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The Stickiest Brand in a Very Slippery World

Having worked in Marketing for over 25 years, much of it in relationship marketing and loyalty, I am not sure that many days have gone by where the words brand and sticky, or some synonym for sticky haven’t been mentioned in the same sentence, PowerPoint slide or plan on a page.

The term 'brand' of course has been around for thousands of years, predominantly referring to the livestock having the mark of the owner. All of us enlightened marketers know that branding is much more than a mark or logo but the communication of the very essence of an organisation that sparks emotional connections with its audience.

In the second half of the 20th century branding was primarily driven by the one-way medium of advertising, and many of the brands we still perceive as market leaders were established by substantial and effective advertising in that period. But “times they are a changing” as they say, or rather they have been changing, the advent of digital has made that one-way communication insufficient. In fact, it seems like the addition of the sticky adjective to the brand term appeared around the same time and that isn’t a coincidence.

Multiple customer touch points that provide opportunities to engage whilst providing feedback both broadly and directly have changed the playing field. As have the requirements for creating a brand.

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According to Jeremy Miller @ stickybranding, to be sticky your customers must understand you, choose you first, come back again and again, and even brag about you.  To achieve this perhaps the term 'sticky' should be far less an adjective, rather something more akin to a verb because it’s about action, about a brand actually doing something.

As I reflect more on the topic it becomes apparent that there are many aspects that are considered necessary to make a brand, but most are no more than just hygiene factors (to coin Maslow) on the way to profit. Of course they are important but they aren’t what sets the great and sticky brands apart. Ultimately it seems to come down to one thing that really separates the brands from the names or the commodities. And simply put that is customer experience.

Considering the organisations I have worked with and researched where I can noticeably recognise the customer experience, I can also see an emotional connection and a 'sticky’ brand.

Even in the land of the brand managers - FMCG,  that experience is tangible, born out of quality, consistency and design, even if it rarely involves people. But for organisations where it involves service, people and digital, it’s a ‘toughie’ and none more so than the Communications Service Providers (CSPs), a very profitable but fast commoditising sector. For them, the holy grail of a sticky brand has never been more sought after and yet appears unobtainable. Even organisations that utilise their services to get to the customers, the over-the-top (OTT) providers are better at building a customer-centric approach.

Over 20 years ago I worked in a Telco Customer Lab. We were charged with understanding propensities and responding (even anticipating) in a more appropriate way to see if we could influence customer engagement. We could and we did, but for fairly small groups, in nowhere near real-time and largely without the complexity of digital.  20 years on, the understanding and capability doesn’t seem to have progressed much. But that doesn’t make sense; certainly the customer has become more complex, they have more channels, more voice, more products and expect more, but equally that means they share more about themselves, their wants and preferences on how they like to be treated. So all this insight is there to be used in the field.

To make use of it requires a genuine desire to change customer experience for the better. That will mean being able to understand each individual's uniqueness in real-time, regardless of the touch point they choose to engage with you. Of course it is a very slippery world, so you’ve got to mean it if you want to be sticky.

The OTT providers use their data to deliver a customer-centric approach. If you want to be a ‘sticky’ brand in a very slippery world then you have to use your data, use those insights to deliver true personalisation for relevant engagement.

Customers have higher expectations than they have ever had and it is the service providers that make use of their data that will win the wallet share of these customers.

20 years ago delivering that superior customer experience was incredibly difficult in a simpler world. In today’s complex world, technology has risen to meet this challenge and service providers are beginning to take advantage of this opportunity to deliver a truly personal customer-centric experience. Are you ready to take advantage or will you be left behind by your competitors?

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