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Brands are brands and people are people. Ostensibly they are not the same. Different objectives, different entities. If we look at consumers’ feelings and reactions towards brands, however—their rational and emotional responses to products, services and interactions with the company—you quickly realize that people tend to judge brands much like they judge people.
We are all more likely to connect with a company if its behavior reflects similar values and beliefs as our own. Additionally, as people, we adapt our behavior to audiences, settings and circumstances, and what we expect from a brand is not all too dissimilar. This means that only if a brand can maintain sincere integrity and demonstrates values shared by the target consumer across all of its products, services, activities and interactions, can it truly be embraced.
And there lies the challenge for global brands: Determining a clear and single-minded consumer-centric "personality" and bringing this to life consistently and coherently across all relevant touch points.
One could argue the noted challenge has always been the case, and they may win the argument. However, the importance of tailoring to consumer needs and consistency in behaving in a way true to what the brand is have never been more crucial. In today’s digital age, every consumer has a global voice. One slip up, one bad product, one flawed service experience and one unfortunate or off-brand piece of communications can indirectly reach millions, and thereby damage reputations.
So while people will make mistakes and not everything can be perfect, the framework for excellence should be. A framework in which a brand has defined "who" it wants to be, defined what consumers expect it to be and defined how to bring this to life consistently.
It all starts by marrying target consumers’ needs with the brand’s own vision of value for society. Take Philips Beauty, for example. Philips’ mission for beauty could be described as easy as developing beautiful technology (professional skin treatments, hair care appliances, etc) that delivers visible results.
The Philips brand can be trusted to deliver meaningful technological innovations. Millions of women use Philips hair care, skin care and hair removal products daily, and they've told the brand they value speed, effectiveness (visible results) and a pleasant user experience (beautiful technology). This means that both consumer needs and the company’s capabilities for value-add combine into a fruitful marriage.
Marrying needs and a brand vision is only the first step. The second step for a brand is bringing this to life across everything that it does. Carefully mapping out the consumer journey and, for each step along the way, defining how to bring to life the mission, the identity and the personality consistently and compellingly. Every single touch point—from product benefits and product design to packaging, customer service, in-store displays, ATL materials and digital and mobile channels—will need to "feel." In the case of Philips Beauty, live up to the brand’s promise throughout the full 360˚ user experience.
It’s not an easy challenge, perhaps, but therefore all the more exciting. What your brand is is how it is perceived. And how it is perceived is how it behaves. And just like we prefer our friends to behave well, so too do we brands to behave as expected—as they promise. More than ever now.
Thomas Marzano is global head of brand communication design at Royal Philips, and the lead for its beauty brand communications design. He will present "Optimizing User Experiences in Beauty" at the InnoCos USA conference in New York, July 10 2013.