Over the past decade, digital marketing has experienced rapid evolution both from a customer engagement perspective as well as product delivery and this has transformed the ‘brand promise’.
Meeting expectations: The evolution of the brand promise and moments of truth
In branding, a brand promise connects the company’s purpose, market positioning, strategy, employees and customer experience. How the potential customers perceive the brand is where the ‘promise’ is created.
Traditionally, brands then had to face two critical “moments of truth” that they absolutely needed to win or their product or service would be eliminated from consideration.
1. The first moment of truth was when the consumer was looking at the store shelf trying to decide which product to buy; here it was essential to have a strong brand promise to act as shorthand to summarize a brand’s promise through mental and emotional associations. A consumer under a set of constraints including time and resources had to make a decision at the point of purchase.
2. The second moment of truth, as widely popularized by A.G. Lafley during his first tenure at Procter&Gamble, was when the consumer experienced the truth of the promise by using the product or service.
However, digitization, mobile internet connectivity and social media behavior has transformed traditional ideas of the ‘brand promise’; today, customers experience a brand’s promise (both the understanding and delivery) in multiple ways before a purchase.
We are now beyond the ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth), which Google identified as the moment in which the consumer researches the product or service online before they come to the store or visit the point of purchase website.
Today brands have to increasingly deliver parts of the promise through content and services online even before a customer makes a purchase. Furthermore, consumers are now being prompted with notifications via social media and apps with reviews and comments from their friends and circle of influencers.
The reality is that it is no longer only the company drives the brand; their customers do too. Companies need to be very agile at adapting their brand features, functional benefits and emotional rewards; while having consistent brand values and personality.
Brand equity can be built or broken in a matter of minutes.
Examples of positive social media impact on brand equity:
1. APPLE – Remember when billionaire investor Carl Icahn revealed on Twitter last year that he had taken a “large position” in Apple? The Apple stock spiked as much as 5.69 percent on the announcement making it Apple’s second best day of the year.
2. UBER taxi – This summer’s blockade of central London byblack-cab drivers helped boost awareness of taxi app Uber significantly while only a third of Londoners opposed the protest.
Examples of negative social media impact on brand equity:
The hashtag #FAIL has virally amplified negative sentiment and destroyed trust by social media users and customers.
1. Singapore Airlines – Last July, Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA) had to issue a public apology for making statements deemed “insensitive” by users after the downing of flight MH17.
2. Dominos Pizza – Similarly back in 2009, before Domino’s Pizza ever had a social media presence, they found themselves launched into a viral attack when two employees in one of their franchises uploaded a video to Youtube of themselves doing disgusting things to a pizza before it went out on delivery. As you can imagine, the video instantly went viral and Dominos Pizza was instantly launched into a full social media crisis.
3. Dow Jones down 150 points – In April, US markets suffered a brief but sharp sell-off after a fake tweet from the hacked Twitter account of newswire AP announced an attack on the White House.
Is this a frightening revelation, or an exciting one?
- The total number of Facebook users worldwide is a reported 1.4 billion
- The total number of Twitter users worldwide is 645, 750,000
- There are more than 200 popular social media platforms in use
For digital marketers, arguably the size of the opportunity for most sectors has significantly increased compared to the more traditional methods of engaging and promoting a company’s brand promise. Think of how fast startups from different sectors such as Twitter, Spotify, Uber Taxi, Candy Crush, etc can grow today!
Prior to this evolution of the brand promise, a brand would be limited in their marketing reach. Now, brands of all sizes and in all (internet-connected) geographies have access to more than a billion prospects: real time!
The breadth of choice cuts both ways, for a brand’s potential customers but also for brands themselves, which have in promoting their promise and delivering on the key aspects of their identity.
In what ways is the brand experienced before purchase?
Digital marketing provides some of the scope for how a brand is experienced before a product or service purchase. For example:
- Social Media Marketing
Social Media has certainly changed the way brands and customers communicate – moving from a broadcast mentality to a two-way communication between brand and customer.
In a bid to be ‘authentic’ on social media, brands expose the ‘inner workings’ of their businesses to outside viewers, and indeed, encourage active engagement with social media followers, including customers publishing their experiences (positive and negative) of a brand’s promise.
However, just as social media marketing can increase brand awareness and ‘reach’, so can social media punish brands that deliver unsatisfactorily on their brand promise.
In fact, a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) found massive discrepancy between what brand marketers felt acceptable commercial practice and what consumers felt were acceptable. Almost half (47%) of consumers said they would change their behavior [in respect to a brand] if they discovered a brand were “manipulating social media”.
- Email Marketing
Email Marketing is considered by some marketing professionals to be the least ‘open’ of all marketing tools, and is perhaps very similar to other, more traditional sales techniques, because it doesn’t allow an easy two-way dialogue – part of the democratization of brand communication.
