Make Certain You are Nonetheless Constructing Your Model
As we celebrate the long overdue departure of the insurrectionist-in-chief, we can also watch how quickly and comprehensively a brand (and family) can be blown up and destroyed. You probably aren’t suffering from Trump’s self-destructive narcissism, but it’s still important that any serious business take the time and steps necessary to protect, nurture, and strengthen their brands and the delicate connection with their customers.
While absence and distance can theoretically make the heart beat faster, in today’s world as we are slowly emerging from the pandemic, there is simply no guarantee that things will ever return to business as usual. Or, more importantly, your clients are there, ready, willing and waiting for your return and reopening unless you take action now to turn that fragile prospect into a solid promise. Wishful thinking is not a good strategy, and relying on old habits is just not smart. Old habits may die hard, but the internet and the pandemic have opened up a whole new world of choice even for die-hard fans.
The main idea to keep in mind is that much of what we commonly consider customer loyalty may simply be customer indolence: the product of frequent use, convenience, easy access, and the lack of a better alternative. Thinking that your past and current customers will be blinded and bound by their habits is a bad bet that will sell them short and take them for granted in a dramatically changed market. When customers emerge from a long, dark year of denial with necessarily radically altered buying and consumption patterns, they are better equipped and probably somewhat concerned and excited to look for new and different methods. This migration risk is somewhat reduced by the multitude of options, which quickly leads to decision fatigue. Brands are a shortcut – an easy way to avoid the hard work and time it takes to evaluate and try something new.
In some cases, the advent of new technologies and inexpensive, readily available tools can simply provide customers, prospects, and consumers with better value and more integrated solutions. Take the American Automobile Association (AAA) for example. As the winter continues, I often think of why I completely stopped my AAA auto club membership at a time when Google, Waze, and other on-board navigation systems are eliminating the need for Trip Tiks (remember these) that I can buy now Have renewed A cheap and simple car insurance that is available online for miles and where the manufacturer offers free roadside assistance for practically every decent vehicle. Direct startup competitors are also entering the market. Most AAA members don’t even know that the main remaining use and value of this colorful little AAA card in your wallet is to hand it over to the nice cop in place of your driver’s license the next time you’re stopped to look at the Way to speed up the airport so you can still get through the TSA screening. I’m sure AAA isn’t exactly standing still, but it’s clear that if they plan to stick with millions of customers who, by the way, will also drive far fewer, they need to recharge their offerings.
The bottom line is that your brand is a constant promise. Great brands are earned every day and are becoming the acronyms and abbreviations for your company’s identity. If you no longer keep the promises you made or if you don’t keep your offers at least comparable to those of the competition, your customers have no reason to hang around. And in difficult times like these, “good enough” really isn’t. Cookie cutters are used for baking, not for branding.
I recently wrote that any post-pandemic brand needs to be bolstered with obvious and exaggerated elements in terms of security and reliability / redundancy. With the advent of aggressive social media conversations and reviews, sometimes the “crowd” has more control over your brand than you do. It only takes a few nasty notes of health or cleanliness issues to create real problems for you. Listen carefully to your customers and work hard to anticipate their needs and expectations. You need to improve your game, differentiate your products and services, and give your customers compelling reasons to stay.
But please do not try to compete for price. If you ride down that slippery slope and reduce your brand equity, you can never come back. If we see faint signs of a serious retail revival in late summer or early fall, it is easy to convince yourself that heavy discounts and sales are the way to get traffic and sales built quickly, but it’s a very bad bet.
Discounts train customers to buy by price, not brand or quality. This may lead to one-time tries, but if there is no real substance and value, you’ll just run over these people when they go back to their old buying habits. Buying volume (just like scamming traffic with click bait on the web) is a short-term solution that is unsustainable. If you want to attract new customers, your focus must be on providing value and great service, not just getting the lowest price, which anyhow proves impossible due to persistent real-time pricing on the internet.
One more thing: watch out for the first “customers” who come back through the door. There’s a good chance they’re bottom feeders and bargain hunters and the very last people you want to associate with your brand and business. Not only are they unlikely to buy, and very likely to return worn out materials in a short amount of time, but they will also put off the real and serious buyers on whom you built your business from the beginning. Or they have a lot of money and no taste. These are other aspects of brand fragility that you need to carefully manage.
They don’t want to be seen as a “Groucho” club. As the humorist and actor Groucho Marx famously said: “I don’t want to belong to an association that accepts me as a member.” Or be a place so overcrowded with lookie loos that you have the problem with the Yogi Berra restaurant. As the great New York Yankees catcher and locker room philosopher once remarked, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.