How to Market by Building Sustainable Brand Equity
A brand is not just a symbol, statement, or status. It’s a partnership in which consumers invest their personal equity as the relationship grows. The equity consumers have in a brand is not just the money they’ve spent on products but also their emotional investment.
People become emotionally invested in a brand when they
- Experience service or quality that surprises them by exceeding all expectations
- Are recognized and rewarded for their business and loyalty
- Evangelize about a brand experience or product in the real world or online
- Refer others to the brand and encourage them to purchase as well
When all the above happens regularly, your emotional equity in a brand goes up and so does the price to switch. In most cases, it will take a really bad experience for you to be willing to pay that price, which often includes losses such as
- Loss of the thrill that comes with “surprisingly” good customer service
- Loss of rewards or redeemable points earned
- Loss of pride when switching from a brand you heavily promoted to others as trustworthy or good
- Loss of potential discounts and other perks for loyal customers
Smart brands today design customer journeys, reward programs, and service protocols around building lasting brand equity, not just imminent value. Regardless of the size of your company, or whether you’re in B2B or B2C, building equity is critical for maintaining loyalty and generating qualified referrals from your best customers.
Brands are defined by the emotional and functional value they provide consumers. Some are defined by their service, overall experience, innovations, status, luxury, and so on.
Brands defined by service
Here are some examples of brands defined by the quality of service that they provide:
- Nordstrom carries some of the leading brands in fashion, but when you think “Nordstrom,” you more often think “service.” Its no‐questions‐asked return policies take fear out of the purchase process, inspire customers to splurge because there is no risk, and invite people back to feel glamorous and appreciated.
- Hospitality brands are often distinguished by their service because luxury hotels can easily be duplicated. The Waldorf Astoria in Park City, managed by Kerry Hing, is no exception. He has earned top management rewards for the Hilton chain of hotels numerous years for surprising customers with unexpected service, on top of what is already standard at his four‐star hotel. Surprises, like sending a six‐pack of beer to a guest’s room after hearing the guest say how much he needed one after a cold day of skiing, are what make his brand stand out. By observing and then delivering “surprising” service, his guests come back often and bring others with them.
Brands defined by experiences
You don’t have to be in hospitality, amusement parks, or other experience‐type industries to stand out for extraordinary experiences at the point of sale. Brands that make the shopping experience anything but ordinary are often the most successful because people remember how they felt long after the product novelty has worn off or the product is no longer in use.
Some examples include
- Apple: Everyone talks about Apple, but few examples are as good. When you walk into an Apple Store, an employee greets you and then assigns you an expert who stays with you as a personal shopper as long as you need. If you buy something, the expert completes the transaction while standing next to you, not behind a clunky obstacle like a sales counter. You feel like a friend just helped you. If you need help, you can meet with Apple’s Genius Bar gurus for free, and per experience, you always get a lot more than you went there for in the first place.
- Evo.com: Evo.com is an online outdoor sports equipment store that has so much personality and such fast responsive service that you want to go back to it, even if you don’t need anything. Its emails are conversations that make you smile, its prices and return policies are inspiring, and it makes you feel like you have a friend in the business.
Moosejaw.com is another fun online experience with the same type of customer‐friendly service and policies.
- Neiman Marcus: Neiman Marcus, known for launching the “customer is always right” philosophy, takes price out of the equation through its personalized shopping experiences. Early in his career, Harlan Bratcher, most recently CEO of Armani Exchange and Reed Krakoff, rose quickly as the brand’s lead personal shopper by putting his emphasis on making his customers feel something powerful inside themselves when shopping with him. Instead of just fitting them in a designer gown or jacket, he helped them find a new sense of self and beauty that they hadn’t felt before. Feeling accomplished or glamorous brings people back for more no matter what you’re selling.
Brands defined by product distinctions and innovation
Before the exploding battery crisis among Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phones in 2016, Samsung was breaking ground as an innovative technology company that could actually compete with Apple.
In fact, Forbes did a report that showed the Galaxy S7 substantially outperforming Apple’s iPhone 6S on eight of ten features, including the camera quality that’s a huge selling feature for phones. These innovations made Samsung one of the few brands that could actually compete with Apple’s smartphone business. In fact, in the third quarter of 2015, Samsung had 10 percent more market share than Apple.
How are you best poised to compete? Is your service, quality, or experience a differentiating point that you can build over time into a sustainable advantage? If the answer is no to all three, you need to rethink your business model. Delivering just enough to get by could set you up to struggle in a dynamic world driven by consumers’ demands for bigger and better.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or have been in business for some time, take a closer look at how you project your values and advantages in your marketing programs. Your brand needs to offer more than just the products you sell. You need to offer emotional fulfillment that aligns with customers’ values and how they see themselves in today’s world.
Your brand identity is not just your logo, colors, or the imagery you use in your ads, on your website, and more. It’s not the dialogue you create on your social media pages. It’s the emotions you fulfill, consciously and unconsciously, through your experiences, and it’s the reputation you have for the good you do in the world and the promises you keep. It’s about the story you tell and the stories you inspire others to tell about your products, service, and impact in the world.