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Years ago, I attended a services marketing conference sponsored by a prominent university. One professor made an intriguing claim: customers compare a brand’s performance on specific features to the best performance of any brand offering that same feature. The instructor pointed out a specific example of how this happens with customer expectations. If a brand were offering subpar, phone-based customer service, it wasn’t being compared exclusively to direct competitors who also offered horrendous phone-based customer service. He suggested that customers would compare a brand in this situation to the best customer service they experienced anywhere. This would happen irrespective of whether it was a brand from the same industry or a hotel, investment firm, or catalog company that wasn’t competing directly.

While his point resonated, there weren’t many direct examples to prove out his perspective. It made sense intuitively; you may also experience similar situations yourself. Yet, when we wanted to try to prove it for a B2B brand, we always wound up eliminating the necessary customer satisfaction survey questions to reduce survey time or research costs.

You Shouldn’t Be Surprised that Uber Is Ruining Customer Expectations for Your Business

In an article from The Wall Street Journal, subtitled, “Uber Users Flub Cab Rides,” writer Katherine Bindley highlights how individuals accustomed to app-based rideshare services don’t know how to behave in cabs (or even their own cars). Telling the driver your destination, waiting to find out the fare, and paying the driver are not part of the Uber or Lyft experiences, although they remain so for cabs. These new disruptive options have caused frequent rideshare customers to forget how cabs operate.

You might say that passengers forgetting how to use cabs because of rideshare brands is all in the same industry. Granted, it’s all about getting from one place to another. Yet, these examples reinforce an important point about strong brands with positive, radically different customer experiences: they can reshape expectations and behaviors even when a customer isn’t using the disruptive brand.

Understanding What Drives Customer Expectations

Are your customers’ expectations being set by your brand, a direct competitor, or an apparently unrelated brand? And how do you REALLY know what factors are driving changes in expectations?

If there is a possibility that disruptive brands are blowing up conventional customer experiences in your market, here is a checklist of tactics you can implement to attempt to remain ahead of the situation:

#1. Dig deep to understand what experience dimensions drive choice and preference

You need a robust understanding of what drives customers’ brand choices in your marketplace. One option is to ask these types of questions directly in surveys, sales calls, and customer service interactions. Doing that, however, leaves it to customers and prospects (if you interview them) to tell you what THEY think drives their choices. Their self-perceptions often place price at the top of the list, even if price isn’t the reason they prefer one brand over another.

A more effective way to tackle this question within a survey is a two-part approach. This involves asking questions about overall preferences for brands along with questions on how these brands perform on specific features. From the answers to all these questions, you can identify the relationship between how important each performance attribute is in predicting brand preference. This approach generally produces more reliable answers on what drives purchase and re-purchase.

Using this information, you can typically identify a smaller subset of features to monitor for performance levels within and outside your industry.

#2. Evaluate how industry competitors set and deliver high performance standards

Look inside your industry at various types of competitors (including high-profile, traditional, and potentially disruptive ones) to assess the performance claims and promises they make and deliver on preference-driving features. Explore their marketing materials, content marketing, and accessible customer communications. Conduct conversations with current and former customers and employees.

Through this evaluation, you will want to better understand:

  • What they say and demonstrate to set performance expectations among customers
  • How they deliver on expectations – both their processes and actual performance
  • How your own performance compares on each of the features

If possible, go beyond anecdotal performance accounts; become a customer of your competitors. This is easier done in consumer markets. In B2B, it may happen through some type of secret or mystery shopping. You might even engage a firm specializing in competitive intelligence to do this. No matter the means, there is nothing like actual usage experiences to help evaluate competitive performance levels.

#3. Look outside your industry for performance leaders on comparable features

Examine your list of preference-driving features. To the extent that they have meaningful comparisons in other industries, search out the highest-performing providers outside your market. You should be able to find far-flung examples of many features, including online or app access to services or information, responsiveness, timeliness, status or exception reporting, and accuracy, among others. Seek out any available information to understand top brands’ disruptive innovations, practices to set expectations, and performance levels.

