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Stop Advertising. Start Investing in your Brand Premium

written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource Christopher Kingsley, Founder & CEO of 42, a digital agency and software lab

Listen, Measure, Build, Repeat.

It used to be all about making the best products and providing the best services across the board was the primary way to win in the business world. Somewhere along the way, many companies got the idea that one can just buy “advertising” and sell more widgets. Decision makers see impactful campaigns rolled out with seeming effortlessness by the world’s leading brands, and assume that power is something one can just transfer to any industry, product or service through some commutative creative constant.

Advertising agencies and in-house creative departments have demonstrated the immense value of compelling messages and effectively communicated powerful ideas for almost a century. One overarching element goes beyond all other individual factors in today’s marketplace: Brand Premium. Brand Premium is the level of variance between the actual practical value of a product or service and the expressed and perceived value in the marketplace and beyond.

In every instance, the most effective way to generate the maximum Brand Premium is to produce the very best product or service in your category. For everyone else, there is an uphill battle that requires you dig in and invest deeply in your products, services, and ultimately, your brand. Southwest Airlines, a low cost alternative, is a perfect example of this phenomenon having generated substantial Brand Premium through successful relationship strategies and consistent implementation and innovation.

In a time when the market leaders are bigger than ever and scrambling to keep up with the changing demand for travel, Southwest has emerged as a force in the airline industry. There are no amenities, no first class, no assigned seats and you can’t fly Southwest to some cities, but there is something special about how customers perceive the brand and its value. Southwest has consistently ranked #1 in customer service and other important airline distinctions while staying accountable to what they call their Triple Bottom Line: Performance, People, and Planet. With rapping flight attendants, free checked bags, and toilet paper races pre-takeoff it’s no wonder they are so valued, even as a discount airline. People love them, customers stay customers and it’s obvious that they are listening and measuring as much as possible.

You have a product or service that you, your company, your customers and people at large believe is valuable and produces some level of marginal utility when it is consumed or possessed. There are specific personal moments and circumstances that unlock that maximum Brand Premium for each consumer individually, but patterns and relationships often emerge when looking for and attempting to identify these moments and personal triggers in aggregate. I recommend a number of best practices below to mitigate one’s native subordinate positioning along the Brand Premium spectrum.

1. Listen.

Traditional messaging and corporate communications tend to be very push oriented in getting their messages out to the various markets. Most entities don’t spend enough time on the other, more important part of conversation, listening. Conversations can exist in so many different formats, contexts, and through various mediums, each with their own conversational norms and respective listening behaviors.

Have different types of real life and digital conversations with people, customers, clients, coworkers and anyone whom you know to have opinions about your brand. The most important part of most conversations is the listening. Are you hearing what people are saying and giving them the opportunity to address their needs and sometimes-bitter criticisms of the perceived shortcomings of your brand? This is valuable information that you and your company need to know in order to properly join the conversation, and analyze your actual product or service.

The subtleties in digital communication are important and vary from medium to medium as people use different channels in different ways to communicate with different parts of their life. People say things about your brand in the real and digital worlds in different ways, but with similar sentiment. During in person interactions it’s easier to tell the difference between someone complaining sarcastically “I love Best Buy customer service, they’re the best!” and its authentic counterpart, but there are even pattern recognition algorithms that can gauge the probabilities of genuine statements in most circumstances. Each forum requires a different strategy and specific range of disposition that is appropriately anchored in your core brand values.

Are people actively speaking about you in blogs? Do some targeted monitoring and see what kind of conversations you can have with their respective communities. There are a lot of influential experts out there and they are often not the people you would originally peg as a guru. Outreach and authentic dialogue on other people’s channels can be mutually beneficial as you both engage different distinct audiences. Interact with influencers of all kinds and their respective audiences in a real way without all the PR noise. This is a valuable opportunity to get real feedback and develop new relationships.

