Consensus is every brands worst enemy

Why consensus is any strong brands worst enemy

Virtue lies in the middle way, it sounds so fluent in Shakespeare’s language. More than a millennium ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates already expressed the view that man should look for the middle way in order to avoid the extremes at both ends of the spectrum. And any right-minded person will surely agree with him, even more than 2,400 years after his death. After all, in a polarised world, there is a need for consensus, nuance, seeking the greatest common denominator and reasoned treading of common ground. Watering the wine helps untangle the knot of visions, which stands true in a personal relationship, in politics and in business.

Speaking from my own field of branding, however, I am not so convinced that this golden mean is always such a golden solution to creating strong brands. Indeed, the longer I work as a consultant for small and large brands in a wide variety of industries, the more I am convinced that consensus in branding achieves just the opposite of what is actually intended by that famous middle road. It may of course be due to my bad character – I have a tendency to fall into black-and-white thinking at times – but unfortunately the reality in many organisations proves me right more often than I would like.

In general, strong brands are brands that make real choices, have the courage to take a stand and have a clear vision that not only resonates with the relevant target group but also provides differentiation from competitors. Those strong brands usually belong to organisations whose management has a clear plan in mind and sometimes also has a lack of concern for conventions and well-trodden paths.The more a concept like brand purpose is adopted in brand strategy and the associated marketing and customer experience, the more this reasoning proves to be correct.

Strong brands are brands that make real choices, have the courage to take a stand and have a clear vision

As a consultant, my colleagues and I are unfortunately still too often confronted with brands that do not dare to make these important choices. In strategic processes, there is endless beating around the bush and sometimes people try in every possible way to quantify the (difficult to calculate) result of a strategic choice. The fact that a company’s management does not just blindly trust its own gut feeling (or that of an external consultant) to make a strategic choice is a good thing. However, the eternal search for consensus, the safe middle ground, ensures that brands not only risk losing their entire identity but, in addition, can no longer play a valuable role in the lives of stakeholders. As Martin Lindstrom put it years ago, “In the past, we wanted everyone to like our brand; in the future, we must choose to be loved by some and hated by others – as long as we are not ignored by anyone.”

Unfortunately, this is precisely the trap that many brands keep falling into. In their frantic attempts to keep everyone on board at all costs, to not offend anyone and to serve all internal agendas, a brand (re)positioning exercise too often ends up in a grey mush of hollow phrases, blunted promises and generic terms. Especially when a branding exercise starts from an organisation-centric inside-out thinking pattern, the various workshops, draft statements and feedback rounds sometimes reduce the final result to a consensus cobbled together like a Frankenstein’s monster from which no one can discern any real meaning. After all, all sharp corners have been chipped off, all values that could make a real difference iterated away, all internal fears appeased. But the resulting brand story has become a meaningless text far removed from what a brand can use to add authentic value.

Forget about consensus, forget about keeping everyone happy, forget about serving everyone’s agenda. Dare to take a stand with your brand – even if it means risking losing a few souls along the way. In doing so, take inspiration from the many strong brands that made conscious choices and, as a result, have started to add clear value for their target audience.

4 steps towards great CX

Four critical steps to optimise your customer experience

Let me get straight to the point: brands that do not yet invest in their customer experience risk getting into trouble in the current era of client centricity and drastic changes in buying behaviour. As many as 82% of customers have already stopped buying from a brand they had a bad experience with. Moreover, customers who are disappointed with the experience offered will tell others: 79% have already warned friends and acquaintances not to do business with a particular brand after they themselves had a bad customer experience with it. In turn, a PwC survey of some 15.000 respondents from 12 countries reveals that 54% of those surveyed think brands urgently need to invest more in improving their customer experience.

Fortunately, brands that consistently commit to a valuable experience are rewarded for doing so. The same PwC survey found that 73% of customers say that experience is an important factor when choosing the brand they buy from. According to brand strategist Brian Solis, it also pays off: after all, 85% of customers are willing to pay up to a quarter more to be sure of a superior customer experience, 40% are willing to switch brands based on a good customer experience reputation. That they also convert this willingness into actions is shown by the fact that customers spend on average 140% more when the customer experience is positive. So it is high time to focus on a superior customer experience, starting with these 4 crucial steps to get things in motion.

