Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.

Healthcare Marketers Live in Multiple Worlds — Leverage That Insight

As healthcare marketers, you live in multiple worlds. Of course you are a professional. But every time you go to the doctor, you’re a healthcare consumer. And while your employer provides care to tens of thousands of people each year, it’s also one of the largest purchasers of health insurance coverage in your market.

As healthcare marketers, you live in multiple worlds. Of course you are a professional. But every time you go to the doctor, you’re a healthcare consumer. And while your employer provides care to tens of thousands of people each year, it’s also one of the largest purchasers of health insurance coverage in your market.

These multiple perspectives can be a strength as you build bridges among your audiences. Or they may frustrate you, because it adds nuance and complexity to the task at hand.

Let’s take a look at the duality of being both a provider of healthcare and a consumer of health insurance, with all of its rules and paperwork.

Hospitals are one of the largest employers in most communities. A hospital of 200 beds may employ as many as 1,400 full- and part-time benefit-eligible employees, while large facilities can top 5,000. Workforces of that size are diverse, with many roles that impact patient experience but don’t require familiarity with the intricacies of health insurance. But, hopefully, all of those employees are eligible for insurance and made their selections last fall for the 2020 coverage year.

Likewise, consumers who may have changed insurance or their doctor are beginning their patient experience journey. Perhaps, as a consumer yourself, you’ve taken one of your kids to a new doctor and experienced a little disorientation. What would have helped?

This is all to say that more often than you think, you have opportunities to see things through more than one lens. That recognition of the friction points can lead to real improvement in communications and brand experience.

Bring those insights to the table.

Why Pulling Out of Amazon Is the Smartest Decision for Your Brand

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Partnering with Amazon undoubtedly has benefits — namely, a built-in audience and speedy delivery options. However, it’s crucial to consider what you’re jeopardizing in exchange. You’re losing control of how your brand is presented. Even if you’re lucky enough to benefit from Amazon’s search algorithm — another thing brands have no control over — you essentially have no say in how your brand experience is delivered.

Last year, Nike partnered with Jet.com, and given what Jet’s chief customer officer said, I’m not surprised. David Echegoyen told Footwear News, “the way in which people find, discover and use your product is as much part of the experience as the fact that you buy them and use them.” Echegoyen explained that Jet’s focus would be on delivering an experience that would allow both brands to utilize customer insights to enhance their experience. And because Nike products would only be sold direct from the brand on the Jet site, the confusion and brand dilution that shoppers often experience on marketplace platforms would effectively be eliminated.

What every brand should seek in its retail partners — and, really, all partners, to the extent that it’s possible — is recognition of the importance of delivering a cohesive brand experience at every touchpoint, and the desire and capabilities to do so. The advantages of owning your brand experience are abundant.

Control Your Customer Journey

By limiting the channels where your products are available, you’re better able to deliver the best experience to your customers. This includes everything from product recommendations to delivery preferences, the physical unboxing experience, and more. This controlled approach also serves as a preventive measure against counterfeiting issues that could otherwise tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Own Your Data

Amazon traces every shopper’s step, utilizing that data to make product suggestions based upon its own algorithm. These are insights that would be incredibly valuable to brands, arming them with information that can help to deliver a better experience across all platforms, ultimately earning loyal customers. The problem is Amazon owns that data and doesn’t share it with brands. Now, selling direct to consumer on your own channels provides you with 100 percent of your data, the benefits of which warrant its own article. With a compatible, focused retail partner, there may be more room for a discussion about data sharing.

Secure Better Profit Margins

It’s difficult to predict revenues when the sales process is out of your hands. Going direct to consumer gives brands the most control over profit margins. However, as a new or emerging brand, third-party channels are commonly part of the mix. Profit margins are dependent upon the type of partner and the value they bring to the table — or in this case, the cart. Amazon controls the market, so the terms of merchant agreements are almost certainly dictated. However, when you have a like-minded partner dedicated to delivering an experience, the terms may be subject to negotiation.

