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Brand and customer management: the inextricable link (part two)

30th Mar 2007
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By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

A challenge for all companies is that their customers are simply getting more savvy and are far more empowered to make comparative choices of goods and services. Brand loyalty is under pressure from the inexorable forces of churn even though most organisations now cite customer-centricity as one of their key strategic initiatives.

Gerald Ratner is the living proof of how a brand can be destroyed. When he made his ill-timed comments comparing his jewellery to a prawn sandwich and highlighted that it wouldn’t last as long, he sowed the seeds of his own demise as the company’s shares went into meltdown as word spread of his remarks. In those pre-internet days it took several weeks before the real damage was done; nowadays his comments would be all over the internet in minutes. Reputation disintegration is a broadband speed activity in the mid-noughties.

It’s little wonder then that large companies employ individuals and agencies to scour the internet looking for brand-threatening scuttlebutt. This can range from an idle rumour started by someone online which rapidly becomes urban myth – try the ludicrous notion that KFC had a farm in France that bred chickens without heads or wings! – through to deliberate corporate terrorism with rivals firing out false stories to undermine the opposition. We can think of a fair few examples in the CRM market alone here, but politeness and a healthy respect for the size of US corporate legal teams means we shall pass swiftly on…

Nonetheless the impact of internet rumour mongering can be enormous. The biggest single fall in software giant Oracle’s share price came when a rumour started on the internet that CEO Larry Ellison had crashed his jet on take-off from an airport in California. The story was completely untrue and Ellison is still piloting himself around the world to this day, but the impact on the stock price was a salutary warning of the potential dangers of the connected world.

The internet can also be used as a powerful lobbying tool by customers as Apple discovered when the iPod Nano was plagued by reports and complaints that the screen was too fragile and would scratch or break under very little pressure. The internet gave the complainants a platform on which to unite very quickly and very effectively and generated a lot of negative coverage in the media worldwide.

For all that, Apple is a good example of a company that can have a good brand, but not always a good reputation. It has a powerful brand, great marketing, an ability to produce and reproduce products and iterations of products and command great loyalty, while still having issues such as badly-managed supply-chains and the quality of some products (eg iPod screens and battery life) with no apparent impact on the bottom line. It helps of course that the brand is defended by near obsessive ‘Macolytes’ who will tolerate no heresy when it comes to the Gospel According To Steve Jobs.

The brand experience covers all aspects of the customer relationship building and sales cycle. Examples of this include how the customer is treated on the phone when they call; how easy it is to inquire about products or services; the quality of the customer's website usability and experience; how easy is it to buy the product or service; and the customer's experience of using what it is that you sell.

Consistently delivering a satisfying customer experience at each stage of the purchase cycle is the key to achieving brand approval, customer loyalty and consequently repeated business. If achieved correctly, the customer's brand experience should precisely reflect the brand identity, and that value proposition that has been communicated. To that end, the goals of brand management and customer management are inextricably linked.

Top brands
Google was most popular brand in the UK for the first time in 2006, according to research consultancy Millward Brown’s annual brand equity study.

Microsoft was second-ranked, followed by McDonald's Nokia, Tesco, Coca-Cola, Colgate, Nescafé, Ford and Vodafone. A second “ones to watch” study also ranked Google number one, followed by 3, Asda, Red Bull, O2, MySpace, M&S, Virgin Mobile, iPod and Starbucks.

"Google has been propelled to the top position because of its ubiquitous presence, the strength of its brand, the amount of coverage it generates in all media and its strong usage among all age groups," said Peter Walshe, the global account director at Millward Brown.

While media spend does influence ranking, Millward Brown's BrandZ equity measurement study combines aspects of business performance, product delivery, clarity of positioning and leadership.

For SDL's view on achieving global brand nirvana with operational brand management click here.

This month's stories:

Brand coaching

Translating brands for frontline staff

Case study: "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Are your staff damaging your brand?

Performance management and incentives

Channel tuning

The brand has left the building: maintaining consistency in an outsourced world

Double trouble

Building customer management skills

How to turn your staff into customer champions

University challenge – why can’t you graduate in customer management?

Don’t miss the train

Translating from IT to business

CRM: a C-level conflict

Is internal CRM the key to a harmonious organisation?

IT vs customer care: the departmental divide

Find out more about Stuart Lauchlan

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