Brands are failing or succeeding at rapid rates. It occurs in blogs we read, comments we write, and when we bestow a thumbs up. One day Bank of America is brought to its knees in response to new customer fees. On the other end of the spectrum, a company like Tom's Shoes continues to spread good will and to help others by giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. How do we explain this new business environment? What has happened to business when the rules have changed and the path to success is no longer clear?
Welcome to the brand revolution
At the core of this revolution are brand behaviors. Twenty years ago, brands were limited in how and where they connected with consumers. TV, print, and product packaging drove the interactions. Today, brands are as dynamic, interactive, and lifelike as their customers. This transformation is fueling great brands to exhibit all sorts of behaviors: entertaining behaviors, responsible behaviors, generous behaviors, and many more.
Brand behavior, in itself, is nothing new. If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you saw a bevy of advertisers attempt to use entertainment (primarily humor) as a main driver. Some were successful, but some were downright pathetic. Most brands never move beyond this one behavior -- the quest to be entertaining. It takes courage to move away from models that have worked in the past, and being entertaining always got a laugh. If done right, it always will.
Yet some brands are breaking away from their competitors by exhibiting behaviors that allow them to create robust experiences. The Apple Genius Bar demonstrates a nurturing behavior that generates incredible brand loyalty and trust. Patagonia's "The Footprint Chronicles" exhibits honesty and has became a beacon for eco-friendly sustainability in the sports apparel industry. (By behaving in new ways, these brands have become more meaningful in the eyes of their consumers.) Deep relationships are formed with brands that transform consumers into brand devotees, who not only buy their products but help market them, evangelize them, and ultimately withstand the competitive pressures to switch brands.
Modern brand behaviors
People choose their brands the same way they choose their friends -- through judging behaviors. Want to be friends with someone who behaves like a jerk? How about someone who consistently lies or is never loyal? Brands are now just like us. This fundamental shift is transforming their very being, but more importantly, it is allowing brands to become more valuable, courageous, and meaningful in the lives of customers.
Modern brand behaviors provide a framework for brands to flourish and become living, breathing entities designed to interact with people, not just sell a product or service. A brand must use a behavior to create a meaningful experience. If used correctly, each behavior will propel brands out of complacency and into action. It is important to note not all behaviors will work for every brand. And not all behaviors need to be used. Most leading brands find their sweet spot with two to three core behaviors, while the majority of complacent brands never move beyond one behavior. We recommend running a "brand behavior analysis."
Here's a look at a range of brand behaviors, and how these brands have created industry-defining experiences.
The valuable behavior: American Express OPEN
In 2007 American Express launched an online resource and social networking hub for small-business owners searching for practical information and tips from industry experts. The biggest factor in its success was enabling small business owners to share ideas. American Express now has more than 1 million unique visitors per month to this site. By developing the site, American Express tapped into the valuable behavior. It strove to offer up a site of such value to the small business audience that it propelled American Express to be the No. 1 bank for the small business vertical.
The nurturing behavior: Apple Genius Bar
The Apple Store revolutionized retail design and interaction when it opened its first store. Gone are the cash registers. Instead, you check out with any of the employees, and the stores are always well-staffed. There are also free classes to learn how to use your new Mac, and my favorite, the Apple Genius Bar. Where else can a manufacturer and customer come together to learn, laugh, vent, and meet new friends? (Yes, I know my Genius on a first name basis!) Consumers are encouraged to bring their problems, and eager Geniuses are happy to fix their products (and bruised egos) in a matter of minutes. Try that at Best Buy.
The generous behavior: MAC Cosmetics
MAC Cosmetics is a beloved makeup brand, and often wins customers for life. Not only does it introduce new and vibrant colors on a regular basis, but its hip staffers are also always at the ready to provide free makeovers, let customers test any product, and tend quickly to customer questions. But what has won over many of the brand's loyalists is MAC's recycling strategy. When customers return six empty makeup containers to any MAC store, they receive a free lipstick. MAC then recycles the makeup containers and has even used them to help build playgrounds in Canada. What's more, customers can return the used makeup via an online form if they don't live near a store. This sort of social responsibility helps position the company as a good corporate citizen, and it's also smart business -- it encourages customers to keep buying MAC.
The responsible behavior: Timbuk2
The luggage and bag maker Timbuk2 is known for crafting messenger bags and satchels that can withstand not just years, but a lifetime of use. The company's ready-made products come from Asia, but its custom products are all made and manufactured in the U.S., and that can't be underestimated during a time of heightened social awareness about where and how our goods are made. What's more, customers can customize the bags in store or online. But the piece de resistance for Timbuk2 is its guarantee. All its bags have a lifetime guarantee. If there's any defect in the bag, it will be replaced at any time. And if you outgrow your bag, you can recycle it with the company, which donates used bags to charities, and you receive 20 percent off your next bag.
The sociable behavior: VPI Pet Insurance
Americans love their pets and take good care of them, and an entire industry of health insurance has sprung up around this love of animals. VPI works well because it's the complete opposite of human health insurance. Rather than send callers into voicemail mazes, an actual person answers the phone when you call VPI. If you send in a claim, VPI emails you to say it's been received, then emails again to say it's been processed. Whenever it sends a reimbursement, it sends another claim form for the next vet visit, all with your pet's name and health ID number already on it, making it easy to fill out, and making VPI easy to use. The net result of this behavior? VPI has made brand evangelists of its customers -- nearly all VPI users will tell you they heard about the service from another VPI customer. That's some seriously good word of mouth.
The bottom line in behaviors
Whether it's social responsibility, customer focus, or a service strategy, the best brands operating today have to rise above. The age of transparency is upon us, and brands are stripped bare for all the world to see what they really are. The best brands are making sure that what's under the hood looks good too.
Jordan Berg is co-founder and partner at Questus.
On Twitter? Follow Berg at @jordanberg. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
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