WHEN I was growing up, I used to despise the friction caused by the stitching in the back of my pants and the labels with ‘Anders Sörman-Nilsson’ that my mother insisted on hand-sewing into every piece of underwear and garment I used to leave home with. In fact, this rubbing annoyance could take the pleasure out of otherwise fun outdoor activities – or any situation that involved wearing these privately labelled threads.
The thought behind this branding exercise was good – my items would be differentiated from the other kids’ garments and could be returned if I ever lost them. However, the fact that I didn’t have a choice in the matter, and that, seemingly, my mother superimposed this discomfort on me, didn’t make the situation better. Of course, she always pointed out that I should be grateful for the fact that I even had clothes to put on my back.
There may be a moral point of truth in her statement, but there is also an element of ‘shut up; be grateful; here’s what you are getting’ to this approach. It’s an approach that we, as customers and businesspeople, also see in the experiences we have with brands and the way we design our brand touchpoints for our clients.
As customers, we experience this friction dealing with retail banks and their myriad concoctions of seemingly disconnected communication channels – mobile, desktop, branch, phone, snail mail – none of which seem to integrate with the other. As businesspeople, we also tend to design from our own channel convenience, rather than shifting to an empathy with the customer and how they want to experience your brand, your solutions and your products. And for every channel we add because a social media guru told us we should, our approach to marketing becomes more and more channel-additive, rather than integrative.
When we don’t think through how these channels should interlink holistically, we are creating friction for our customers and making their transitions between their preferred modes of communication seem like a hassle. In fact, what we are doing is creating stitching and labels that give our customers an itch – an itch that will cause them to leave, or never do business with us in the first place.
What customers are reminded of when they feel this annoying itch is your brand – hardly a situation you want from a branding perspective. And our attitude to this friction is similar to the attitude of the past – when the customer didn’t have a choice – of ‘shut up; be grateful; here’s what you are getting.’
The problem is, today and for the foreseeable future, the customer has a choice. Information asymmetry has become information symmetry, and we must design seamless transitions between digital and analog modes of communication to win the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s customers.
In my last book, I described the paradigm shift caused by a phenomenon known as digital disruption. Digital disruption is the revolutionary shift that is impacting all industries (and that includes insurance brokers!) caused by the digitization of information. As information moves from physical, analog formats to digital formats in the cloud, the old value of the physical information partly evaporates.
Think about music, for example. Music used to hold more value in how we perceived a song when it was on a vinyl record or on a cassette tape, but now that music is simply a streamable subscription service, we don’t give it as much value anymore. This is the reason why today only 6% of the revenue for US recording artists comes from selling songs. The remainder comes from merchandise, concerts, sponsorship, brand ambassadorship deals, etc.
The other impact of digitization is that the customer’s increasingly digitized, rational minds are being spoiled with real-time data – real-time data that they used to rely on you as an intermediator for. Digital disruption also means digital disintermediation and, in the future, potential displacement unless you shift your role in the value chain.
When we lived in an age of information asymmetry, your expertise and insight was highly valued. When that insider information sits on aggregation websites and is available in an instant, what is your value going to be moving forward? The digital world kills those in the value chain who are either average at what they do or don’t add any value beyond what a digital interface can give you.
But the digital world is also your saviour. Think about it. Never has it been easier to design a website (WordPress), contract a web designer (99designs), get a team of developers (Freelancer.com), study your digital effectiveness (Google Analytics), start a TV channel (YouTube), create a landing page (Unbounce) or build an engaged tribe for your brand (Mailchimp). Never has the little guy had so much power to amplify his voice. Never before have you had the ability to go from being merely local to now being also regional, national or global – all because of the fact that the same tools that are in the hands of your customers and prospects are also in your hands. The question is whether you are ready to use them.
I mentioned that customers’ rational, information-seeking minds are becoming increasingly digitized. But their hearts are enduringly both emotional and analog. However, they are expecting something different. As the customer shifts their customer journey and where they are accessing information, and how they are connecting to soothe their need for positive experiences, any friction that they can feel in the process of transitioning between digital and analog channels will annoy them. Your job is to design seamless transitions to ensure that you do not annoy them. The tools to do this are in the palm of your hand.
So, how do you do this? One way is to think strategically about your brand touchpoints according to the Seamless Strategy Map from my strategy consultancy, Thinque (see page 52). This elegantly simple Strategy Map lets you plot out the various brand touchpoints you have with your customers. On the X axis you have the dimension between analog touchpoints (on the left) and digital touchpoints (on the right), and on the Y axis you have pre-sale touchpoints (on the top), and post-sale touchpoints (on the bottom). Your job as a business leader is to map out the current and future brand touchpoints with your customers. This requires you to audit your current brand assets and assess how consistent they are in terms of visual look, tactile touch, messaging and tone of voice. Then you need to decide whether these brand touchpoints are more digital or more analog, and ask yourself whether you use them pre- or post-sale.
Are there any gaps at the moment? If so, they need to be addressed. Gaps hint at overlooked opportunities. For example, have you claimed your Google Local/Business name? Is your blog mobile-optimized? Have you been actively getting involved in sponsoring the local junior football team? When was the last time you organized an event to give something back to your clients? Once you have audited your current brand assets and touchpoints, it is important to notice whether they are balanced. Are you more digital or more analog? Do you focus more on pre-sale activities, or are you engaging your clients post-sale as well – for example, to answer questions and generate referrals and testimonials? The ideal is to get a holistic balance to ensure that you are compatible with their increasingly complex customer journeys.
But the touchpoints must be integrated. We shouldn’t be additive until the whole Seamless Strategy Map is integrative. For example, do you integrate your Mailchimp newsletter to automatically send out a mobile-optimized newsletter as soon as you post three new blogs? Does a new blog trigger a Tweet in your Hootsuite account? Have you set up a marketing calendar for the year that ensures some analog touchpoints, and do they direct your customers to a digital landing page with a special offer on an Unbounce page?
What you’re starting to see is the integration of your brand touchpoints and the seamless transitions between them. This does require some thinking and experimenting, but it is well worth the effort, and your customers will thank you for being elegantly simple to find and easy to remember, and for providing engaging, beautifully designed and valuable content that connects both with their increasingly digitized, rational minds and their enduringly analog emotional hearts. The future is where we will spend the rest of our business lives, so we’d better get ready for it in a seamless fashion. Otherwise you may just give your customers the itch to leave you.