Today, even the biggest brands can be personal
By Peter Knapp, Landor, 2010
At the turn of the twentieth century, brand experiences were human, personal, and local. Reputations were made, sustained, or lost by the quality of product, service, knowledge, and advice given.
The best local brands or businesses were those that got to know their customers intimately over time and were able to anticipate their needs, rather than react to them or provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Customer service was vital and the right of reply was personal and direct. Things were connected, nimble, and simple.
Move on through the decades to mass production, the service economy, and global distribution. Brands, both corporate and consumer, had become international, with revenues the size of small countries. But there was a trade-off. In gaining scale, they had lost intimacy and the ability to listen and engage in dialogue with their customers.
The market research industry grew because of this, and while it provided some insight, it was based on claimed or derived intentions, as opposed to actual behaviour and attitudes. The technology just didn’t exist for consumers to make themselves heard.
Today, web connectivity and access to real-time behavioural data means that the priority for brands has to be to deliver unique, anticipatory, and iterative personal services and brand experiences allied to scale. Of course, it is a challenge to be both personal and global in the same breath, and not all brands are there yet, despite expectations set by the likes of Amazon and Ocado—that is a key branding challenge. The benefits of personal touch apply, but the scale and opportunities are different.
Take the Internet. It is awash with generic, formulaic sites and applications that don’t help in delivering sustainably relevant and differentiated brand experiences. They may be functional and efficient, but they are also increasingly homogenised and play to commoditisation. This has to be fertile ground for potentially driving consumer preference. The online channel for retail banking is a case in point. The interface is focused on conformity, familiarity, speed of task, safety, and security. It has been designed for the ease of management rather than creating a rewarding brand experience for the customer.
Ultimately, we believe the best brands will go a step further and create a standout brand experience that becomes the natural choice. Why rely on advertising claims, rather than the experience itself, to make that differentiation? Is actually being better superior to simply claiming to be better?
Generally, with the possible exception of First Direct, the banks fall short. For example, the platforms for reply and genuine dialogue are hidden amidst the FAQs and myriad contact numbers. The listening bank may be listening but is it encouraging conversation?
While many leading brands deliver fragmented customer experiences with little or no interaction between the physical and the virtual brand worlds, some are getting close to achieving a cohesive, differentiated experience. Ocado, for example, offers friendly, simple, and efficient service. It remembers your shopping habits and suggests relevant alternatives; you choose your delivery time and the goods are hand-delivered in a van. It provides old-fashioned customer care and service in a twenty-first-century context—echoes of the local grocer, calm amidst the chaos, and the complex made simple.
In July, the "Ocado on the go" iPhone app was launched—a practical, useful brand extension that is now one of Apple’s most popular, generating orders that already account for 2 per cent of sales. Ocado saw an opportunity to enhance the customer experience and was the first of the big supermarkets to get it out there. Clever stuff: creating the personal touch on grand scale.
There is, however, a brand that has gone one step further, perfectly executing the marriage of personal service and scalability into today’s connected marketplace and paving the way for the future. Not surprisingly, that brand is Apple, which creates seamless, enjoyable, personal brand experiences. It is ostensibly the Apple experience that uses old rules in the new world.
For decades, big brands and organisations have believed that marrying personal service to scale was an unachievable combination. Now, in a digitally enabled world, squaring this circle is not only possible, but is likely to be a defining dimension of brand success.
© 2009 Haymarket. All rights reserved.
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