Dec 20, 2009

Don't Try to Be All Things to All Customers

Brand Onion

Or else you'll come across as not caring about one or more customer segments and needs. When it comes to branding, less from you is more. An additional lesson for companies is to stop trying to be a bad copy of some other company. "Me too" is the biggest branding sin of all - you're doomed for failure, especially when there are already two companies going at it in one category.
The idea of picking one thing and sticking with it is valid on the service end of things. You position your company by making a statement with your message, and delivering on that statement with your service. It sounds simple, but we know it's easy to get in trouble by over promising on both counts.
Al Ries provides plenty of examples of unfocused brands in a post at Brand Strategy Insider about social media not the answer to weak brands. A memorable example for those in the service business is:
What happened at Citigroup? Same old story. It started with Citibank, its consumer banking operation. Then it bought Travelers (insurance), Smith Barney (stock brokerage) and Salomon Brothers (investment banking.) In other words, Citigroup started as a bank in competition with the other major banks in America and then tried to fight on four fronts: banking, insurance, stock brokerage and investment banking. Not a good strategy.
They may seem like adjacent businesses to you, but to a customer, they spell very different support and service needs. Imagine your day job suddenly becoming so big that you cannot do it all. You're stretched in so many directions that you're at the point of losing track of what you're doing.
The same happens with brands.
Today you can increase sales and profits by:
  • serving your existing customers better
  • trimming your product line and offering only what you can truly support well
  • being on the same page with customers as to what your product/service means to them
More focused means that you have one conversation going and many possibilities within it for your customers - and employees - to become evangelists on behalf of your brand.
Let's say you started the company by dominating a category. Why did you stop embracing that position and moved away from what you did best? You did that despite the fact that even today customers continue to associate you with that brand position.
Companies do that when instead of innovating from the inside, they buy other companies that seem a good deal as a growth strategy in new directions. In other words, they think differentiating is a good strategy for the business, and neglect to take the existing brand equity into account.
To continue with the Citigroup example. If they had expanded on their consumer banking operations before Commerce Bank took the number one spot in retail banking for customer relationships (before the Bank's demise and sale, they were considered a Maverick brand), they would have been able to get up close and personal and offer amazing service.
Instead, they expanded into insurance - not a core business, and with quite different customer needs - stock brokerage, and investment banking. What all of these service lines or lines of business have in common is money. But they express very differing models in terms of customer relationships and information needs. Not to mention that they speak to different customer segments in terms of value.
In the service business, when it comes to customers, it fundamentally comes down to two things:
  1. how you serve customers
  2. how you communicate with them
The more audiences and segments you have - which depend on your product or service lines - the higher the complexity in delivering to all the same standards when it comes to meeting customer service expectations and communication needs.
That in turns weakens your overall brand position. Customers are the best source of referral a business has. With social media, that can turn out to be a big win if your customers talk about your business in good terms, or loss if they're at a loss on what to say about you.
The lesson: don't try to be all things to all customers.
Do you think it's the human innate desire to please all that comes into play here? Why is there still such a gap between what companies think they can deliver, and what they deliver?
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