by Jean-Claude Saade
Are consumer behavior techniques and models really bringing brands and marketers closer to consumers? Are brands missing the basics of establishing a real and consistent relationship with consumers?
The word relationship is overly used in the world of businesses today, and most of the time it is not really conveying the real meaning and natural strengths of a relationship. A lot of companies are talking about having a relationship with customers and managing this relationship through different techniques and models including CRM. But compared to real life human relationships, what we experience in the market is more about manipulation than real connection at a human level.
People get familiar with a certain restaurant, fall in love with car makes, identify themselves with certain clothing brands but then hate and avoid other sets of businesses and brands.
Are we imagining things here or trying to simplify complicated consumer behavior issues? No.
Consumers are above all humans like any one of us in the different situations of life. Therefore, consumers need to be understood, treated and respected as people in the first place. Everything else will follow, including commercial benefits, long term relationships, positive word-of-mouth and referrals.
So let’s forget "manipulation" it won’t work—consumers can feel it.
As a business community, brand owners and brand specialists, let us open our eyes to some basic realities and ground rules of relationship building between consumers and brands.
When we first arrive in this world we are equipped with the necessary "operating system" to deal, adapt and survive. But this is mainly oriented toward other human beings and the elements of nature.
The system has obviously developed with the evolution of the human life but the basic operating system is still the same—imagine a human counterpart of Windows XP.
The "relationship software" that we are equipped with is basically destined to help us in dealing with other people with the appropriate emotional, rational and intuitive aspects. What can be measured using consumer research of all kinds and what cannot be measured or standardized in models.
In the midst of intense competitions and fast moving business scenes some brands and companies are missing a very important element when dealing with consumers and their other relevant constituencies: the human element.
Brands with their ability to secure income are now considered as the most important business asset. The economic value of a brand is widely recognized, not just by brand owners but by investors as well. At the same time, the power of brands is directly related to their connection with customers; therefore, the law of transitivity makes the fate of businesses and their economic value directly related to the strength of their brands’ connection with consumers.
Building a strong and authentic relationship with consumers should respect certain parameters that we will summarize in the following elements:
1. The Human Face of Brands: To better connect with people, brands need a "human face." This has to be real and able to connect with their lives in a genuine manner; otherwise people will discount "faked personality" brands from their lives the same way they avoid people with unpleasant characters, bad manners or questionable values.
2. The Positive Contribution/Proposition of Brands: After defining a real human face and personality, brands need to bring a positive contribution to people’s life; this is the brand offering or proposition. Without this contribution we won’t have the basis for a sustainable and complete relationship. We can still have a certain level of relationship without a real contribution but this will remain at the awareness level but involving real interaction. A brand proposition will be a mix of emotional bonding anchored in rational and tangible benefits and solutions. Can’t we look now in a different light to basic marketing and communication elements like a "brand proposition" or a "brand positioning"?
3. Building the Real & Strong Connection: Like people, a brand cannot have relationships with all available people. It has to make choices, (focus on certain segments and own a clear position in the mind). Those choices start from the very general to the very specific, from what kind of values this brand believes in to the level of transparency it has in its products or outlets.
4. Living the Brand: Living the brand is believing in what the brand stands for. How can this brand be materialized as a person and what kind of contribution is it bringing to the world, to a country or to a group of consumers?
Over the years branding strategies and techniques have added a lot to the world of business and have extended to reach other areas like politics, arts and ideas. However, there is an important dimension that will shed a new light on branding and on the way we are doing business in general.
To be a real and positive part of people’s life a brand needs a human face and a real person’s profile from values to behavior, to communication, to social responsibility and contribution. In addition to that, it has to have a specific offering addressed to its target consumers.
If you really believe in the human dimension of any business and brand, let your brand have a human face and a positive role in consumers’ lives. This will get you to the hearts of the people who share the same ideas and concerns, previously defined as your "target consumers."
Jean-Claude Saade is CEO of FreeWorld a brand strategy consultancy based in Dubai, U.A.E. and specialized in Brand Connection measurement and management. Comments and views about this article could be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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