1 - Remove unnecessary obstacles

It is striking, even in the year 2021 and in the midst of a corona pandemic, how many organisations are still raising a lot of unnecessary hurdles in their customer journey. After all, the logic should be that your customers encounter as few obstacles and barriers as possible when they decide to contact you or have chosen to spend their money with your brand after considering it. So it would be a shame to litter the road to a relationship with your customers with mountains to climb, which could tempt customers to opt for the competition or even make them hesitate.

says brands should invest more in experience

If you have not already done so, it is high time to map out your customers’ journey and take a critical, non-biased look at what obstacles they encounter. How quickly do visitors find direct contact details on your website, allowing them to reach you instantaneously and via a channel of their choice? How many steps do potential customers have to take before they can find the right information? What hurdles do they have to cross to become a customer of your brand? How agile and quick are your staff in answering questions, both before and after sales?

The principle is simple: the lower the hurdle, the easier the interaction. Conversely, the more difficult you make it for people, the faster they will hesitate and drop out. Say goodbye to processes that do not benefit your customers, scrap unnecessary administration and make sure you are as close as possible, literally and figuratively.

2 - Take the effort out of their hands

Certain interactions between brands and their customers involve certain efforts. And sometimes inevitable frustrations arise that are not always beyond your control. Because your organisation is undoubtedly in constant evolution, the way you operate also evolves regularly, certain processes are made more efficient or profitable and all those involved need to adapt. In a thirst for savings or digitalisation, in recent years we have seen too many brands that mainly made it easy on themselves, instead of easing the effort for their target groups.

It is important to create a mindset where you do not pass on the burden associated with these efforts or changes to your customers. An interaction with your brand should not require unnecessary effort from those you wish to attract, as they will quickly opt for the easy and most convenient option. Too often, brands fall into the trap of letting customers take over their work. Banks want you to take care of your own financial records; they no longer do it for you. Supermarkets encourage self-scanning of your groceries. Webshop suppliers let customers collect parcels themselves or burden them with a lot of packaging material. In none of the previous examples did this result in a benefit or price reduction for customers in question.

Making a customer journey so friction-free also means that you don’t pass on the unpleasant side of customer interactions to them. After all, customers are not paying for a product or service, they are paying for an overall experience. For that reason, they count on you to take the work off their hands. Successful brands make the difference, by excelling precisely in the traditional dips that competitors do not pay attention to.

3 - Communicate openly and transparently

In our personal interactions, we don’t like being lied to, we don’t want relevant information kept from us, and we are all annoyed by being pushed from the proverbial pillar to the post. And yet that is exactly what many brands still perform. Often it is only when reputation damage looms in the press or on social media that an explanation or clarification is provided in the form of a belated mea culpa.

is willing to pay more for a superior customer experience

It is crucial for the trust in your brand that you communicate correctly, and above all, do not take your target groups for idiots in the process. We live in an age where everything you say or do can be quickly fact-checked via the internet, and where every misstep takes on a life of its own. Are your prices increasing? Then explain why and what you are offering in return of added value to the customer. Are problems occurring with your service? Then proactively voice this yourself and notify customers so they don’t have to discover it for themselves and are left dissatisfied. Does something go wrong during the customer journey? Do not hide behind procedures that allow you to blame others (or the customer), but respond with genuine empathy and, if necessary, leave your own processes for what they are for once.

Communicate with your customers as you would like others to communicate with you. Avoid weak excuses or ivory towers and invest in accessibility and genuine empathy with your target group’s life. For your customer experience, it will always pay off (even when faced with problems) to communicate honestly, proactively and, above all, transparently.

4 - Have the courage to deviate from your own processes

There is a certain way of functioning in every organisation, be it organically formed in the history of a family business or laid down in bulky manuals from the headquarters of a multinational. This is just as well, as this is the only way to ensure a consistent experience and monitor the quality of what you sell to your customers every day. Your target audience expects these processes to serve their needs, and to be developed and optimised to evolve with the times.

But there are as many types of (motives for) interactions with your brand as there are customers. The desires or situations from which people choose to engage in that interaction with your brand are rarely exactly the same as they are for other customers. In this day and age, personalisation of products and services are no longer an exception, and the days of classic segmentation are also well behind us. For this reason alone, it is essential that you are willing to let go of your carefully developed processes in specific cases.

There are few things a customer likes to hear less than the sentence, “I understand and would like to help you, but unfortunately I can’t do anything about it”. The expectations of today’s customer, both B2C and B2B, is one of a model in which he or she is at the centre. With that expectation also comes the assumption that you are willing to leave your comfort zone and take exceptional measures if it is in the interest of the relationship with your brand.