Shatter the Delivery Myth

Thanks to the “Amazon Effect,” brands and retailers have had to figure out how to meet delivery expectations. My company conducted a 2019 study that revealed online shoppers weigh shipping costs and delivery speed more heavily in their purchasing decisions than ever. Consider that 58 percent of respondents said shipping costs greatly impact their decision to make an online purchase, and 62 percent said free shipping was the most influential factor in their decision to make future purchases. By utilizing sales and transportation data from your fulfillment team, you can map your customers’ journeys and customize shipping pricing and delivery speed to meet their unique expectations.

Selling through partners can be a huge asset, but it means there will always be an intermediary between you and your customer. If your sales channels include third-party retailers, make sure you’re all on the same page. Amazon can bolster brands in the short term, but to build a sustainable business, you must control how customers experience your brand, wherever they are.

Maria Haggerty is CEO and one of the original founders of Dotcom Distribution, a premier provider of B2C and B2B fulfillment and distribution services. 

Identifying and Engaging Your Most Valuable Audience Segments

Your audience is made up of a series of segments of audiences, all in a different place in their journey with your brand. From one-time visitors to the most loyal readers, each segment requires a different strategy for engagement and something different from your brand experience.

Your audience is made up of a series of segments of audiences, all in a different place in their journey with your brand. From one-time visitors to the most loyal readers, each segment requires a different strategy for engagement and something different from your brand experience.

To optimize your audience development strategies for 2020, you need to first identify these audience segments and then determine a plan for engaging with and growing each segment.

For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll use Google Analytics to create audience segments, as most readers will be familiar with and have access to the tool. There are, of course, more advanced tools like CDPs that will allow you to act even more strategically.

Note that when creating segments in Google Analytics you can typically look at a segment’s behavior for a maximum of 90 days. So for the purposes of analyzing these groups, we’ll be looking at them in terms of their behavior within a 90-day period.

Segmenting Your Online Audiences

This article overviews one way to segment your online audience into four categories. If this isn’t the right way for your brand, you can segment in a way that works for you. The lesson here is to develop your segments and then create a plan that prioritizes and engages each accordingly.

1. Drive-bys

Drive-bys visit your site once and likely won’t again, at least not for another few months. More than likely they stumbled onto your website through a Google search or a friend sharing a link on social media. They may or may not be in your target audience.

Find these users by creating a segment in Google Analytics and filtering by users who have exactly one session on your website. If your target audience is based on a geographic region, you can create two segments, one within that region and one without.

How to Engage Your Drive-bys

Drive-bys are the audience segment that is likely to be on the bottom of the totem pole in terms of priority, so your strategy for engaging them should be minimal. Monetize their visit with programmatic advertising, but invest little other efforts in engagement.

2. Passive Visitors

Passive visitors to your website are those who return to engage with your brand two or three times in a 90-day period. The fact that they have returned to your website after their initial visit suggests they might be within your target audience and should be engaged accordingly.

One way to identify your passive visitors is to create a segment in Google Analytics that filters users who have exactly or greater than two sessions on your website and more than 30 days since their last session. The second part of this criteria will eliminate your more frequent visitors — we’ll get to those soon.

How to Engage Your Passive Visitors

Passive visitors have much more value to your brand than the drive-by visitors. Based on their return to your website, they are more likely to be in your target audience and should be considered warm leads for your brand.

Keep passive visitors on clean, clutter-free website pages to avoid overwhelming their experience with advertising, if possible. You can do this by exporting audiences from your segments into DFP (Google’s ad platform). The ideal outcome is to secure their email address capture, so present these users with opportunities to sign-up for one of your weekly (or lower frequency) newsletters.

If you’re unable to capture an email address, happily settle for a social follow by targeting these users in DFP with ads driving to your social channels, or retarget these visitors on social media using the same process above.

3. Engaged Visitors

Highly engaged visitors are regularly engaging with your brand and are visiting your website at least once per month. Get excited because this is where your marketing strategies get fun.

When creating the segment in Google Analytics, filter by users who have exactly or greater than five sessions on your website. Based on our work with regional and niche publishers, these visitors are likely to be less than 10% of your total users, yet there’s a good chance they generate more than 40% of your website’s page views, making them an incredibly valuable audience segment.

