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By Virginia Nava Hieger

The story behind a product is one of its most critical paths to success. Often, companies spend millions of dollars on research and the development of new products rather than on a sustainable story for the business. The curve of innovation in business and the length of time that innovation prevails has shortened as competition increases and the ability to copy technology revolutionizes.

Why would a customer continue to buy old brands? It is true that the customer’s experience and connection with the brand is a point that marketers missed as part of their strategy of product delivery to the marketplace. This is at a center focus of the organization, while other areas are taking less precedence, such as the evaluation of the authenticity of the brand in the customer’s eyes.

To be effective strategists and business leaders, refocusing our perspective from our customer’s point of view to a relational point of view is a critical task for the long-range success of our organizations. Frequently, due to the high demands of corporate responsibilities in large organizations, the tools that are often utilized are trend analysis, budgeting forecasts, market research, focus groups, porter model, BCG, and other traditional methodologies.

What we often miss during these evaluations is the response from our customer in relation to the authenticity of our brands. This is a simple as well as a complex task. Is this brand talking the talk? Is the brand in alignment with its brand promise.

For example, if the brand is representing service as its key positioning statement, is the service being evaluated thoroughly, and how is it being evaluated?

Are various types of customers being evaluated? Or is this only referring to a certain customer category? Is this a true backed-up experience or is it what our internal sales team and customer service team says?
How is this backed up based on the outlets where the customer is able to provide a conversation and provide feedback directly to the company? 1-800 numbers? Social media? Email conversations, technical support or other support functions among the company?
These questions can give you two important perspectives that can be summarized by the following:
• Is this positioning a result of an internal conversation you have in your company with your sales teams, directors, marketers and other supporting functions?
• Is this positioning a result of an integrated perspective coming from the conversation with your internal team, as well as the conversation from your customer?
If your story is not resounding with your customer, the story loses the power of connectivity and engagement with your customer, therefore it loses its credibility. When the credibility of the story lowers, this effects customer loyalty.
Another symptom of brand inauthenticity is a company’s interest in selling to everyone without a back-up strategy. Many companies start with a high-end product that ends up a low-end years after it’s launched, and it’s almost as if the brand got a facelift and became a beautiful high-end car from a low-end in five years, losing its original selling attributes in the eyes of the customer. Think about it this way: audiences still get excited over James Bond cars with all their technologies and devices. And even if the technology is now obsolete, they continue to appear in other James Bond movies.

When competitive pressures are the main reason why a story behind a product is changed and not backed with customer experience, the desires and true wants of the product are not aligned with what the company is doing during the customer’s experience. Then the company is not talking the talk, and sooner than later the customer will naturally begin to lose trust that will decrease their loyalty and cause them to move somewhere else.
You may be thinking: “Well, there are different kinds of customers that may be more oriented towards innovation and others that may not.” And while I agree with you, I also recognize that even innovative companies work around managing a story that is consistent with their company. For example, with Windows, the customer knows there will be a new system coming, that it will last certain amount of months, and that a new one will be replaced with new attributes and characteristics. There is a certain predictability around the innovation cycle; in a way, the company is saying, get ready to buy your renewed system or device in “x” amount of time, because this will last only for “y” period of time. This way the innovators feel part of the process and part of the tribe of the company while the consumers feel they have a chance to try a technology for lower price.
How do you evaluate brandthenticity within your organization?
Make a map:
What are the key positioning statements you are selling to your client?
• Are those positioning statements put together based on the customer experience across the channels of the company?
• Are there positioning statements that are aspirational as to where the company wants to position itself in the eyes of the customer? If so, is this aspirational positioning statement in alignment with the customer experience and the practices of your different departments (technical support, customer service, sales & production)?
Does your story match your new product delivery in the marketplace?
• Is this product really new or is it the third or fourth or fifth iteration to the market?
• Is the price value of the product better or improved?
• Is there a package from the product that brings higher value to the product (meaning service, support, or convenience)?
• Was the product development a true result coming from customer needs or from a competitor’s forces?
• Are you advertising yourself as a leading company while you are a follower in a certain category?
• Are you devaluing another product brand category while launching this product?
Does your company have a loyalty system?
• Does a loyalty system exist to recognize the value of customer interaction with your company? Is the loyalty system aligned with your positioning?
• Does your loyalty system align with your customer category or do you easily adjust loyalty programs for short-term benefit, such as increasing revenue vs. a standardized format that is equal and provides equality for different customer categories and segments?

The story of a company is what qualifies a brand’s authenticity in the eyes of the customer. It is not in the story told to the customer, but it is in the alignment of the story that is told and experienced by the customer. Every member of the team that is a touchpoint to the customer needs to be part of the story and needs to understand it.

Do you have a system where the marketing materials or positioning statements are moved from sales and marketing and business leads to other functions?
Identification of the customer’s touchpoints and customer experience are critical for an aligned story that lead to brandthenticity in the “customer eyes.”

Who is the first person the customer interacts with? Is it over the phone or in person? In what kind of environment?, What is the next interaction? And so forth? A mapping of interactions is beyond analyzing the touchpoint; it’s a methodology that helps the company understand what the true story is internally and to gather feedback from the customer externally.

Because the mechanisms of launching products into market are usually more single focused in large organizations, there is a mismatch in the communication of the positioning statement to other touchpoints, or a blind eye that can provide additional information around the customer experience. Having a clear customer experience in your communication and touchpoints is key.