Along with this, begin to routinely ask customers what brands they experience as providing the best service on your critical features. The objective is expanding your understanding of which brands may be impacting performance expectations in your customers’ minds.

It may be tougher to push for innovating your performance levels relative to players you don’t compete with directly. Still, you need only look at Amazon for a disruptive player that is upending industries in which it didn’t originally compete or even resemble any major players.

Taking the Next and Ongoing Steps to Managing Customer Expectations

If you decide to pursue this evaluation, it isn’t one-and-done. It involves an ongoing, periodic, commitment to maintain an understanding of performance expectations shaping your market in, as cab companies are discovering, potentially unexpected ways. – From Inside the Executive Suite

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I’m heading a team at church with responsibility for evangelization and conversion. Our responsibilities include ensuring our church creates an inviting and welcoming experience for both parishioners and visitors.

Our team gathered before the last Sunday mass this weekend to conduct a visual and experience audit. We used a worksheet supplied by our local archdiocese to perform what they called a visual hospitality audit. We informally extended the audit to include the entire experience, not just the visual cues.

The worksheet was tremendously helpful. It kept our team aligned AND provided a way to see our parish experience with fresh eyes.

Even before we successfully used the worksheet to conduct the audit, we planned to adapt the idea to develop a new Brainzooming branding exercise. It will help brands effectively and efficiently look at their in-person customer experiences.

If you want to adapt the concept to your brand’s in-person customer experience, here are the steps we’re taking to modify it:

To set up our team’s exercise, I prepared a cover sheet advising people to be as much in the background as possible (to minimize the impact of our presence on the observations). It also suggested trying, as best possible, to take on the eyes of specific audiences that need accommodation beyond the typical experience.

Our next step is compiling all the results. It is clear already that the audit form led all of us to new insights. One team member noticed a massive mosaic on the front of the church for the first time, even though he’s been in and around the church for fifty years! That shows the value of this type of customer experience audit approach to allow you to find fresh eyes, even if you have decade of exposure to a customer experience situation. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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The idea of personal branding seems like it’s been around forever. Many people credit author Tom Peters for popularizing the concept of personal branding strategies in a late ‘90s Fast Company article. If you are unfamiliar with the term, personal branding simply means building awareness and a reputation for your business self through strategies used to develop and market product or service brands.

I talk to many senior business people who think the idea of developing personal branding strategies is nonsense. That opinion tends to soften, though, once they are trying to change careers or reinvent themselves. Then, they suddenly get the personal branding religion and reach out for ideas and advice on how to successfully (and uber-quickly) develop their personal brands.

6 Personal Branding Strategies for Senior Executives

Someone in my LinkedIn network reached out recently with news that he has left the corporate world and looking for ideas on personal brand strategies to increase his online presence. To start answering his question, and get you thinking about the concept now, before you need it, here are six personal branding strategies we suggest for senior executives in career transitions. These are fundamental and important steps to build a personal brand online (and offline) as quickly as possible:

#1 Get Started by Repackaging Content

If you have ever created any content about your chosen profession that’s still relatively current, track it down. Your potential content stash could include non-proprietary presentations, articles, reports, and industry overviews. Edit these into a 300-to-500-word format. Review the pieces for tone, grammar, punctuation, and spelling (one more time never hurts), and then publish your article on LinkedIn. Two weeks later, publish another one, and keep on doing it.

#2 Share Content Online Regularly and Frequently

As you publish articles in your professional area, share links to all of them on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Yes, if you don’t already have presences on these social networks, you’ll need to create them and start growing your network on each one.

Besides links to the articles you publish, you should also share ideas and engaging tidbits about things going on in your professional life. Potential topics include your business experiences, travel updates, info on intriguing people that you meet, new information you learn, and insights you recently gained. All these social media posts help in creating the perception that you are active and in-demand. You will be amazed at how even a handful of regular posts prompt people you meet in real life to remark about how they see you doing things. That’s all positive for building your personal brand.

