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Considering that brands are in fact shaped by their customers is anything but new. In 1954, Peter Drucker already wrote:
[Marketing] is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view.
The recent frenzy of social media marketing doesn’t say anything but the same, enjoining companies to listen and engage with customers, providing us with a too often over-simplified view of business, where brands and customers seem to be the only players in town. While Enterprise 2.0 is a careful field of many approaches and thoughtful adoption and roll out frameworks, in a number of cases Marketing 2.0 doesn’t appear much more than Advertising 2.0, or Sales 2.0 at its best. Co-creation itself is often reduced at the mass customization level, mitigating customers’ creativity with small scaled processes.
But today’s brands trump any simplistic vision of marketing. They are part of an ecosystem which encompasses both enterprise and customers; they have to deal with complex multi-channel creation and distribution systems where each actor has a capital influence on their perception. François Gossieaux recently wrote an interesting article about the difficulties inherent to brand positioning in our Connected Age.
The disappearing product
One of the most striking aspects of today’s brands is a complete change of an element which was, until recently, at the center of all attentions: the product. Not to tell that the finality of marketing is no more about selling products, and that offering your customers the best ever products is not of uttermost importance; but what we are experiencing today is a shift from products as personification of brands to products as symbol of value exchanged between brands and customers. As customers’ experience take more and more importance in today’s marketing, brands dematerialize themselves.
Typically, two facets of the classical Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism are now merging, Physical (product based) aspect getting interweaved with the brand’s Personality, as the brand perception is focused, not on static aspects, but on dynamic exchanges between a brand and its customers.
As brand perception evolves from positional (physical and “moral” aspects of the product) to transactional, the simplistic view of branding as a brand-to-customer relationship seems understandable, but hides in fact an increasing complexity. The “customer-centric” brand is in reality mostly the more or less conscious result of several traction points. Suppliers, partners, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, delivery, internal and external services, from design to customer support, are all part of the end user experience. Understanding where your brand’s main attractors are, fully preconditions your understanding of the brand perception. Neither it is a matter of controlling the whole chain, nor is it about simple interaction. Branding in a complex world requires a full awareness of positive and negative traction points, as a simple change in any of them might destroy a fragile equilibrium. Changing a supplier might have a tremendous impact on the final product, therefore on your customers experience; staff turnover in a retail point might turn them away… Your brand relies on several traction points. Get to know them. You might not have any possible action on them, but you will at least be able to prevent any negative impact from a change of conditions.