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In it for the long run

How often have you been let down by your actual experience with a brand whose marketing promised so much? OMD’s Layal Takkiedine says the best marketers live up to the stories they tell

By Layal Takkeidine, head of marketing at OMD

Layal Takkiedine, head of marketing at OMD

Imagine this scenario: brand comes up with an amazing idea. Idea gets translated into this beautiful piece of storytelling and video gets posted online. Brand does not get the response it expected. Surprisingly, the focus is not on that piece of content. Instead, customers are complaining about the bad service they experienced with this brand. Thousands of dollars, countless hours spent by the team, and barely anyone to appreciate the work that was put into it.

This example reminded me of a very emotional ad for a bank that was aired a while back, whose sole purpose was to make the audience tear up, every time. ‘We will look after you,’ their slogan said. Now, when you actually go to said bank, the experience does make you want to cry, but for a completely different reason. You see, the brand fell short of its promises, highlighting the dichotomy between what was advertised and what was real. This is one of the reasons more and more people are losing trust in advertising.

Now, you might think that nowadays everyone knows about the importance of creating a strong product and service. (4 Ps, anyone?)

Wrong.

You’d be surprised at how many companies forget the basics and dont consider the product design, distribution, customer journey, convenience, retail experience and, most importantly, salespeople.

Now more than ever the pressure is on for these companies. Competition has made it crucial for brands to step up their game – in customer benefits, loyalty programs and faster deliveries, to name a few areas.

Unrealistic claims will backfire in a second and could even create a backlash. When reality hits, people don’t waste time going online and airing their frustrations – making mistakes much more expensive these days, which is pushing marketers to raise the benchmark.

Many a time an ad campaign has failed not because it was badly designed or planned but because it was too far from the actual experience or product.

So how do you bridge that gap between your advertising and your customer experience?

It starts with what’s at the core. You need to make sure you get the product and the customer experience right first. This means identifying and answering a need very well, understanding consumer aspirations and preferences better than your customers do themselves. Meet their expectations way better than your competition.

Product design, packaging, pricing, distribution, customer services are all touchpoints, including advertising and other forms of storytelling. Marketers need to become their own consumers and develop a genuine empathy. Only then will they crack the formula to develop advocacy, because who prefers a one-time purchase when you can have repeat business? We’ve now moved on to embrace the idea of customer lifetime value. The short-term mindset needs to be replaced by – you guessed it – a long-term one. As well as conversions and performance, companies must build their brand affinity with both potential and existing customers.

Advocacy starts from within and a customer’s first point of contact makes a long-lasting impression. Start from the inside, immerse yourself and your employees in your product. If your own people are not convinced, then how can they in turn convince consumers?

Many brands are facing this issue, as few have managed to build a consistent experience, from claim to reality, or at least ensure that the gap is manageable – be it through physical interactions or digital ones.

That last mile used to be purely down to the individual. Be it the shop assistant, the person behind the counter or the sales executive in the showroom, they either made or broke the carefully crafted storytelling you spent hours devising. Technology is changing all this.

That’s why we’re hearing about more and more companies changing their structures to bring the roles of marketing (CMO) and technology (CTO) closer together for a seamless experience. And this is when they start leveraging technology better than ever before and implementing automation and AI-based customer service. This leads to fast, efficient and convenient turnaround that enriches the experience and simplifies the relationship. Like Emirates NBD enabling banking through Twitter or apps like Uber Eats that are doing mass personalisation at scale (where previous orders are recorded) and my personal favourite, Nespresso’s consistent approach across all platforms (smart website structure, knowledgeable staff in their stores that heavenly cup of coffee you’re offered when you visit).

Many retail stores have yet to leverage the power of customer relationship management (CRM) in this part of the world, and use their clients information and shopping behaviour for little more than just a celebratory message on their birthday. Don’t get me wrong, getting birthday greetings is nice, but that does not make a relationship. CRM will also allow marketers to garner feedback, unearth deep behavioural insights and listen to their consumers.

In short, it’s got to start from within. Invest in your product, test it out, enhance it, build trust with your consumers, focus on research and development, then get the best people to market it for you and create beautiful stories around it. At the end of the day, if your product or service doesn’t live up to your consumers’ needs, no amount of marketing is going to help you. Especially in the long run.

So next time you create a beautiful piece of work that raises your customers’ expectations, make sure the experience lives up to it.

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