In the good old days (i.e. anything more than about five years ago), companies had it easy.
Pretty much whatever a company said or did was (or could be) controlled and directed to present a particular notion towards their audience. The downside to this was that a lot of companies started believing their own BS.
We had Mission Statements and Vision Statements and Corporate Strategies that were self-serving exercises in how to waste time, money and effort, and were produced for no other reason than to please shareholders, stakeholders or venture capitalists.
Stuff like this:
“Our Mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission-inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings.”Some Clueless Corporate SVP
A lot of companies underestimate what the culture of their organizations really are. Looking at the above (real) company Mission Statement it’s really hard to image that, at some point, a human being actually uttered those words.
Could the company CEO regurgitate such nonsensical prose upon suggestion? I’d say that it’s doubtful. Such business verbiage has clearly been generated from the Marketing department, just as so many so-called quotes and statements ostensibly attributed to C-Suite personnel are actually crafted by the PR department, corporate communications, or even an external PR agency.
The Inevitable Death Of Corporate Rhetoric
What we’re seeing today, however, in an era of extreme transparency is that people are using technology to become more informed, more connected, and more empowered. One of the results of this new behavior (whether realized or not) is that customer expectations are going through the roof. The kinds of things that today’s customers expect from you as a business are things that most businesses aren’t addressing today. Moreover most businesses have no idea that this change is even occurring – let alone investigating possible initiatives to remedy the situation.
When customer expectations are increasing as they are, it’s important for companies to take a step back and evaluate their position. What do we really want to accomplish? What do today’s (or tomorrow’s) ideal customer relationships look like? What are the sorts of experiences that we want them to have before, during and after the transaction? What does a customer lifecycle actually mean?
Part of the disconnect lies in a company’s own perception of its value proposition, compared to the reality as experienced by the customer. Look at how most companies describe themselves on their website, then go out and speak to customers and get their own take. The result is – invariably – two sets of words that have zero perceptual overlap. In the short-to-medium term, that’s a problem. In the long term, that’s potentially fatal.
Speaking The Language Of Your Customer
The words and phrases used by customers need to match a company’s own self-awareness position in order for the business to maintain its relevance in the minds of its audience. The problem is that there is often a HUGE gap between one and the other. Look at what people are saying about pretty much any cable TV company, airline, or mobile phone network for examples.
Customer buying behavior is changing because of the almost ubiquitous access to connected technologies. However commerce’s answer to the problem doesn’t simply lie in the adoption of technology. Yes, technology is important. Of course it is. But what’s more important – and what’s happening at the same time – is that customer behavioral psychology is changing. Customers no longer simply expect better buying experiences. They feel that they’re entitled to them.
As a result, your own company’s social behavior / culture / mindset should be changing and adapting at at least the same rate, if not faster. Once you can measure what a customer experience is, against what the customer experience should be, then your mission becomes clearer. Once you have that clarity, then technology can be rolled-in to help bring that experience to life.
Information needs to be packaged differently. You have to take a different approach if you want to connect with today’s customers.
But perhaps your company isn’t currently feeling the turn of the tide. Perhaps business is thriving, profit margins remain fat, and priorities lie with shareholders and/or stakeholders.
That’s all well and good, but then remember you’re not competing for the moment. The question you have to ask is what’s going to happen five years from now. You already know how long it takes to change, and the pain that change creates. So what are you investing in? How are you changing the inside of the organization to help sow the seeds required to compete in the future? If consumer behavior is changing at such an incredible rate, then so must the approach that you’re adopting to marketing, selling and interacting in terms of what customers are going to expect – and insist upon – three, five or ten years from now.
Does This Mean Corporate Branding Is Dead?
So in an age of customer discovery, eCommerce and order fulfillment, does this mean that branding – at least in the traditional sense of the word – is dead or dying?
Not at all. But branding is most definitely evolving into a tangible where customers are firmly in control. Companies do not define their brand – their customers do.
For the longest time corporate marketing has been able to control and direct brand perception because we could outspend customers in traditional media, or out-market customers in other communications spaces. Companies could pretty much tell their audience what they wanted them to hear and, by and large, customers believed them.
Today’s new customer journey has that concept going, if not gone. Whatever your customers are saying – whether that’s online, word of mouth, social media, wherever – THAT’s your brand. The future of brands – if not commerce itself – lies in shared experiences between customers and vendors that aggregates value compelling enough to be shared, remarked upon and – since it’s discoverable – helps reinforce the generally-perceived reputation and trust of the brand concerned.
Customer experiences are becoming ever more concerted and connected every day. The result, through sheer weight of numbers if nothing else, is that this breed of ‘always-on’, empowered consumer is out-gunning and out-marketing even the largest corporate heavyweights. What’s your response?
You can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution.