Make Yourself Useful

The likes of Amazon/Uber/Apple have raised the game such that there are now equal expectations for same level of utility, ease, and convenience in every category. No industry space is an island. You expect Avis to be as effortless and friction-free as Uber.

These user experiences must be delivered smoothly and so the customer can glide across an omni-channel world… and falling short against these new standards is viewed as incompetence. As if that isn’t harsh enough… in today’s increasingly discriminating environment for customer satisfaction, if you don’t deliver on your customers’ expectations, they may do more than stop buying… they may create an overnight movement against your brand!

I want to pose the idea that so-called “brand loyalty” may not be a “thing” in the future

Whatever you’re selling it better be a one-click, one command experience whereby you are not wasting what has become more valuable than the customer’s money… their time. Yes, people’s value systems are comprised of several other forms of currency too. Maybe cost, maybe knowledge, maybe data, or maybe trust is as valuable as money… but the qualities of time as the one resource that is nonrenewable and finite is coming into vivid focus for humanity. Money is just one of the many currencies we now need to be happy in the world. Time isn’t just precious for people who have less of it anymore.

It will be perceived by many, as pure heresy, but I want to pose the idea that so-called “brand loyalty” may not be a “thing” in the future… instead it might be about usefulness and utility. The frame of reference for consumers is much more oriented to categories than brands per se. Modern marketers are following that cue… and they’ve stopped selling and begun to help their customers make the right buying decision. Authors of “Growth Gear” reference a CPG case study that found brand loyalty as a determining factor in making a buying decision dropped to just 25% in the U.S. Further, consumer brand loyalty has been on a steady decline since the Great Recession.

The role of usefulness is even more important than so-called “purpose-driven” orientations. Not every brand can stand for political, social, or environmental issues. A dedication to making the customer’s life easier need not be driven by some ennobling societal vision… just an honest passion to make life easier or better. J. Walker Smith makes a compelling case as to the important distinction between purpose and politics in the Marketing News June edition in an article titled, “Brands with Purpose. Not Politics.

Now there are certainly times and circumstances when brand owners are obliged to disassociate and distance themselves from those who have hijacked their brand in the name of morally reprehensible intentions such as recently on display in Charlottesville.

But I would generally advise against positioning a brand around issues where are there otherwise legitimate and divergent points of view. The opportunity to grow a brand is maximized when bringing many different-minded people together who can be satisfied by a powerful and unifying solution for something in their lives. Please don’t mistake my views to say a firm doesn’t need a moral center or duty to comport themselves according to universal values of decency. Social impact is not a strategy; it’s a responsibility. It’s a moral imperative, not a marketing plan. Solving a relevant problem or inventing a new source of enjoyment or comfort is purposeful; and yes, just being useful ought to be religion enough.

Technology has redirected us to functionality and usability, and we’ve become like children playing with toys at a table who will set down the broken one and pick up the one that works without any hesitation and little emotional attachment for the one that broke.

If something works better people find out fast and switch to it… and loyalty just becomes a historical sentimental artifact. With such large gaps in public trust in so many areas of our society, the climate for building meaningful loyalty is unstable at best. In such times, go back to basics and make sure your product or service works better than anyone else’s’.

Enterprises trying to get by with less useful products and friction-filled experiences will always have a craving vein addicted to advertising.

Rather than some artificially created advertising-driven construct in the consumer’s heads… get the user experience right… and in so doing, the result will be a strengthened reputation.

For some, “brand loyalty” implies a mythical, even blind devotion to a brand even while failing to do what it was hired to do… I prefer the goal of sharpening up your marketing efforts to identify your “trademark transaction;” that moment of truth when your brand reputation is on the line and expected to deliver the solution for which it was “hired.” Without usefulness, there can be no positive experience, and without a positive experience, there is no brand.

Of course, storytelling is a fundamental factor in building any brand, but mine is the same advice my mother gave me long ago, “make yourself useful.”