience with their company every single time.

So, how can a business build a true brand attachment? Start by making a meaningful and credible brand promise to your customers, and then deliver on that promise over and over again.

Brand is a customer experience defined

Although tangible features such as font, colors, logos or any other visual representations are part of the brand, branding goes way beyond the tangible.

Things like your company’s identity, values, strategy and – most importantly – your vision of how you relate to your customers are also a part of your brand. If you stripped away the tangible elements, would your customers still be able to recognize your brand?

Being able to define your brand equals to being able to define the promise you give to your customers. And this means that when we talk about branding, we really talk about customer experience.

Your brand is what your customers experience or, simply, what and how they feel when they come in contact with your brand.

Key elements of a brand identity platform

Some call it DNA, others call it values – whatever name you give, branding allows you to define the core message your business is set to convey; i.e. your essence.

A strong brand tells a personal story of a business: how you came about, how you evolved, why you became who you are today, why what you’re doing matters to you, and what else do you want to achieve.

There are five main elements you need to define when building your brand identity.

  1. Purpose is the WHY you exist: What is your brand’s ultimate reason for being? Why do you do what you do? And this is not about making money. That’s only a result.
  2. Vision is WHERE you want to go: This is a statement that paints a picture of the future of your brand. This statement shapes your organizational growth.
  3. Mission is HOW you are going to get there: This explains how the work will get done.

Let’s use Tesla as an example to show you how this is applied:

Tesla’s original brand purpose was: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport”.

Tesla’s vision statement was: “To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles”.

How they did it was by creating a culture of technology, design and innovation with the sole purpose of moving the world away from polluting fossil fuels.

What they did was to create a series of supercool electric vehicles to support this effort.

  1. Values: What does your brand stand for? Don’t choose standard values like “trustworthy” or “reliable” because they won’t help you stand out from the crowd in any significant way. There are no real feelings or emotions behind these words.

At the same time as you define your values, you also define your brand’s personality. A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand name, and it makes a huge impact on the voice and tone used in your marketing materials and other communications. If a personality isn’t established, customers will get mixed messages and have trouble connecting with your brand.

  1. Promise: As I said earlier, this is the value proposition. It represents the uniqueness of the brand.

During a 1997 presentation to his employees at Apple, Steve Jobs gave the following advice:

In the same presentation, he goes on to say:

“What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their job done…Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core…It’s the core values…is that we believe that people with a passion can change the world for the better.”

Steve Job’s values hold 3 key points:

  • Passion
  • Change
  • Better world

These 3 key points are what Apple believes in, and they make sure to promote those values through every aspect of their brand.

Delivering the brand promise inside out

So, you’ve got your brand vision, mission and values. You’ve documented all of that in a brand identity guide along with your visual identity and tone of voice guide.

Now what?

Unfortunately, creating a distinct brand is not enough.

The real test of your brand’s vitality comes when you begin to implement the brand-appropriate thinking, behavior and appearance in your company.

You may adopt the most stylish font, choose the spot-on color palette, create an awesome logo, and design a swanky website – this all would not mean a thing, if you are NOT living the brand through your product, customer service, marketing campaigns, and your overall business objectives.

Make your brand come alive from the inside out

Whether your company is product- or service-oriented, your brand promise lives and dies by your company’s employees and their ability to consistently act on it.

From the receptionist to the CEO, everyone should be your brand’s ambassadors. Educating your employees is the key to ensuring that your company keeps its promises to its customers. Training programs should include clear messages about what your brand stands for, what you are committed to delivering to your customers and why it all matters so much.

All customer touchpoints should align with the brand promise

This is where the old cliché “actions speak louder than words” describes it best. A brand promise is nothing if not followed through with an action.

All touchpoints and departments should align together with the brand. It doesn’t do any good if half of the company “lives the brand” and the other half of the company is disconnected from it. The end result is a broken promise to the customer.

So, how can everyone align with the brand?

One way is to start by analyzing all the external touchpoints that your company has with its customers.

Owners of the different touchpoints will need to detail how and what they should do in order to align with the brand promise.

This is not something that can be done in a couple of hours. Departments will need some time to discuss and decide in detail HOW they will fulfill the promise and how this will affect customers.

This information should also be consolidated and communicated to all employees in different settings such as trainings, workshops, etc. to make sure that everyone is on board. This, in turn, will ensure that your customers get a consistent experience no matter what touchpoint.

Let the voice of the customer guide you

To make sure your brand is successfully recognized and, as a result, chosen by consumers, you need to create specific on-brand experiences for your customers and prospects. Any brand is only alive if there is a certain relationship or an association a consumer can establish with it.

And to do this, you need to understand what your customers need, what experiences they look for, and what – as simplistic as it may sound – makes them happy.

You can do this through listening to the voice of customer data. Tools such as satisfaction surveys, Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback, customer interviews and focus groups provide valuable information into how you can fill your brand’s gaps and increase customer loyalty.

6 tips to building a successful brand in 2018 and beyond

One of the most obvious shifts in the understanding of a brand’s objectives is the diversion of focus: from a more introspective, inward-looking and pragmatic understanding of a brand that is aimed to “embellish” and “differentiate” a business, towards a more outward, extrovert and emotional understanding of a brand as an interaction based on a personal connection.

Here are 6 tips that you can use to build a successful brand in 2018 and beyond:

  1. Create an emotional connection with your customers. Today, establishing an emotional connection with the customer is the key to your brand’s longevity. A brand needs to evoke a very distinct feeling, which makes it easier for people to associate it with a certain behavior and even a lifestyle.
  2. Focus on the customer experience. How does a prospect come in contact with your brand? Is it a hassle to become a customer with your company? What happens if the customer has a question? Always map the customer journey so that you can see the world through your customer’s eyes and provide a better experience.
  3. Marry your brand purpose with your product. A brand can become really successful if it ties the company’s values and purposes with its product offering. This way a company can justify more naturally (and attractively) what it is doing (producing, selling) and why it exists. So, if you claim to be a green company, your product should be at least environmentally-friendly.
  4. Master the art of storytelling. This is a new trend that highlights the necessity to create authentic and relatable stories for consumers. A company with signature personal stories to tell can built a more authentic, closer bond with a potential customer. The key here is to be genuine and offer sincere stories. Remember – storytelling is NOT advertising, it is an interaction!
  5. Be consistent in all communication channels. The ability to offer consistent messaging and quality throughout all channels and departments, as well as to deliver on your promises at all circumstances, has never been more relevant. Maintaining a brand’s consistency is a united effort, and everything that goes off-brand should be immediately removed or corrected.
  6. Commit to the brand promise. To ensure that the brand promise and values aren’t just a bunch of empty words, give employees the tools to stay on-brand by training them and getting their commitment. Ask different departments to share how they are living the brand through their actions and behavior. Although employees can sometimes have the best of intentions, their actions can be disconnected from the brand. Managers should help their employees make these connections and understand how their relationships and actions affect the brand and the business.

 Some final thoughts

All in all, branding is more than a graphical image of a company, but rather a carefully arranged, strategic plan of actions that involves all departments in a company.

Brands such as Disney, Apple, and Tesla have shown us what can come out from being single-mindedly focused on delivering an amazing customer experience each and every time.

Commitment to the brand is the only thing which will help companies stand out form a sea of their many competitors.

And dedication to the brand is not only a task for the marketing department. Ultimately, brand success lies in the unanimous decision of all business units to live according to and deliver on the values and the brand promise.

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