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Customer Experience Customer Loyalty Marketing

Aspiring CMOs, your brand has to deliver the experience it promises

By Natalie Truong, Chief marketing officer for Asia, AMEA & Partner

February 18, 2022 | 7 min read

Great marketers own the lived reality of their brands. Because that’s how the world assesses them, says Natalie Truong, chief marketing officer for Asia, Middle East & Africa (AMEA) & partner at Mercer.

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Customers don’t remain loyal to your brand because your promise looks good, or your marketing is award-winning

Once upon a Christmas Eve, there was fun, family, a little too much champagne and an email from an airline. Our upcoming flights on January 8 2022 had been canceled. While the cancelation itself was not ideal, what followed was an astoundingly bad customer experience.

In the email, there was limited guidance on remedial action, no offer to help us rebook on to another flight, no process guide for providing a refund, nor even a dedicated number to call for assistance. And it was Christmas Eve, so we fell into the black hole of public holiday silence in the days that followed.

We wanted a refund – so we found a number to call. We rang five times, spoke to five different people and received five different responses. Yet still no refund.

Our experience would be a bad one for any brand, but deplorable from an airline whose brand explicitly promises “... on every journey, we want to make things as easy as possible.” Hmmm.

To be fair to the airline, Covid has bludgeoned the airline industry and the effects have been seismic, but all that was required to vastly improve our experience was some guidance on remedial action and a dedicated phone number. If you can launch a new brand campaign in a pandemic, it’s not too much to think that you can also safeguard the experience of existing customers.

And we are two years into the pandemic, people – time enough to know you need some contingency plans.

The marketer’s equation

We marketers love to build brands. The dream is for our brand to be THE ONE; that inspires longing, changes the world, steals hearts or is the one studied by university students. Marketers want to grow, influence and entice, and good brands are the visceral expressions of dreams and commerce.

In the fun and high excitement of ‘branding,’ however, it’s easy to forget the foundational remit of marketing. Hint – it’s not logos or fonts. Marketing exists to deliver growth through customer acquisition and retention. And growth cannot be achieved by branding alone.

Your brand might bring consumers in, but what keeps them coming back? Fulfilling your brand promise as well as delivering a great experience is what inspires loyalty. And as you know, growth is a combination of new and repeat business.

The best marketers have one equation that guides their strategy and actions:

Brand promise + good customer experience = growth

Brand promise

A brand can be expressed through an organization’s people and translated through its products, services and actions, but for this article I am narrowly defining brand promise as the explicit commitment a brand makes to the customer.

An exemplar brand promise is Coca-Cola’s “to inspire moments of optimism and uplift.” So clever. Note the word “moments.” It pledges only the ephemeral, and the alchemy of its drinks’ recipes do always uplift – momentarily (it makes no mention of the sugar and health low you might experience). Equally impressive is Lululemon’s quality promise; you’ve been wearing the same pair of our leggings for four years, washing it in way-too-hot water and now the stitching has frayed? No problem, we’re sorry, here is a new pair on us. Amazing. That’s why there are no nasty Christmas Eve tales about the apparel brand.

The thing is, every brand defines its promises – no one makes them do it, so there should be no reason not to deliver those self-defined pledges. Right? If only.

We’ve all seen companies that struggle with fulfilling a credible brand promise. From an insurance company that claims “we’re different because we care,” but that didn’t respond to numerous emails or calls when a claim was put in for a newly-diagnosed breast cancer policyholder, to the company that claims to “solve problems others ignore,” but is using Covid as an excuse when customers complain. Again, it’s been two years, please stop using Covid as an explanation – it’s now clearly an excuse.

Customer experience

Customers don’t remain loyal to your brand because your promise looks good, or your marketing is award-winning. Customer loyalty is built by the brand that takes good care of them at every touchpoint, which is an opportunity to form a positive emotional attachment.

A twelve-year-old I know recently invested her Christmas money on a Casetify product for her phone. I say invested because she could have spent less than $8 on eBay for a case that looked much the same, but chose to spend seven times that amount. After all, the word-of-mouth endorsement from her friends was strong. The case arrived within the timeline forecast, beautifully packaged. There was a small fault with the product, so the consumer took a photo and sent an email to the easily-found customer service address. A reply came back straight away apologizing for the case not being perfect and that a response would be provided within 48 hours. Sure enough, within a day, another apology came with the picture of a brand-new replacement and a new timeline for delivery. The twelve-year-old (who is very careful with her dollars) said: “Oh, the money was worth it.” She is attached and will be a happy Casetify customer and advocate for a long time.

Your customer’s experience is inseparable from your brand. And the only way your brand can attain lasting value and loyalty is if you fully commit to owning the brand and customer experience.

Great marketers own the lived reality of their brands

Great marketers – the ones that progress to the C-suite – understand branding is only one step in the marketing journey. So aspiring marketers need to stop talking about brand and brand purpose and start claiming, owning and delivering on customer experience and brand promise.

Some consumers have poor memories, so will make a repeat purchase even if they have had an adverse incident, but we now live in a world of endless choices. As marketers, we want to limit customer attrition and defection by being the only brand of choice in our category.

RE: My Christmas Eve tale

Dear Chief Marketing Officer of Airline,

After all the action on our part post-Christmas Eve, eventually we received an email confirming the refund amount and when it will be paid. But the date passed and still no payment, so I rang the ‘customer care center’ after having to Google the number. I was then told the refund will take another 10-12 weeks. Never mind that it took about 10 seconds to deduct the same amount from my credit card when I purchased the tickets.

Great marketers own the lived reality of their brands. Because that’s how the world assesses them.

As part of our series in partnership with The Marketing Society, this month we hear from Natalie Truong, chief marketing officer for Asia, Middle East & Africa (AMEA) & Partner at Mercer.

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