I went to a Google recruiting event last week to see how they were branding their workplace philosophy, get a feel for the opportunities they were offering students and of course to see if they had any fun job opportunities for me. The event was hosted by an enthusiastic woman who began asking trivia questions about Google. Of course, she allowed participants to use Google to look up the answers. If you got a question right, she would give you a pair of sunglasses, a water bottle, a laptop bag or a pair of headphones.
Unfortunately for me, the event was targeted at college seniors. As I am halfway through my second Masters I was obviously not their core customer for this particular event. Nevertheless, I did get something from the event. The Google recruiter told one story that will stick with me as an example of outstanding customer service and branding.
The particular service she was recruiting for was for sales and support positions in Google's AdWords division. The story goes like this: A client called in with a ton of different questions about how to position her site in Google's search rankings. The rep she spoke with walked her through her problems one by one and made recommendations. At the end of the call, the client said, "Wow, is there anything you don't do!? Can you deliver me a pizza through Google?" and the rep responded, "Not yet." An hour later, a delivery driver called the client and said he had a large cheese pizza for her, paid for and sent by Google.
The rep was pretty coy, at least in the retelling, by saying "not yet." This set the client up for a small, reasonable disappointment ("Well, they can't do everything...") at Google's lack of features. By following up with a solution in an hour, the rep underscored that Google is customer-centered, fun, listens, and that they'll work to create unique solutions almost immediately for any of their clients. Assuming this story is true, for the cost of a $15 pizza delivery Google has a story that reflects every part of their core brand. I thought it was such a great story that I memorized it and am writing about it now.
If you have worked for a tech company, you know that there is always a critic out there who wants to suggest a new feature for you. Definitely take note of this and see if there's a pattern--even if you think it's outside your core product offering. If you consistently get the same suggestion it can't be a bad idea to review customer suggestions and your assumptions. However, the real benefit is not what the customer suggests but why they suggest it.
One of the most common suggestions I see for one of my clients is to give customers the opportunity to provide a written review instead of just a scale rating from one to five stars. This client doesn't want to provide written comments because it will then need to moderate the comments, leading to running arbitration between customers and product manufacturers who claim that the customer is vindictive, crazy, or that their negative experience is a six sigma event. While the client may eventually provide this option to customers, they currently don't have the excess capital to do the idea justice.
Branding your business should be viewed more as though you're branding your customers. Are your values marketable, engaging and unique? Are they overly hokey or somehow too sentimental?
Some of the worst branding you'll see is from the academic arms of major universities, particularly if they're public. It's as though all the colleges got together and decided to practice reverse alchemy, turning meaningful qualities like "integrity" and "community" into platitudes. The schools are focused on building an internal culture rather than a consumable product. At the same time, if you look at their sports teams you'll see single-minded branding, dedication to color schemes, and consistently reinforced messages that are designed for mass consumption.
If you combined all of the funding and donations to the average SEC business school for the last 5 years, that would still be less than what the football team received and spent in the last 12 months. During this 5 year period, each business school has supported ~10,000 graduates while the football team has produced ~600.
I digress. Such is my love of college football. Let's bring it back into focus.
Universities spend inordinate amounts of time and money fighting their major brand (football) and by trying to brand each one of their schools as a unique, donation-worthy entity. Each school will usually be named after a major donor, then they'll have Chairs and Boards named after other famous (read: rich and philanthropic) graduates. The schools will print cups, blankets, hats and all sorts of paraphernalia with their particular brand. Unfortunately, once a student graduates they tend not to care if the university offers a certain major or has a school named after So-and-So.
What if the individual schools at the university changed their priorities and stored their marketing capital underneath the umbrella of the universities biggest brand, their sports?
People in academia are probably all a-flustered and indignant right about now. So, let's rearrange the question and look at it from a different angle:
What if Coca-Cola changed its advertising focus to Dasani water, leaving Coca-Cola on the backburner? The CEO's logic is that Coca-Cola has enough brand recognition already, so they should spend their resources where "they'll be of more direct use and show higher growth."
What would likely happen is that Coca-Cola would see lower revenue and the CEO would be looking for a hiding place from an angry mob of shareholders. Whether Coke likes it or not, their major brand is, well, Coke. By embracing that and using it to drive the majority of their cashflow, Coke unlocks its greatest potential for profits. If they diverted their cash stream to smaller brands, it'd be the equivalent of a whitewater rafting guide saying, "Yo, let's check out that tranquil creek over there instead of going down these Class 3 rapids." The rafting guide can probably do this, but is he or she going to have satisfied customers?
If major SEC universities were more thoughtful about what donors valued, they might see greater engagement. Assume you give me $5,000: would you rather go on a walk with me and get a thank you card, or would you rather sit in a box seat during a football game and be offered chances to shake hands with future NFL players? Given a choice between the two, I think most people would prefer the sports game. I still believe that the individual school brands are valuable, but ultimately you want to market the money beets.
Listen to your customers and look for opportunities to wow them, not just places where you can reinforce your brand. Ultimately "integrity" or "teamwork" are great ideals for a brand to pursue, but it's sort of difficult to communicate this on an individual customer level instead of a company-wide campaign. At the customer-level listen to what your customers are asking for, even if they don't communicate it directly, and deliver it. Don't waste your time and money trying to change your customers, instead try to change your business so that customers feel personally attached to your product.