Every day, we see signs that doing business today is more complex than ever. The developed economy continues to be sluggish, with 2.4% growth in the first quarter of 2013, and injections of liquidity are commonplace.
That means in order to retain market share and keep up profitability, business leaders must continually look for new and innovative ways to engage their consumers. These are real, rational concerns for any organization. They are indicators of how your business is performing, but they are not why you’re in business.
People are why you’re in business.
Don’t forget about people. People have real emotional desires that companies need to know intimately. Whether you’re in a B2B or B2C business, without people, you wouldn’t have any indicators to monitor at all. The only way to get to know the people who, in the end, are the genuine drivers of your business decisions, is to spend time with them. That means all of them—the mainstreams, the extremes, the buyers, the influencers, the trendsetters. Knowing these people will help reveal a vision for your brand that new customers will also want to be a part of. How that vision comes to life is where the magic happens.
The best and most strategic companies today care deeply about people’s needs and desires. They display it honestly and overtly in their brand’s behavior. They design experiences that consider how consumers may feel at every moment with their brand. They also recognize that feelings run deeper than emotions—feelings are visceral. It’s what drives people to choose, buy, use, and share—in the store, online, at home, and with friends.
To grow in a sustainable way in your relationships with consumers, it’s critical that you clarify and understand all the nuances of what your brand stands for. We’ve identified four best practices to help you transform your business into a brand that people will fall head-over-heels in love with.
Your business mission and brand vision should be rooted in deep insights about the people you’re trying to reach, established by learning firsthand about who they are and what they desire.
When a company first establishes its business model, the initial questions answered are usually "What do we do?" or "For whom?" and "How?" The "what" and "how" tend to get addressed first. That’s because many companies assume that if they have a great product or service idea, they can find a market segment that might benefit—and then they start pushing their product to those people.
But if you begin instead by thinking about why people need your product and why your product will—or should—matter in their lives, you have a much better chance of connecting with people at the right moments. You will be able to get through to them in more meaningful ways, on a more intuitive level—in ways that are less rational and which appeal more to their core sense of themselves.
BuzzFeed, for example, understands that its readers aren’t one-dimensional. People read and share silly content about cute kittens when they are bored at work or when they need a break, but they’re the same people who are also interested in global news and cultural events. In response, the site transformed its offering in the past year to meet its readers’ many interests. It offers everything from politics to sports and to music but still includes silly lists and videos. BuzzFeed’s evolution taps into people’s different versions of themselves. As a result, it now has more than 25 million monthly unique visitors.
Connecting with people is not just about understanding people’s needs and having a product that satisfies those needs. Businesses must still consider how consumers engage with their brand across all touchpoints. If you think like a service business and envision the entire experience, it’s easier to figure out where you can have the biggest impact with your customers while still furthering your business objectives.
Rakuten, Japan’s leading online retailer, understood that the way to achieve success was to develop loyalty not only with its online shoppers but also with its merchants. It did this by crafting a unique ecosystem that interconnects all parties. Rakuten empowers its merchants to interact directly with their consumers and better understand their customers’ needs. In turn, frequent shoppers earn loyalty points that can be redeemed with any merchant on the Rakuten site, which keeps them coming back for all their shopping needs and further reinforces the ecosystem.
Being smart with meaningful touchpoints that build loyalty for both merchants and shoppers has earned Rakuten exponential revenue and profit growth of more than 20% from 2012 to 2013 and has helped fuel its strong global expansion through acquisitions such as Buy.com and Play.com.
Create experiences with simple and joyful moments that people can’t live without. And don’t stop there—do continue to wow people. The visceral nature of feelings means that people might not realize when or why they’re falling out of love. They just will. To prevent that from happening, you must consistently innovate and find new ways to connect with people.
As designers for the OXO brand, we constantly hear customers refer to OXO as the "hugs and kisses" brand. We hear a lot of, "I have to have that!" from users during in-house product testing. The pleasure is palpable. Over the years, we’ve seen the company expand from 15 products in the original Good Grips line to hundreds of products, including entirely new categories such as OXO Tot. By practicing the philosophy of Universal Design (products that can be used by as many people as possible), OXO has the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, and, therefore, understand the unique joys that come from tools that make life better. And it has paid off for them—even during this sluggish economy, OXO managed close to double-digit organic sales growth for the fiscal year 2012.
Your brand vision doesn’t stop after you define it—you have to bring it to life. How many times have you read, on a company’s About Us page, that they’re focused on people? Yet in reality, as a company grows, the way the company behaves in its value chain often gives the impression that they’re taking people for granted and focusing primarily on increasing financial performance—they seemingly lose sight of what they stand for. Why?
Companies frequently overlook the very people involved in helping them attain their vision: employees. These people must not only understand your vision but also must believe in it—and live it themselves. Start by not thinking about them as employees but as your most important brand touchpoint out in the world. This is the first step to creating a culture that embodies your brand. Then those employees will nurture the brand from the inside out.
A worldwide leader in environmentally responsible business, Patagonia lives by its philosophy of "consume less but consume better." Patagonia’s vision isn’t communicated in a top-down approach. It’s attained, instead, through consensus from its employees during all-company forums. Employees are carefully chosen and hired for their embodiment of the company’s culture and environmental philosophy, but it doesn’t stop there. The employee benefit programs at Patagonia are meant to build a community at work, enabling the company to unify its brand message and achieve its radical objective as it continues to grow as a profitable business.
Regardless of external complexities happening in the global economy, you must stay true to the vision you have for your brand. By following these best practices, you will create a smarter business: one that stands apart from the rest through little interactions that, when added together over time, will make people utterly committed to your brand.