Marketing spends a lot of time and effort creating a cohesive narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings created by their brand. This message is then shared with customers through brand and advertising efforts.
However, advertising is only one aspect of a customer’s experience with a brand. The people who interact with customers on a daily basis—the front-line employees and partners—are the true face of the brand and play an increasing role in driving a customer’s purchase decision and overall impressions of the brand.
Brand message dilution
A research study, jointly conducted by InnerView and FocusVision, shows that marketing organizations are struggling to create one consistent message across all customer interactions. This is where all departments in an organization, from marketing and sales to technical and installation teams, communicate the brand story in the same way to customers.
In fact, nearly 60 percent of companies agree their brand story is getting diluted before it reaches the buyer.
This lack of consistency is costly. When asked to estimate the impact in terms of dollar value, half of the companies said it was $6 million or more, with 28 percent saying it was more than $10 million. They also believe it negatively impacts their customers by causing confusion, leading to unmet expectations and consideration of competitor offerings.
In contrast, brand message consistency brings opportunity. Those companies who believe their brand story is being told consistently across their organization estimate there are tangible benefits, with 62 percent saying the annual sales benefit is $10 million or more. It also benefits their customers by improving engagement, satisfaction, and leads to increased sales and customer retention.
In short, there is a lot to be gained by achieving brand message consistency.
The role of customer insights
Encouragingly, our data shows nearly 95 percent of companies having a customer research program, with the majority of resources devoted to customer experience research. Surveys and focus groups top the list of approaches that brands use to know their customer, but in-depth interviews and usability tests are also standard. There is nothing surprising about this finding. It is a natural assumption that a company would draw upon insights they have about a customer to make decisions around how to influence that audience.
However, there is room for improvement when looking at how companies are leveraging customer research. Conducting research is not enough; it needs to ask the right questions at the right time in the right way, and there is still the matter of connecting customer insights to the ongoing brand strategy.
Among all the companies conducting customer research, 90 percent report using it to shape their brand story; the unique value proposition that companies are communicating to their customers. Beyond this, we begin to see some drop-off in what they know about their customers.
Although 77 percent believe they have a clear understanding of their customers’ needs and preferences through research, only 53 percent use customer research to inform their brand and product messaging regularly. Moreover, while most companies engage in customer experience research, when it comes to understanding insights in other areas—such as brand experience, brand messaging, product development—even fewer companies are engaging their customers.
A difference maker: Understanding your customer truth™
Consistent and comprehensive application of research to understand customers is a significant contributor to an effective brand story. Brands with fully integrated research and marketing functions have much greater success at maintaining company alignment and control of how their brand story is told.
We saw earlier that most companies do some form of customer research, but successful ones, the ones who have high confidence that their brand message is being communicated consistently throughout their organization, go the extra mile.
They use multiple research approaches to get at the heart of how a customer thinks, acts and feels. Not just surveys and focus groups, but successful brands go further with online qualitative research and in-depth interviews. Keenly, they tie the research to brand/product messaging, consistently using it to inform the messaging.
Customer research is a discriminating factor between companies reporting brand consistency and those that do not. For the former, customer research is integral to their overall marketing strategy, and it is done in a comprehensive and consistent manner. The right research strengthens the brand story within the organization as they all become customer-centric rather than marketing-centric.
Ask the right questions, and keep asking
We saw that those companies with high confidence that their message is being told consistently across the organization, use a wider variety of research approaches. FocusVision’s comprehensive suite of insights technology includes FocusVision Decipher, FocusVision InterVu and FocusVision Revelation. Decipher runs anything from a just-in-time quick pulse survey to a large-scale multi-country, multi-language survey or anything in-between. InterVu allows you to speak directly to your customer through online video and capture meaningful feedback from a live conversation. Revelation is an online qualitative research community that provides an extended, more intimate view into your customers’ lives. Using a wide variety of research approaches like these will help deliver a holistic understanding.
The questions that you ask may be part of an ongoing program of research, such as a quarterly Brand Health Tracker, Net Promoter Score or Voice of the Customer. The core component of these programs is likely to be a survey, but richness and greater understanding are captured by video open-ends and short online video interviews.
At other times, the need for customer insights may come from specific questions arising from the business, or there may be a need to update existing information. This could be anything from building personas, mapping your customers’ shopper journey, following their product experience, talking to your website users or informing your content marketing strategy. For each of these questions, there are several ways that the insight can be gathered and whether a single approach or multiple approaches are used will depend on the specifics of the situation.
It all starts with the customer. Successful brands understand the importance of knowing who their buyer is; their needs and preferences; the experiences they have, how they think, feel, and act. Customer insights shape the brand message and the strategies companies use to appeal and connect to their buyer. So ask your customers about their lives, get close enough to understand how they think, feel, and act. Keep asking—one study isn’t enough to truly understand their lives—and be sure to leverage the insights gained.