What brands mean in today’s digital landscape

In the age of the internet, having a brand is no longer a single-action process. To continue building a brand, a company has to continuously create positive customer experiences, inside and outside of just selling a product or service. To learn more about what companies can do to propel their brand further, we spoke with Greg Kihlström, SVP of Experience at Yes& and author of a new book titled The Agile Brand.

ABERMAN: Well, I get this a lot. Why don’t you tell everybody: what’s a brand?

KIHLSTRÖM: There’s a short answer and a long answer. I’ll give you probably somewhere in between. So, in my book, The Agile Brand, I explain the dynamic between brands and consumers in really four stages, and I think there’s really four components to a brand. The first is the object component. So, you know, a logo, a name, those things that are visual, are tangible, that have really existed since brands have have always been around. The second component is the idea. So, in order for a brand to be successful, it really needs to occupy really some some mindshare of the consumer, so a brand really needs to adequately express what kind of challenge or problem that they solve. So, what is their value to the customer?

The third component is offering experience. So, this could be a longer term experience, it could be a very short but positive experience. Brands really have to offer some type of experience to their customers. And the last component is really a relationship. So, brands are understanding that you know, it takes so much to get a new customer that, if you can retain current customers, and you make so much more money from, you know, retaining them, it costs less money to capture them, and recapture them, and everything like that. So really, doubling down, and having this relationship with them, it gives a good result for not only the consumer, but the brand itself.

ABERMAN: It seems to me that one of the biggest differences between a brand now and a brand say, 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, you really hit the hammer on the head with experience. It seems to me that technology, particularly social connection, social media, has allowed companies now to maintain a relationship with the customer, and establish some sort of conformity over what that’s like. But by the same token, it also really raises the bar. I get a sense here in D.C., we have some really smart digital branding experts like yourself. But the broader business community still thinks a brand is a trademark, and then they think they’re done. Or am I mistaken?

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KIHLSTRÖM: Yeah. There really is kind of a set it and forget it mentality a lot of times, where you set everything from a brand positioning and messaging or even a marketing plan, and you kind of set it and think that it’ll kind of take care of itself. I get a lot of clients that hire my agency to make something go viral for instance, or something like that. And really, at the end of the day, it takes a lot of effort. It takes ongoing effort.

I think with the advent of the Internet, and social media in particular, it really gives us a chance to have an ongoing dialogue with customers. And so, it’s not so much about just broadcasting out what we would like customers to hear, but it’s really giving them a vocabulary that they can actually use, and share with their friends, their colleagues, family, so on and so forth.

ABERMAN: What cracks me up about that is, I hear that a lot as well, we need to create virality. People don’t understand virality occurs when people welcome your content. And that only happens if you’ve done a good job managing before. But the second thing that cracks me up is, a lot of companies say, oh, I want virality, but they don’t understand: once you start talking with your customer that way, you can’t stop.

KIHLSTRÖM: It’s one of those things where, yeah, exactly. Once you open the door, you can’t shut it, and you don’t really want to shut it if you do a great job. If you get the ball rolling, and you keep feeding that, keep, again, teaching your customers the vocabulary that you want them to use, then they will actually do that for you.

They’ll be your brand advocates, if they have good experience. If you keep helping them. I mean at the end of the day, it’s not about selling products. Brands, obviously, companies need to sell products. They need to sell services, they need to make money. But if you actually solve a real challenge that someone has, they’re going to keep coming back.

ABERMAN: Here’s a great experience I had a couple of months ago. I got crosswise with Twitter, and Twitter thought that I was a bot. So I went online to try to tell I wasn’t a bot. I ended up being serviced by a bot, and I couldn’t explain to the bot that I wasn’t a bot, and I ended up deciding that I hate Twitter’s customer service. That’s what I’m getting at, that technology’s great, virality is great. But at the end of the day, unless you maintain a consistent vision about how you’re going to communicate with your customer, you’re wasting your time. Is what you’re getting with The Agile Brand, and agility?

KIHLSTRÖM: Yeah. I mean, really agile methodology comes, you know, back in the day, from manufacturing, and then was was translated to software development. But marketers have found it really effective, because it’s not a reactive approach. I mean, I think a common misconception is being agile means that you take a look at the numbers from yesterday, and all of a sudden you change your marketing plan and strategy. That’s really not what it is.

It’s taking a methodical, almost scientific approach, where you listen, you analyze, and then you take, in a series of sprints, or you map out a plan, of, okay, we’re going to listen for a week, we’re going to listen for a month, and then we’re gonna make changes. But the plan is that you know that you’re going to change. Instead of saying, okay, we’re going to roll this out for 12 months, and then see how it goes at the end of the year. Instead of that, it’s actually taking a methodical approach of, we know what our goals are, we know that we need to sell X amount of widgets by the end of Q4 of this year, but we don’t know exactly how we’re going to get there.

We’re gonna take it as we go, we’re gonna put things out in market, we’re gonna test. Big data, access to all of that stuff actually gave us access to mountains of data that we can now pore through with with better and better tools. So, using the access that we have to those tools, we’re able to make better and better decisions. But agile really means again, not just making changes on a whim, but really making methodical changes and improving things, methodically, over time.

ABERMAN: Ultimately, the bottom line here is that, if you’re not paying attention to how people are seeing you on the Internet, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.

KIHLSTRÖM: Right. Yeah. I have a fairly recent client of mine, a banking client. Financial services is a pretty risk averse industry, so they were not on social media at all. So, we had this conversation with them of like, you really should get on, and they were telling me, well, we really don’t want to be on there, because we don’t want people to just go on our Facebook page and complain.

And so, my reaction back to them was, they’re probably already complaining. They’re complaining on social media, but they’re complaining on a channel that you have no control over, you have no access to. So, why not at least own the mechanism that people are going to complain on, and offer some help, and show publicly?

I mean, I think the great thing about social media is that you can publicly show that you’re responsive, that you’re able to help. You may not always be able to preemptively prevent problems from ever happening, but you can demonstrate publicly to the world that you’re actually being responsive.

ABERMAN: Great lesson. So folks, remember: the internet knows who you are, and knows where your business is, so make sure that you’re actively managing how people experience you. Greg Kihlström, thanks for joining us today.

KIHLSTRÖM: Thanks so much for having me.

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