#3 Adapt What You Share Online

As you create and share content online, continue to refine your strategy. You can do this based on how people engage with your content and the reactions they share. Rethink what you want people to know about you. What do you want them to tell someone that they are referring you to in a professional setting? As you home in on this vision, share more of the content that corresponds with it. While we would ordinarily make that a first step before creating and sharing content, at this stage it is more important to get started than to waste weeks or months figuring out exactly what you should share.

#4 Reach Out to People Regularly without Asking for Anything

Begin emailing people with ideas, tips, insights, and other content that will be helpful to them. Don’t email someone you haven’t talked to forever with a request to help you. Email them multiple times with beneficial ideas before you ever ask for anything, especially networking help. If your first outreach is to interrupt a valuable contact to help you, you know you aren’t starting out well.

#5 Upgrade Your Personal Presence

If you don’t have one already, hire a professional photographer to take great photos of you. Make sure the pictures are natural and highlight what you look like at your best. Now replace all the bad, amateurish photos of you on your social presences with these new, great photos.

Also, make an investment in Moo business cards. I’m continually surprised by how many people (even ones I’d consider business hip), don’t know about Moo cards. They are pricier, but they’re of a heavier card stock; they come in striking shapes, and they can showcase multiple bold messages. Since I began using Moo cards, people repeatedly remark about them to me. They will set you apart, too, when you hand out your business card to someone.

#6 Get Out There and Meet People

Aggressively attend networking events. The key, again, is to not wait until you must network to find a new opportunity. Network when you can view it as a pure numbers game, one in which you aren’t under pressure to turn every meeting or event into a major win. When you aren’t desperately needing to network, outreaches that fall through won’t hurt nearly as badly — psychologically or career-wise. If you take the big networking meeting route, bring along a friend as your wing person. Two people networking together doubles the chances that you’ll know people there. You can also encourage one another when your reserves run low.

Start Now!

The challenge is to start and keep going on all these personal branding strategies. Don’t stop doing them once you land the next opportunity you’re seeking. That’s the time to increase your outreach, not retreat from it. – Edited from Inside the Executive Suite

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I was at a church vision council’s meeting recently. The relatively new group is overseeing implementation of the church’s strategic plan and progress on it updated mission. That evening, the group was discussing alternative strategies to improve the church building and grounds. Looking at various plans, their conversation focused on the building activities in each plan:

  • The number of meeting rooms
  • The number and sizes of offices
  • Minimum hallway widths for accessibility
  • The types of dividers and doors to provide flexible room sizes
  • Which buildings might be torn down to enable new construction

Their discussion turned to how parish members might react to the various options and whether they’d support a building initiative.

via Shutterstock

My caution to the group was that, from the first stages, members need to be careful about the language they use to discuss the building initiative.

The group faced the classic features-benefits trap; their building project discussion was only about features.

Customers Write Checks for Features, but Buy the Benefits

They were ignoring the benefits: how each plan would dramatically expand the parish’s ability to realize its mission of prayer and service. Beyond the numbers of rooms and wall finishes, THAT is the important benefit from the building initiative. While the parish (and its members) will write a check for buildings and infrastructure, they are buying an experience. They are buying the ability to better help parishioners and all those they will reach out to with assistance to realize a closer relationship with God.

It’s easy for any organization to fall into that same features-benefits trap with its marketing and sales messages: While customers pay for features, they are buying the benefits.

That is why it is so vital to make sure you identify and articulate benefits that are clear, vivid, and important for your potential customers. – Mike Brown

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Today was webinar day, as I covered the keys to creating social-first content to stop boring your audience in conjunction with PowerPost. Among the ideas we shared were:

  1. Getting past the management belief that your audience wants to hear about your brand
  2. Telling stories as if your online presence were the company campfire
  3. Developing stories with a three-part, social-first formula
  4. Speaking to specific individuals through your brand’s stories
  5. Ensuring every piece of your online content delivers at least one of five vital benefits for your audience members
  6. Sharing stories for customers at all the places on potential customer journeys
  7. Involving customers in the stories your brand tells
  8. Finding the cool in your brand and bringing those aspects of your brand personality into social-first content

