A brand is not a name or a logo or a color scheme or a design layout or a tag line or an advertising theme. A brand lives in the customer’s perception. A brand is not what the marketer says it is; it’s what the customer thinks it is. A brand begins and ends with the customer, and most important to the customer’s perception is the customer experience. Customers will believe their own experience before they believe the advertising. Advertising works only when it is supported by the customer experience, and strong brands are built one customer experience at a time.
Branding, like an iceberg, exists mostly below the surface. The visible brand messaging accounts for what we see above sea level. The invisible brand—the company culture, the customer experience—adds the mass below the surface. One of the best explanations I have seen of this came from David Wolfe and Richard Frazier of the Wolfe Resources Group, a Virginia-based company that offers a workshop series on building bridges to consumers’ minds:
Customers, not companies, control most markets. They do so by zapping commercials, walking away from company incompetence, taking leave of stores that give poor service, hanging up phones, and freely choosing what they will buy and from whom they will buy it.
Our brands are not ours to do with as we wish. We are but the trustee of our brands on behalf of their real owners—our customers. Our brand value is based on what customers are willing to put into it, not on what we can expect to get out of it. Brands are personalities. Customers only invest themselves in brands whose personalities they like. The only brand positioning that makes sense is one that allows customers to see themselves when beholding the brand.
Companies thought CRM would build brands. That hasn’t happened. Wolfe and Frazier are right: The best brand positioning is one that allows customers to see themselves when beholding the brand. The company must know its customers and the brand must represent part of how customers want to see themselves. They may want to be more stylish or more athletic. Proper brand positioning allows the customer to see himself a certain way with the help of a brand.
This is a great argument for CMR. When we put the customers in charge we, in effect, let them see themselves when looking at the brand. A serious customer-centric business model creates empathetic links with customers. As Wolfe and Frazier say,
It promotes dialogs in which empathy flows back and forth between company and customer. It allows both company and customer to be more vulnerable, a requisite for unguarded communications that inform both parties for mutual benefits. These are conditions on which healthy personal relationships depend. Healthy company- customer relationships depend on these same conditions.
Crm-forum.com, August 29, 2001.