Branding: It Aint What It Used to Be

During presentations I’d give back in the mid ’80s, I’d make reference to the number of advertising messages we were each bombarded with on a daily basis purportedly around 5,000 messages per day at that time. I used this statistic to illustrate how difficult it was to get your advertising noticed amid the noise.

Today, experts claim we are bombarded not with 5,000 messages per day, but with 40,000 messages per day. Whatever the actual number, it is apparent that advertising’s effectiveness as a branding tool is diminishing; the more noise, the harder it is to get noticed.

Now let’s consider branding from another perspective the experiences you’ve had while interacting with that brand. I can name only three companies out of the hundreds of companies I’ve interacted with over the past 10 years where the brand interaction was so positive that I’ve literally become an evangelist (that is, a viral marketer) for those three companies.

So what was it that these companies did to win my heart and make me want to share my experiences with thousands of other people?

In each case, they provided me with what we at M2K call a “structured surprise.” Let me give you an example. Recently, my car had a flat tire. I took my car in to get the tire repaired, and when I returned to pick my car up, I pulled out my checkbook. “Don’t worry about that,” I was told, “this repair is on the house.”

I was shocked. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was a structured surprise, designed to generate revenue and customer loyalty. Perhaps it’s not offered in every case. Perhaps it’s only when they observe that an entire car will soon be in need of new tires, as was the case with mine. In any event, I’m sure that their return on investment from this technique is far better than any they can achieve through advertising.

I believe it’s time for companies to think seriously about hiring a chief experience officer (CEO). This CEO would be responsible for examining all of the touchpoints with the outside world and identifying ways to differentiate the brand through the interaction experience at each of these touchpoints.

Look at it this way: On the one hand, you can invest your money in advertising and compete with 40,000 other advertising messages for attention. On the other hand, you can invest your money building structured surprises into some of the interactions that take place with your company and that compete with (in my case, at least) just three other companies from 10 years’ worth of interactions.

If, as Al Ries says, you must “differentiate or die,” then one of the last underexploited differentiation frontiers is the interaction experience.

So turn some of your creative juices in this direction and figure out how to build DELIGHT into those experiences. After all, as “The Cluetrain Manifesto” has taught us, markets are conversations. Said another way, word of mouth (viral marketing) now has the power of the Internet behind it. And harnessing this power is one of the keys to generating revenues and profitability at an acceptable cost.

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