How to Market to Your Engaged Visitors

These users are already engaged with your brand, so the next step is marketing more of your content to them and deepening their connection with it. If you do not have email addresses in your database for these users, your number-one goal should be to capture them. If you do have an email address, you should be using your email service provider to monitor their behavior with your emails and fine-tuning your content delivery based on their interests. For example, if they are recurringly visiting your food coverage, deliver them news about restaurant openings first or make sure they know about your upcoming food event.

Further engagement includes driving these readers back to your website with advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Consider experimenting with soft gates on popular pieces of content to force an email capture to read the articles. But keep their experience clean and clutter-free. This isn’t the audience you want to hit over the head with invasive or pop-up advertising. This audience is primed for a deeper relationship with your brand and your marketing actions can drive them to your site more frequently — or drive them away.

4. Loyalists

Loyalists visit your website at least 15 times over a quarter, which equates to visiting more than once per week. These folks are very likely to be on your email newsletter list or are highly engaged with your brand on social media. Based on what we see from our clients’ brands, loyalists may comprise less than 3% of your visitors but could be making up as much as 25% of your page views.

Create a final segment inside Google Analytics that filters by users who have exactly or greater than 15 sessions on your website. Remember you’ll be looking at these segments over a period of 90 days.

How to Market to Your Loyalists

Like your ‘engaged’ visitors, these individuals are already invested in the content you are sharing, and now your goal is to drive revenue from them.

If you have a metered paywall in place – or are considering putting one on your website – these users are the ones who will hit it. If you have a subscription product to sell, these users will feel the most inclined to support your brand financially.

A great way to extract more value out of these users is to get their feedback. As regular consumers of your content, they are more likely to share their time and their opinions. Whether you’re considering a new product launch or a shift in editorial coverage, this audience’s opinions will be valuable.

Two common ways to solicit feedback are through a traditional survey – typically sent via email (SurveyMonkey is easy to use for something like this) – or through a focus group. The latter especially allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the content they love, what kind of products they want from your brand, and most importantly what they would be willing to pay for.

Not All Audiences Are Created Equal

We know by now that not all audiences are created equal, so your engagement strategies shouldn’t be either. These high-level strategy suggestions are the beginning of engaging your various website audiences differently to make the most out of your time and marketing resources.

Why Brand-Tracking Needs an Overhaul

Have you noticed how disconnected brand-tracking has become with actual consumer behavior? You might run a great new ad or build a new positioning in the market, and the tracker may even show an uptick in brand consideration. Nevertheless, when it comes to hard behavioral metrics (such as purchase volume), they remain unaffected.

Branding
“Branding,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Limelight Leads

Have you noticed how disconnected brand-tracking has become with actual consumer behavior? You might run a great new ad or build a new positioning in the market, and the tracker may even show an uptick in brand consideration. Nevertheless, when it comes to hard behavioral metrics (such as purchase volume), they remain unaffected.

Underlying Trends

According to a new study by Trinity Mirror, almost 70 percent of consumers don’t trust advertising and 42 percent distrust brands and view them as self-serving. Several other studies are finding similar conclusions. Despite this trend, it may be premature to say that brand advertising no longer works. Rather, the larger consensus seems to be that brands must find new ways to convey authenticity and sincerity beyond the ad. In many cases, brands are responding by focusing on brand purpose and brand experience in addition to traditional brand communication.

When it comes to brand-tracking, the problem is that most trackers are still tied to the traditional linear relationship between stated brand consideration and sales. While always a bit tenuous, the relationship made much more sense in the era of push marketing. Now, however, the consumer’s purchase decision process has fundamentally changed. More and more, consumers develop brand preference through experiences and by observing brands living up to their stated brand purpose. Not only does this new dynamic take time to measure, more importantly, but it also requires a well thought out measurement strategy. Let’s assume one of your brand propositions is “valuing the consumer’s time.” In this case, more important than measuring consideration is tracking if the consumer actually views you as valuing of their time. Furthermore, where in your transaction chain are you living up to that promise and where do you fail? Can you confirm this through behavioral data, such as a decrease in abandoned website shopping carts or fewer billing inquiries?

