The best brands offer many reasons for both purchase and continued loyalty.
Two aspects of remarkable branding are critical: identifying the key moments in the buying process, the Moments of Truth, and branding them. Branding a Moment of Truth requires the business person to orchestrate the tangible aspects of the buying process to deliver on the Functional promises (My product/service is superior because of these features…).
Then, and here's the kicker, elevate those moments to bring the customer to a heightened emotion that has nothing to do with the practical pluses of the product/service. Remarkable brands imbue each Moment with the emotion they seek to evoke in the customer. A remarkable brand inspires a state of mind, entirely separate from the brand, to which the customer wishes to aspire. Think Lexus as the symbol of ‘living the good life' or the Nike whoosh representing ‘being a champion'.
We're in the ‘feeling orchestration business'. If that sounds manipulative, that's because we have been lied to so often. The truth is that if you present yourself as you really are in all things, deliver on the functional, emotional and aspirational promises you make, and engage your customers in a personal, ongoing conversation, brand loyalty will be your reward. It's difficult for business people who are often driven by numbers and processes to switch gears, but that's what separates also-rans from the winners in the Experience Economy.
Remarkable brands imbed themselves in a primitive part of the brain called the amygdala. It governs emotion and desire. Once a brand is ensconced there, it remains a powerful force. Any brand stimuli instantly activates this center of feeling and desire, bypassing any need to agonize over the whys and wherefores of a potential purchase. We just know we want it.
Consumers want less stress from too much marketing. Brands living in the amygdala make it easy to choose. Just so that no one just any product or service can reach such a ‘Promised Land', realize that our ability to sniff out lies has grown strong. Consumer's assume the worst and it's up to you to prove them wrong. This ain't hocus pocus.
What are the building blocks that either nurture the brand's place in the brain or ruin it? They are the Moments of Truth. Branding the experience at those crucial points in a guest visit has the potential to ignite ‘raving fandom'.
Here are the key questions to answer when trying to figure out what your Moments of Truth are:
- Have you asked the consumer what is important to them? What they like and dislike?
- Have you defined the WOWs in the experience you are selling in specific and distinctive terms?
- Have you asked yourself what is your single greatest strength?
- Have you written out the description of the ideal buying experience from first contact to goodbye?
- Have you sought to understand what your customer is really buying when they purchase from you?
- Have you imagined what feelings you want the guest to experience every step of the way?
I read about Starwood's new marketing campaign which intends to ‘move their various companies from brands focused on tangible benefits like ‘beds' to emotional based benefits'. In effect, they want to morph into a ‘world class lifestyle company.' according to their Chief Marketing Officer. I made note and moved on as much of the PR was around the advertising effort and did not mention the actual hotel experience. I was wrong to make such a leap. They're bringing ‘intentional' emotion into the operation.
The Starwood strategy was illustrated during several recent business trips. I had the opportunity to stay at both Marriott Courtyard and Hampton Inn, both in several markets and during a three week period. Small confession here: I have been a Marriott frequent user and only stayed at Hampton Inn because the client arranged it. In fact, while I've stayed at Hampton Inn's before and found them generally fine, nothing they did convinced me to switch allegiance.
What a difference a side by side comparison makes. Both brands were roughly equivalent in the quality and quantity of upgraded amenities they offered. Where they differed is the way Hampton orchestrated my emotional journey through my stay with them.
From the foyer on, they placed words and statements designed to let me know they cared for my total well being.
- The foyer mat had ‘Hello' emblazoned on it
- The glass partition between the foyer and lobby had the words, "We're glad you're here" stenciled on it
- The front desk had the words ‘recharge', ‘enjoy your stay' and ‘We love having you here' printed on prominent areas in my line of vision
- The elevator had ‘Smile' stenciled on the inner door
- The room key invited me to ‘enjoy my stay'
- The pillows had pictures of baby chicks and delicate eggs in cupped hands with the words, ‘Soft' and ‘Firm' printed on the cards laid on the downy surface
- The heavenly bed (yep they had one of those) had a message from the management, ‘Sweet Dreams"
- The TV channel directory card encouraged me to ‘relax'.
- The high speed wireless instruction card reminded my to ‘enjoy'
I may have missed a few along the way, but the cumulative effect was astounding. Without anyone having to do anything more extraordinary than be efficient, polite and accommodating, I left each Hampton WOW'd. No so Marriott. Both brands dealt with me on a functional basis with the same approximate expertise. Hampton Inn took me to a different, more enduring place through its relentless emotional branding at its Moments of Truth.
Rare indeed is the brand which hits it just right, orchestrating an experience of such heightened sublime pleasure that it becomes a WOW. It's made more difficult in this market overcrowded with ‘me-too' products where the tangible benefits of one brand are copied quickly by others. Just take a look at how many ‘heavenly bed" wannabees are out there. The consumer wins because the sleep is more pleasurable, but it won't create lasting, distinctive brand identity. Emotionally charged branding is where it's at. And emotion is what Starwood evoked in me. And a burgeoning loyalty.Rick Hendrie is President & Chief Experience Officer of Remarkable Branding, Inc. a Cambridge MA based consultancy which helps clients create and market memorable brand experiences. For a complimentary newsletter go to www.remarkablebranding.com