‘The customer is always right’ is the mantra of many a brand. But it has taken us decades, if not centuries, to really incorporate customer feedback into brands; to make the customer’s voice the loudest in our brand evolution.
With customer feedback sychronising with customer purchase through cookie capture and machine-to-machine technology, crowdsourcing of brands is the future.
Customers driving change in brands
Customer data has always been an important tool in the evolution of product development. However how we generate this data has been revolutionised through technology to the point where brand guardians can track almost every aspect of the customer journey from desire to purchase.
Larger enterprises are already using customer forums to crowdsource ideas for future development with Starbucks launching My Starbucks Idea, giving the customer not only a voice in the NPD of their products and services but also their voice a presence in their development strategy – giving the customers and Starbucks the feel good factor.
Likewise General Electric’s #EcoImagination has turned the brand into a driver for change – a brand named as one of the worst pollutants in the world a decade ago, GE has recently been named by Fortune as one of the greenest brands around today. How? Through listening to the chant of their customers and responding to their voice.
And look at the phenomenal success of social media and analytics tool, BrandWatch, which has seen 100% growth year on year from 2009 to 2013. What does it do? It records what customers are saying about a brand, analyses it and reports back to the brand guardian.
At Platform, we have already seen the rise of the Customer Experience Centre, which started out life as a showcase and a courting space for clients, but quickly transformed into a place to dismantle and co-create brands with customers and clients alike. Second guessing your customers is dangerous – listening to them makes business sense.
Intermediaries driving change
Harnessing customer feedback is nothing new though even if utilising this data in the most effective way is still an on-going challenge for marketers. However, what about the intermediaries influence? Those who are at the customer coalface – the sales manager, the client liaison officer? How do you aggregate this information which is correlated to purchase but more anecdotal than statistical?
Again, forward thinking companies are already realising the power of the employee, not only paying lipservice to their thoughts but giving them a real voice in the evolution of their brands. Technology is facilitating this listening with companies, including Platform, launching business apps that aggregate data from customer and sales meetings and then reconfiguring that information back to them alongside competitor data – like their own learning machine, fed with real data and feedback and personalised to their own market, customers, products and services.
Digital data is allowing us broader access to realtime data about what our customer wants and their everyday interactions and engagement with our teams be it our salesforce or our customer service team.
External drivers of change
Then there is the third level of change – the external influence that can drive and shape a brand through credibility and influence with the rise of the blogger/vlogger.
Bringing credibility and endorsement to a brand has always been the Holy Grail of the brand guardian. Previously the charge and power of the media, the b/vlogger is taking the crown of the journalist to become top influencer of the brand. So how do brands access this channel of influence? And how do they influence the data that the b/vloggers are accessing about their brand, and respectively communicating to their target audiences about their products and services? And how does that change the experience of the brand in the future? Will bloggers and vloggers be the ones driving brand change?
For many audiences, the b/vlogger started out as an embodiment of the voice of the customer. Saying the things about a product or a brand that the customer didn’t have a public or collective outlet for – and being rewarded by a following that agreed or at least valued their opinion.
However, as the b/vloggers have become more influential their voice has become more valued – not only by customers but by brands, and as a result now commands a high price in exchange for positive PR. When crowdsourcing of an idea from customers or staff, there is an element of trust to it, but with the blog/vlog landscape how much credibility and transparency is there? Is the commercialism of advocacy destroying trust and openness of a brand?
There is no doubt that we have passed a point of no return in the evolution of the brand – that crowdsourcing the future of brands will become the norm in the world where everyone has a say and the channels of communication are open for all to voice and see. It will be those brand guardians who stay close to their customers and influencers, who listen and who are truly transparent who will be the winners in their brands’ PR battlefield.