I’ve just attended a wedding in Butterwick, Lincolnshire. It was an opportunity to experience the pastoral English countryside, eat the locally famous sausages and plum bread, and catch up with friends from Hong Kong and the UK.
During the wedding service itself I was struck by a short reading given by the groom’s father. Spoken from the heart, his words of advice were that marriage was about constantly striving for a state of harmony. And marriage vows were, in fact, a commitment by two individuals to working things out. Simple words, but sometimes difficult to execute, as we know.
It got me thinking about the unwritten pact between brands and consumers. Brands often despair about fickle consumers who jump ship at the first sign of trouble. However, many of the problems brands run into arise because the basic things that comprise a strong relationship are not upheld. Things like respect, integrity, and doing what you say you are going to do.
Consumers are more forgiving if they perceive the brand or company is committed to working things out. It is when trust is broken or brands are seen to be taking a cavalier attitude to what consumers value – that bonds are broken, sometimes irreparably.
Here are four things brand managers should bear in mind as they develop their brand strategies:
- Ensure the foundations are solid: Take the time to get to know your customers: what they like, what they don’t like. Know what is fundamental to the relationship – what they truly value – and what is peripheral.
- Don’t take the relationship for granted: Once you think you understand your customers, don’t become complacent. Surprise your customers, celebrate with them, take care of them in good times and bad. Say sorry with sincerity if you mess up. Show you care through your actions, not just your words.
- Listen as much as you talk: This is particularly important in today’s online world. Listening is the first step to understanding what your customers really think and feel about your brand. A good rule of thumb is that 30 percent of the time and effort and resource should be spent on listening, and 70 percent on talking or marketing.
- Keep on evolving together: Like in any marriage, brand/consumer relationships often stumble when one party changes or has different aspirations from the other. Brands need to keep evolving with their customers. Today, innovation is about personalization. Consumers want brands to reflect their personality and lifestyle, to give them what they want when they want it.
Now is a good time for brands to look afresh at their relationships with customers. FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap research is a great tool for companies to test the strength of their “marriage” with their customers. The bigger the gap between expectation and experience, the more opportunity there is for consumers to decide to stray. The beauty of the research is that it gives brands insights into the specific problem areas they need to work on. And as in any marriage, it’s the commitment to working it out that truly counts.
Rachel Catanach is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for China. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.