Social networks require deep listening and a uniform brand voice while embracing the special attributes of each social channel and community. Don’t be creepy and come on too strong, remember that if it would be weird for your brand to be in a conversation with consumers or clients in the real world then it might be even more awkward in the digital realm; be natural and don’t try to be everyone’s best friend. Be where your brand lives, but don’t be that annoying loud person at the party, be the person everyone wants to talk with because you know so much about all of them and what they care about most. Most people want to tell their story or at least be taken seriously and listening is the simplest and often most powerful form of affirmation.

Now keep listening.

2. Measure.

Back in the Mad Men days people would lament, ‘50% of all advertising goes to waste, but it’s impossible to know which half.’ Today, it’s actually frightening how much consumer behavior information is available to advertisers, as almost everything about our common behaviors can now be aggregated instantaneously. Tools like Facebook Insights, Radian6, Google Analytics, Kissinsights, Crazy Egg and countless others make almost every dollar and its impact measurable.

If you are not capturing and analyzing data about where your business comes from, how and why people act, what people are saying, and everything else one can glean from all the analytics available, then how can you have any confidence that you’re addressing anyone’s needs at all?

Where did this user come from, why did they build a cart but not checkout and then go to this other site? How come our email open rate is low among female recipients? Why are some Facebook posts getting a lot of comments and “Likes” while some are totally ignored? What are the characteristics of your best-served and happiest customers? How do we replicate or spread their experiences and perspectives?

Intuitively brilliant creative, well-tuned market positioning, as well as layers of strategic planning, targeting and technical implementation, can all go to waste if one does not start from a foundation of real, current and comprehensive data. Benchmarking is a crucial technique to ensure that each element of your strategy can be tied to specific goals and actual results. Develop an effective and appropriate set of core metrics that you and your brand care about and make sure to revisit them regularly to ensure they are still serving your overall analytics goals, and giving you an accurate picture of your efforts and optimizations.

Now keep measuring.

3. Build.

You’re listening. You’re measuring. What have you learned and how do you act on this new information and context? You’re hearing what people think, want, and need. You are watching them act and measuring their interactions with your brand across multiple channels. Now is the time to reconcile all of that information with real world responses. Now is the time to build your Brand Premium.

Show your clients and customers that you hear them and internally prioritize the most important actions based on your analytics. Maybe the most important few factors can be handled through some UI/UX changes on your website. Maybe it’s the need for better customer service or better shipping and post transaction support. Are people and the data telling you to add different types of media to your promotional materials? Is your product or service quality perceived at the same level that you and your internal stakeholders believe it to be or is there a discrepancy now that you’re listening and measuring?

All of these different scenarios require different actions to build each type of Brand Premium available to each product and service in each market. All of this should iterate different scenarios to help you optimize your global strategic goals. Most strategies and actions will be misaligned as 90+% percent of new enterprises fail, but those informed by the right data and context will multiply one’s Brand Premium in ways previously unavailable to small enterprises. It should feel like you are reading their minds, in the future, before anyone even thinks it’s possible for you to change, react, or build new and better attributes to serve your stakeholders and customers better everyday.

Now keep building and optimizing.

4. Don’t Stop.

Every person is an opportunity for your brand to develop a new relationship and today, it’s possible for one to have deep relationships with products, services, and companies in wholly different ways than we have with each other. There is not one conversation that matters more than another. There are not specific metrics that are your silver bullet bellwether.

Only when you regularly engage in real interactions and conversations will your listening become more powerful in allowing you to truly hear your most important advocates. Aggregating and analyzing long-term and consistent data will reveal truths unavailable to smaller sample sets with limited scope. This is perpetual, and the second you stop listening and measuring you will be building or acting blind, which is the first sign of losing Brand Premium.

Act with purpose and make bold moves to address the real and perceived needs and wants of the market and your stakeholders. This is an incredible time when we can act and think in ways never before possible. Now is the time to take advantage of all the powerful tools at our disposal in order to become the greatest brand and producer of value each of us has the potential to become.

Do not be satisfied doing things the same old way and just guessing which half is ineffective. Make all your efforts and resources count, every time. Stop doing what doesn’t work and find the most effective efforts through optimization. Be bold, stay active and take your Brand Premium into your own hands.

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