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IS YOUR BRAND EXPERIENCE SELF-SERVE OR FULL SERVE?

Beneath every brand promise, there are many value propositions to fit many different customer needs. As true for complex B2B products as it is for McDonald’s, those many value propositions expand the opportunity to connect, sell, and retain a customer. On the other hand, they also makes it harder for customers to find the slice of the brand experience that fits their needs. Unfortunately, too many brands put the burden on the customer to do this important work, offering a self-service vs. a guided, nurtured brand experience.

In this self-service world, the best brand experiences are usually reserved for the best customers, the insiders who have done their homework on all the brand offers. Consider that a Starbucks regular might know they can: order off the menu; order on their mobile app before they ever walk into a store; know whether it’s better to drive thru or go in at a given day or time.

For the rest of us, we figure it out as we go — if we’re patient enough for the learning curve, before a competitor catches our eye. My Amex Platinum card has 39 benefits waiting for me, but I’ve only had the patience to explore four or five. Walmart’s Money Center has 12 smart payments products, for the fully banked to the under banked, but it’s up to the customer to review them all to find their fit.

Frankly, consumers don’t have the patience to hunt for value that rings true. With the average consumer attention span less than that of a goldfish (Internet consumer = 8 seconds, Goldfish = 9 seconds), no wonder self-service marketing leads to low conversion rates. The better path — for customers and brands — is a navigated, brand-driven experience, where brands can make quicker work of getting the consumer to the value they need and want.

The inherent upside of this quicker path is meaningful value for the customer (brand relationship, brand value) as well as for the business (via revenue return, relationship return, cost efficiency). This approach helps solve very real business challenges like:

  • Making the brand personal and accessible. Especially important where authentic, trusted brand relationships are a priority, including healthcare and banks, but also cosmetics and technology. Consider Bank of America’s move to connect with its customers across channels — via better branch office design that puts relationship managers up front and tellers in the back, via their digital channels, and a content experience that prioritizes the customers’ probable service needs.
  • Creating value that matters. Whether consumers (e.g., avg. of only 5 non-native smartphone apps get heavy use) or B2B (where 44% say few tech / service providers rarely help them maximize value), customers may be buying, but they aren’t getting value that could make them more likely to be more loyal, to buy again, and to refer.
  • Creating shorter sales cycles. Especially true for big brands with complex or broad offerings that require long-learning curves. Consider ADP’s diagnostic tool for its HCM (human capital management) services, which creates real-time custom pdf content for its salespeople and via its web site, resulting in a 50% reduction in stalled deals.
  • Better conversion and retention. Inertia aside, most customers need to see value before they are willing to buy more. No doubt it’s easier for digital brands like Spotify and Netflix to evolve the product experience to fit each customer’s changing needs. But, plenty of brands with static products also lead customers to a better brand experience. Take a look at Clinique’s skin care diagnostics to see smart, thoughtful recommendations given in the context of your skin and routines — using relatively little data.

More than a good customer experience, which makes it easier for the customer to drive, a navigated brand experience helps the customer find the right road to get to their destination. It requires an investment in data, insights, tools, and discipline, but also a marketing ethos vs. a launch-and-leave attitude. Sergio Zyman captured this well in The End of Marketing as We Know It: “A brand is essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company.” The question becomes whether — as a brand — we want to fill that container with our best offering for that individual customer, or leave it for a novice customer to fill it with what they stumble upon.