How Brand-Tracking Needs to Evolve

First, brand monitoring needs to be part of a larger consumer intelligence database. Integrating brand with NPS data, customer experience data and behavioral data is critical to understanding how your brand is performing. One significant advantage of this approach is that you may find that all the underlying brand principles are tracking upward, but brand consideration remains unchanged. Knowing this early may save you millions in investments on a brand strategy that is potentially not providing the market advantage you hoped for. Without tracking the underlying brand principles, you would be left wondering if the strategy is bad or if the execution is not working.

Next, build a custom brand measurement strategy. Because great brands are now structured around a unique purpose and experience, measurement strategies cannot be off the shelf. I commonly encounter brand-trackers that create more questions than they answer. While this can be spun into a positive, in pragmatic reality it wastes time and delays decisions. The underlying reason this happens is that companies fail to measure the specific changes and perceptions they are uniquely trying to affect.

Revisiting the brand proposition of “valuing the consumer’s time,” do you know how you will actually measure success on this proposition? When is the right time to ask the consumer? Is it solely the consumer’s responsibility to tell you how you are doing? What other ways can you listen to consumers besides a survey? What can you know from their behavior?

Having a clear vision of the underlying experience, behaviors, and perceptions you are trying to create and knowing how you will measure them will go a long way toward understanding how your brand is resonating in the market.

A Toast to Brand Effervescence!

While Shakespeare said it first, it is easily the lived mantra at omnichannel retailer Boston Proper: “Boldness be my friend.” I recently shared a glass of celebratory bubbly with two smart leaders at Boston Proper—Sheryl Clark, president, and Margaret Moraskie, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce—after being wowed by my first visit to their new boutique in Boca Raton, Florida.

While Shakespeare said it first, it is easily the lived mantra at omnichannel retailer Boston Proper: “Boldness be my friend.” I recently shared a glass of celebratory bubbly with two smart leaders at Boston Proper—Sheryl Clark, president, and Margaret Moraskie, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce—after being wowed by my first visit to their new boutique in Boca Raton, Florida.

Having had the honor of working with this brilliant team in the past, I was thrilled to literally walk into their newly reenergized brand experience and see this brand burst into an even bolder stance from their already well-designed and lust-worthy “take me on vacation” Web and catalog pages.

Apparently, so, too, were all their other brand fans. “We had customers standing in line for over two hours for our grand opening. It was a party before the doors even opened!” Clark said. “Our models were mingling with our customers while many of our employees greeted our loyal fans as well. It was wonderful to see the passion our customers feel for us.”

Many words came to mind as I first saw their new rose gold starburst signage upon entering the feminine boutique, whiffed the lovely (and proprietary) scent, then made a beeline to all the “must have” color coordinated outfits and finally stepped into the armoire-accented dressing room with attentive stylists standing by like girlfriends ready to “ooh and ah” and accessorize! A+ words like: audacious, all things feminine, amazing. But one word captured my entire experience: sparkle.

Boston Proper is a brand that sparkles. From the leaders who wear the clothes “like no one else” in and out of the office, to the designers who create the clothes with always the proper embellishments, to the photographers whose shoots transport their customers to exotic destinations where they imagine themselves in those clothes, to the stylists who only want to help make their customers shine with just the right outfit—the internal team of Boston Proper brand ambassadors infuse sparkle in all they do. Their brand effervescence is a competitive differentiator. It’s worth toasting!

I know Clark speaks on behalf of her entire team when she says, “There is nothing more exciting than the journey we are on. To meet our existing customers, deliver them a revolutionary boutique experience and welcome new customers to the brand has been truly unforgettable. We are having fun every day, making the Boston Proper experience, in every channel truly unforgettable—one customer at a time.”

Does your brand sparkle? What are you doing that deserves a toast? Is boldness your friend? What brand barriers might be holding you back? Why not spend some time thinking about ways to add a little bubbly to your brand experience?