Email marketing really does rely on the marketer to ensure that email content provides a positive experience for the recipient, in order to entice response to a ‘call-to-action’. However, email marketing if written considering individual needs and in a personal way; avoiding excessive imagery is still very effective.
On the right is a useful indicator of Email Marketing performance, across business sectors, in the UK (for 2014).
- Content Marketing
Content Marketing plays a huge role in both your customer outreach as well as search ranking. Content marketing can be extremely powerful in terms of promoting brand by giving the target reader value (such as education, entertainment and fulfilling a need or desire), while also positioning the author as an expert – ‘thought leader’ – in the sector.
Businesses that operate a blog generate 126% more sales leads than their non-blogging counterparts and 77% of those online read a blog at least once a month.
- Freemium/Demo Accounts
The ‘freemium’ business model has been growing apace, particularly in software and other digital products/services. It involves alluring prospective customers with free access to either a limited version of the product/service, or for a limited period. The goal is to encourage ‘upgrades’ to a premium version of the offering.
Demo access to products/services works similarly; by providing sample or provisional access, a customer has perhaps the closest brand experience (whether or not the brand delivers on its ‘promise’) as is possible prior to the point of purchase.
Pitch perfect branding – no second chances
With such an abundance of touch points for potential customers to experience the brand promise before the point of purchase, brands must ensure they are ‘on tone’ and ‘on message’ and at all times.
Trust is a fragile but highly valuable commodity to a brand.
Customers gravitate towards a brand they feel they can trust and that can communicate to them in their own language. This means messaging must be consistent, offering support and guidance regularly thus building a pattern of trust they can become familiar with.
Social media segmentation tools allow brands to garner much more information about their target prospects – and to match content and other marketing specifically to that audience.
There are a plethora of tools in the modern marketer’s arsenal that offer real-time analytics on customer behaviour, allowing brands to respond in real-time and to tailor the brand experience to them. The Adobe Marketing Cloud, Hubspot, Marketo and Eloqua all provide platforms to better segment visitors’ real time and to massively personalize touch points throughout the costumer journey. Presenting visitors with relevant products, content and offers.
From prospect customer to point of purchase
By using these platforms in this way, companies can shape and tailor the experience of the brand, molding its content and tone of voice to best fit its target prospect, which increases the chances of a brand delivering on the first touch points of its ‘promise’.
In turn, with the delivery of a successful experience at the initial stage, that prospective customer becomes a ‘hot lead’ customer, enticed to the point of purchase. In this scenario, the main way a brand can falter is in any failure to deliver the same level of brand experience at the point of purchase as the customer expects.
Herein lies the rub; delivering brand promise prior to purchase can work for a business in the long term providing it is done with absolute authenticity. Offering a brand experience that genuinely adds value and/or is valued by the target customer must be at the forefront of any digital marketing strategy.
Prospects in today’s markets are less inclined to be sold to, they want to be given the support and guidance to allow them to follow their own instincts and make their own decision that is right for them. Brands themselves must evolve to meet this challenge – and opportunity – too.
Brand Managers are still in the driving seat but the costumer is their co-pilot, providing constant feedback. Brands need to be very agile at adapting the features, functional benefits and emotional rewards of the brand to deliver the the promise within the first touch points the customer had, and all of while being consistent in the values and personality of the brand.
I would like to finish this post with 10 elements that my friend and mentor Larry Light recommends for marketers to follow to drive the brand successfully in today’s digital market place. (Larry was a turnaround global CMO at McDonalds and now is the global brand strategist at Intercontinental Hotel Group, a chain of some 4,500 hotels that include the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands).
10 Principles for driving brand success:
1. Stand up for what you stand for (be true to your brand personality and values)
2. Promise what you intend to deliver and deliver what you promise
3. Provide extraordinary guarantees – keep it simple and straightforward
4. Simplify choice complexity – we live in an ‘over-choiced’ world (See Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice)
5. Be a trusted information source
6. Educate consumers – competency breeds comfort
7. Be open and transparent
8. Be responsive and responsible
9. Don’t spectate, collaborate. Collaboration is better than confrontation
10. Support causes aligned with your values
I would like to dedicate this post to my friend and colleague @MariaMarketeer Maria Salgado Martorell for being a Star as a colleague at Saxo Bank and for always living our Brand Principles with Passion. Check out her blog here: www.MariaMarketeer.com/blog
Follow me on twitter: @urielac
 Moments of truth Jan Carlzon 1986 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YjPA029I3lAC&dq  Brand Pyramid Harvard Business Review Larry Light exhibit1 http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/471.html  According to http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/ survey completed 9th July 2014  According to http://www.statisticbrain.com/twitter-statistics/ survey completed 11th July 2014 http://www.howmanyarethere.net/how-many-social-networking-websites-are-there/  http://www.keepsocialhonest.com/ http://www.social4retail.com/the-blog-economy-blogging-stats-infographic-2014.html http://www.social4retail.com/the-blog-economy-blogging-stats-infographic-2014.html