Category Archives: cult branding

Forget Price and Bring on The Product Experience: Justifying Price through CX and Value

by James D. Roumeliotis

Image result for customer experience

What is the difference between customer experience (CX) and product experience? The former is the result of every interaction a customer has with your business whereas, the latter is the overall value of the product and/or service provided to customers. Although the product experience is a factor of customer experience, it is mainly achieved through product design and service/product quality control. In both cases, the customer experience and the product experience require a customer-centric mindset and culture within the organization.

The most important elements of the product experience include:

  • Sensory Design/Shape & Form
  • Practicality/Usability
  • Ease of Use
  • Personalization & Customization (products & services)
  • Performance Element
  • Convenience (products and services)
  • Reliable (products and services)
  • Favorable Terms & Conditions (service)
  • Safe to Use/Environmentally Friendly
  • Identity/Social Status & Lifestyle (products and services)
  • Timely (service)
  • Easy to Do Business (products and services)

Customers’ holistic perception of their experience 

Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When water premium bottled water comes to mind, Evian is usually top of mind. Evian’s focus on lifestyle including health and the environment is reflected in the marketing of its products to both women and men, as well as for its tie-in with Wimbledon.

The product and customer experience are the new marketing and competitive battleground. Today, quality of the product or service is not adequate. Consumers prefer to give their hard-earned money to businesses based on the value they receive along with the customer experience. The majority of millennials (72%) seek experiences over material objects and are willing to pay as much as an extra 21% for appositive experience. At Starbucks, people don’t go there only for the coffee, but also for the overall ambiance as a pleasant place to relish. Over the years, McDonald’s overhauled their store interiors for a more refined look, and in 2016, the global restaurant chain introduced digital self-order kiosks and table in order to cut waiting times for customers. As a result, the efforts and investments paid-off as same store sales growth and positive customer feedback increased by early 2018. McDonald’s initiative demonstrated how important responsiveness to customer needs and expectations is. The McDonald’s store upgrade helped differentiate it from a plethora of competitors in the fast food category, that the company is in tune with the times. Consequently, and most importantly, it elevated its overall customer experience.

In the digital age, it’s not enough to simply copy competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s also not a good idea to merely compete on price alone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins become eroded to the point of no return. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

Consumers today are also more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer-controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Image result for product experience

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Nike, Zappos, Harley Davidson, Aman Resorts, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.

Combining high-quality products with equally high-quality customer experiences

Customers no longer base their buying decisions and loyalty on price or product. They prefer to do business…and constant repeat business with companies that offer them a holistic experience. This trend illustrates that shopping is not a need-based activity anymore. It’s about new experiences and one of the main reasons why clients keep returning to physical stores instead of only shopping online.

The benefits of delivering a great product, service and customer experience include:

  • increased customer loyalty
  • increased customer satisfaction
  • Increase of brand image and reputation
  • Increase in profit
  • better word-of-mouth marketing, positive reviews, and recommendations — a competitive advantage by converting more consumers with less advertising spend

Online, reviews are one of the best ways to strengthen a brand in the eyes of the potential customer. Therefore, through positive product and customer experience reviews, clients become  part of a company’s marketing team.

Walker study found that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. This translates to:

  • 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions
  • 65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising

Last but not least, think innovation. Almost every innovation implemented improves the way customer’s needs are fulfilled and improves the way they interact with the business. As such, seek customer feedback, understand what features and updates customers seek the most and if viable, implement changes which will yield enhanced results.

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Filed under 1, branding not products, Business, cult branding, customer engagement, customer experience, product design, Sexy branding, sexy products, total customer experience

The Cult Brand: Providing an exceptional experience to the point of total customer devotion

by James D. Roumeliotis

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There are brands that tout their virtues of their products and/or services with a religious fervor. A “cult” brand is a product or service with a strong loyal customer following, whereby their clients are fanatical about their products or services to the point where their lifestyle revolves around those popular brands. This level of fanaticism also makes those devout followers unsolicited brand ambassadors.

Cult brand examples with customer aficionados include Apple, BMW, Porsche, Fox News, Lulumemon, Zappos, Oprah, Harley Davidson and Starbucks to name a few. As with Starbucks, it offers a superior product and experience that some people would go out of their way, by driving by less expensive alternative coffee shops, to pay for Starbucks’s pricier cup of coffee.

More than just a product or service, it is a lifestyle

Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.

Call it “hype” or give it any other label, cult brands are a unique breed which create and are given plenty of attention. Their brand value is also much higher than their closest competitors. They have achieved a special connection with consumers through their distinctive appeal.

Unlike religious or similar type cult following, the cult brand is considered “benign” or a “benign cult” since it satisfies a need and desire in a positive and harmless manner. Some brand loyalists have gone as far as having their beloved brand tattooed on their body.

A brand is considered as a “cult” brand if the following aspects are present:

  1. Customers receive more than a product and/or service ─ they experience a lifestyle;
  2. Brand devotees firmly believe there are no substitutes for their beloved brand;
  3. Customers feel a sense of ownership with the brand;
  4. Loyalty is prolonged over time compared to brands which are considered fads and unsustainable in the long-term;
  5. An extraordinary degree of customer loyalty exists.

Ingredients of a cult brand: using psychology, identity and a sense of belonging

It is not enough for brands to spend plenty of money on glorified advertising. Any company with an adequate budget can do that. The essential challenge is to utilize an approach that makes people to want to embrace a product and/or service that people would enjoy making it part of their life, as well as identity and belonging.

Brand cult status is an emotional component of the brand but it is not as simple to achieve. As per The Cult Branding Company, a brand consultancy firm, there are seven rules of cult brands this author stands behind ─ and are as follows:

Rule #1 – Differentiate: To achieve a special connection with consumers, the brand should have a distinctive allure and be unconventional in a good sense.

Rule #2 – Be Courageous: Cult Brands are successful because they are unlike their competitors. They possess their own personality, DNA and rules. They are also passionate about their offerings and their customers for whom they exist in the first place.

Rule #3 – Promote a Lifestyle: The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell identity, image and status rather than merely a “product-service” in the traditional sense of the term.

Rule #4 – Listen to Your Customers: Focus on serving your customers’ desires by being customer-centric. Encourage feedback and utilize it as an opportunity to form ideas, and provide solutions that establish and retain loyalty.

Rule #5 – Support Customer Communities: Cult Brands build effective and sustainable relationships with their customers by developing and supporting a customer community which allows users, partners, and company employees to share information, answer questions, post problems, and discuss ideas about product enhancements and best practices in real time. Cult brands also gather their loyalists by organizing occasional social events to ignite additional enthusiasm for the brand.

Rule #6 – Be Open, Inviting and Inclusive: Cult Brands do not discriminate in terms of age, race or sexual preference. As such, everyone who believes in the brand’s mission is welcome.

Rule #7 – Promote Personal Freedom: For most, the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs pyramid includes elements of self-esteem and self-actualization. As such, a well-regarded brand will express this as much by promoting freedom which is essential in expressing one’s own unique identity and worldview without fear of consequences.

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In the end: Achieving the highest level of emotional connection via brand advocacy

Cult brands have a fanatical customer base. A culture is created around the brand based on consumers of a niche group. From there, the brand evangelists spread the message and enlist more followers.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless – even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

That said, innovative products, exceptional services, the total customer experience and the lifestyle which comes with being associated with the brand are what truly makes a cult brand exceptional from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great, thus “cult” brands.

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Filed under 1, brand equity, brand positioning, Branding, Business, cult branding