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Branding in the age of Digital Marketing. Experience is not a substitute for Relationship.

Brand loyalty is dead. It’s experience that matters At least that’s what many proponents of digital marketing would have you believe. I’m not so sure that’s true

There is no question that the millennial generation, in particular, are experience junkies and certainly expect instantaneous gratification. Even Amazon is looking to push their two day delivery window down to a two hour delivery window.

And while experience is key, let’s not forget relationships. Relationships are not the result of his single experience. In the age of instantaneous reviews, while each experience can be commented on and given an immediate reading, relationships are still developed over time. And they matter.

Let’s talk practical reality. Recently, I was trialing an online SaaS service for my business. It was a bit more complicated getting up and running then I’d hoped and so I need to contact the vendor for some support. It was easy to schedule, every time I reached out to them I got a very professional support person on the phone who did their best to help me, and software itself seems user friendly enough and the UIX was beautiful.

I would give that company high ratings on every single experience - digital and human. But in the end, the product was too hard to use and didn’t really meet my needs. So while the company had focused an extraordinary amount of effort on producing extremely high-quality customer experiences, the one experience where they had failed was in providing a that met my needs. So in the end, this series of experiences did not create a sustainable relationship.

Brand loyalty is built on a number of foundational elements. It definitely includes experience. These days that means something easily accessible and easy to use, frictionless, and with a friendly and visually pleasing user interface. However, brand loyalty is also built on a quality product or service that meets the needs of target customers on a continual basis.

Perhaps quality experience could be expanded to include anticipating customer needs and providing new features, or products and services prior to customers even asking or them.

Here’s a classic example. My most significant frustrations with mobile phone service is that they often introduce new plans that would benefit me but I don’t know about them. Here I am making my automated payments monthly, only to learn that six months ago I could’ve switched plans and saved money every month. A truly exceptional customer experience, would include the company contacting me to ask me if I want to switch to the lower cost plan. Or better yet, just switch me to the lower-cost plan and send me a note telling me they had done so.

This is the intersection of experience and service. Real service. Not just the phone service I get when I call or the chat, the service I get when I click on the link online, or the email response when I reach out to my service provider by email. It is the kind of service the builds true brand loyalty because I feel like the business I’m doing business with actually cares about their ongoing relationship with me.

This also goes to a quality product or service. It’s not enough to offer a quality product or service on a single basis at one time when I sign up or become a customer. Offering a quality product or service is an ongoing process. Again, it’s the relationship. Something that’s developed over a long series of high quality customer experiences.

Another increasingly important brand consideration is what a business stands for. What are the values of the business and how are these values reflected in their policies and behavior. Are they aligned with my values? Are they green? Are they inclusive? Do they respect my religious values? Or my non-religious values?

In a world where this information is readily accessible, near instantaneously online, this level of corporate positioning is more important than ever. And, when I cannot only find this information, but I can immediately respond directly to the organization on social media, this component of corporate guidelines, principles, values, behavior, and messaging may even be more important then a unique value proposition or targeted messaging about a specific product or service.

Digital has therefore become a double-edged sword for branding. The channels for reaching and influencing constituents continue to multiply as the associated data provides increasing opportunities for finely granulated and targeted communication. At the same time, far more interaction and transparency with much higher expectations requires a level of brand authenticity for which there is no substitute.

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