Listeners walked away with a wealth of actionable ideas to shape and improve how you develop and share stories that stop boring your audience. Download our Social-First Content ebook to get your hands on these same types of tools! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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The day the IHOP/IHOb story broke, Emma messaged me that her son, Luke, wanted to discuss branding strategy with me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Twelve-year-old Luke Gibson’s insight on the dangers of brand extensions was intriguing. We had quite the conversation about when brand extensions do or don’t make sense. Luke clearly saw fewer opportunities for smart brand extensions than I did.

His strong perspective on what would likely be a family restaurant decision underscores how consumers outside the intended target are forming opinions and influencing purchase decisions. And, since Luke and I didn’t exactly agree on brand extensions, I asked him to share his thoughts with Brainzooming readers. – Mike Brown

Luke Gibson on Branding Strategy: Change is Good. Greed is Not.

If you’re good at one thing, then most likely the right thing to do is stick to that one thing. For example, if you’re really amazing at pottery, you do that as your job, and people know you for your pottery business, then why would you suddenly switch to supply chain and logistics, with little to no experience in that? Don’t be selfish.

So yes, what I’m hinting at is IHOP, or should I say, “IHOb.” I’m sure that all of you knew IHOP, or “IHOb,” for their pancakes, and have gone to eat their pancakes at least once. Most likely you ate them during the day.

In an article for Business Insider, Darren Rebelez, president of IHOP, said, “We had to make a bold move to get people to be willing to talk about us for something other than breakfast food.”

Why? Your brand name is still about breakfast food. Might I add, what’s wrong with this picture?

Sam and Pam were walking to the International House of Pancakes. Sam asked, “What are you going to get at the the International House of Pancakes, Pam? Pam said, “I am going to get a hamburger from the the International House of Pancakes, Sam.” Sam said, “That is a good idea, Pam. I think I will have a hamburger, too,” said Sam.

Exactly. And yes, while the burgers at IHOb might be okay, you know what would taste even better? Their pancakes.

I’ve noticed that California-based Foster’s Freeze has done this as well. They have added burgers to their menu. What’s more is that it’s one little burger poster among thousands of ice cream stickers, so it’s also kind of hard to notice. And yes, hamburgers and ice cream are delicious together, but I would like to assume that the better place to get that would be at your local greasy spoon. It’s probable that most people don’t even order the hamburger! As many times as I’ve driven past, there is not one person holding a hamburger! (That Foster’s Freeze happens to be located across the street from a grocery store and surrounded with hot food places, so…) Yes, while their burgers probably taste okay, you know what would taste even better? Their ice cream.

To tie it up, brands should stick to the one thing that they are good at, and can branch off into other related areas. Leave the completely different opportunities for other brands. Your customers see you as greedy when you do this.  – Luke Gibson

Social-First Content to Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Is your brand continually delivering ho-hum content to your audiences?

We’re talking about the kind of content that leads people to view once and avoid twice (now and forever). The type of content that is ALL ABOUT the brand and NOTHING about the audience. Content whose most obvious message is that your brand is BORING, 24/7, 365.

If any of those descriptions feel uncomfortably familiar, there’s HELP and HOPE for engaging, social-first content on the way!

Thursday, June 28, I’ll be presenting a live webinar with actionable recommendations called Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content: How to Stop Boring Your Audience with Same Self-Serving Shtick.

Register Today! Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content

Presented in partnership with Powerpost, we’ll discuss how brands – small and large – can expand their range of topics to go beyond talking about their own brands, and heavy up on engaging, social-first content that speaks to your customers’ strongest interests.

Register today for the FREE webinar to ensure your spot, even if you can’t join us live. Registration opens your access to the webinar on-demand after we deliver it.

That’s Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content, Thursday, June 26, 2018 at 12 noon CDT. Join us and start delivering social-first content the leaves your audience wanting more!

Social-First Content to Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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