Brand Loyalty
How many times have we heard that line?

For some reason, it’s funny for me to imagine a company thinking that callers have memorized its voicemail prompts. If only we had that much pull with our audiences. The fact is audiences just don’t give brands or companies all that much attention until they feel it’s necessary.

Really Connecting
In most cases, that means people are not thinking more than they need to about the companies that they buy from. Only a few standout brands have reached the point of emotional connection and attachment with their audiences — the kind of connection that goes beyond past performance and functional benefits. We’re talking brand salience.
Brand Connecting
Brand Salience
Let’s say you’re buying a laptop. You would probably have a choice brand or two that come to mind automatically, and maybe even one leading contender way out front. That brand has achieved a high brand salience with you. Other brands that come to mind but are less likely to be chosen would be said to have lower levels of brand salience, and those that didn’t even make it to your mind have zero.

This brand salience is what drives purchase decisions. Part of our job as marketers is to ensure our brands stand out from the others…to hold a position of prominence so that when our audiences are ready to buy, the choice is clear.

Consumers take mental shortcuts in making decisions, and sometimes choose the most salient brand without much other consideration. However, it’s not usually enough to simply be thought of. Our audience needs to feel some other emotional attachment to our brand. That’s where Brand Resonance comes in.

Brand Resonance
It’s something you create with insightful, non-traditional marketing beyond the obvious. And can be measured by how engaged our customers are with our brands when not purchasing. Like seeing being at events, making comments and sharing posts on socials, posting reviews, and being involved in online and physical brand communities. These are the indicators of brand resonance, and they foster loyalty.

In order to impact brand salience and resonance, we first need to know how our customers see our brand. How well known is our brand? What is it known for?
What needs does it solve for our audience?

You won’t win the prize if you fall short at the resonance level.

Brand Equity
These are not simple questions, and our audiences’ needs are rarely obvious. It will probably take some insight and clever digging to uncover them. But it’s definitely worth doing, because what a shame it is when brands compete well on the functional side of the ledger but miss the mark in the relationship department.

When we really examine it, every day we spend more on purchases that fulfill social or psychological needs. That is what brand equity is all about…it’s the value we place on a product or service over and above its utility.

A Little Research Goes a Long Way
Understanding how our brands and our competitors’ brands are perceived by our audience is critical if we expect to increase our brand connectivity, and this requires a little research. Qualitative research should include questioning techniques that uncover the mental associations our audience makes with our brand, as well as our competition. Remember though, this is not a one-and-done, it’s more of a journey than an end destination. Really knowing what our customers value us for, why they choose our brand and why they choose (or do not choose) to stay loyal to our brand requires ongoing focus because the world around us changes.

Small to Large
Any company of any size can adapt. Of course, being on top of customer/target audience and competitive dynamics gets more complex with the size of the company and its breadth of offering. The key is consistency, asking the right questions, and not accepting the comfortable answers too quickly, because accepting the comfortable answers sometimes satisfies our biases but keeps us from digging deep enough. You’ll also need the right person to “own” the process and make sure it stays on track. Without this, it won’t happen.

Many Hands
Don’t stress though…it’s a process like any other, and many hands will make light work of it. It’s about consistency and showing value at regular intervals so people can feel motivated by the success of their efforts. Now get ready for the naysayers who feel they already understand customer attitudes and needs sufficiently.

These members of the team no doubt will have great insights and should be part of the process. (I believe though, that the voice of the consumer is best heard from the consumer.)  Any research I’ve been involved in from small scale to multi-national has produced unexpected and eye-opening results that led to strategic advantages.

The Sears Factor
A trap that successful businesses fall into is to ride on their successes and evolve too slowly or not at all. Sometimes while riding on top of a wave, whole markets slowly change, and this can go unnoticed because the loyalty of existing customer relationships carry the day. This is a path to irrelevance. Loyal audiences change over time for many reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as a generation cycling through. American Express was handily challenged by Chase for the millennial market, and successfully gained significant market share by understanding what was important to this audience was a bit different than what was important to Gen X and the Boomers. I’m sure we can think of brands that were the “it” in their space, only to have a rude awakening. Some of these never recover. Remember Sears?

Then again, there are brands that see the future no matter how uncomfortable, and really embrace it. Example: When GM saw the self-driving future and decided it didn’t just want to make hardware (cars) but wanted a share of the transportation as a service (TaaS) pie, it didn’t try and invent its own technology, it acquired Cruise in San Francisco. Since this 2016 acquisition, Cruise has been invested in by Honda, Microsoft, and others. I mention this for several reasons:

  1. GM didn’t try and invent its own technology, it acquired a company that was native to self-driving technology.
  2. GM didn’t try and run this new operation out of Detroit, it kept the company independent and appropriately located where the relevant talent pool is.
  3. GM realized that they couldn’t do it alone.

Customer Evolution

Keeping up with evolving consumer needs and competitive positioning requires a framework, and a process for gathering and analyzing customer data. Some of this we may already have (in the form of existing internal records), some of it is day-to-day marketing intelligence, and some is larger scale marketing research.

You can tackle this yourself, or work with a third party to help set it up, but whatever you do, pay close attention to what is attainable for your organization.

The important thing is to get started and make it part of the culture.

Here are some steps for keeping it simple:
1. Identify what you’d like to know
2. Pick your data collection method
3. Define your data gathering frequency
4. Schedule time to report and discuss your “learnings.”
5. Empower a team and a point person to “own” the process and act like your company is their customer. This includes making sure the program stays on track, with a timeline and with laser focus.

The more things change…
The truth is that today’s marketing environment is more fluid than ever, and things can change quickly. A company can be successful for many years and not see their world changing.

So, while our customers may never memorize our voicemail options, the good news is that, with a little focus, we can evolve with them and keep our brands relevant for the long term. Good Luck!

Frank Giarratano is Senior Partner/CMO at SGW Integrated Marketing.
He is also an adjunct marketing instructor at Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University.