Customer journey mapping is lauded as the go-to tool for understanding a customer’s course from awareness to purchase to loyalty. Yet these journeys, oozing with data and promise, are failing to produce the levels of ROI and customer loyalty that marketers have come to expect.
In this six-part series, we’re exploring the reasons behind why category journeys aren’t delivering and how this can be solved through the discipline of a branded journey. Up second: The Problem with Inconsistent Branding
No one wants to have a relationship with an erratic person, never mind an erratic brand. And while you might grab an occasional coffee with the former, a customer will not demonstrate the same level of interest and patience for any brand. In fact, executives estimate that they lose 20 percent of their annual revenue by failing to consistently offer positive and relevant experiences to their customers.
There are several direct consequences associated with inconsistent branding. At its best, unpredictability is confusing and irritating; customers can get lost as they transition through touchpoints and across platforms, and arrive at the end of their journey lacking a basic understanding of what a brand is about. At its worst, it can cause customers to actively dislike a brand or to voice their negative experience to the public.
From the appearance of different tones across different messaging outlets to dissension between a digital and retail experience, erratic branding can show up in many places. It appears whenever there is an inconsistent application of the brand strategy across customer touchpoints.
For example, in 2013, Roxy, a global lifestyle brand and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of surfwear, ran a teaser ad to promote its Pro Biarritz 2013 surfing competition. Though intended to stir up curiosity by not showing the surfer’s face, the ad instead displayed slow-motion, hypersexualized clips of a beautiful woman in bed, showering, and walking on the beach but never actually surfing. Roxy, which positions itself as an advocate for female athletes, faced a tremendous backlash. In addition to allegations of sexism against female athletes, consumers called out Roxy for failing to live up to its brand in a consistent manner.
Though these kinds of highly publicized branding disparities are an obvious symptom of an unpredictable customer experience, many more systemic errors appear in even some of the strongest brands’ touchpoints. These symptoms have a vast range and can occur anywhere in a customer’s journey, but their root cause is a lack of intradepartmental alignment. This lack of integration and communication, or what we call “The Silo Effect”, generates erratic brand behavior and, ultimately, a weak customer experience.
In a company that suffers from The Silo Effect, activating “the brand” is viewed as solely the marketing department’s task, and each department works in its own silo, neither integrating with the other departments nor desiring to do so. A company with this lack of intradepartmental communication and alignment will have myriad goals and values throughout its organization, leading to vastly different experiences for the customer at various touchpoints. Rather, whoever is championing the brand experience should drive the message throughout the entire organization by breaking the silos and working with intradepartmental teams to take the brand idea and operationalize it. Without this level of integration, it’s impossible for a company to achieve the level of consistency that consumers are demanding. And as Sephora is proving to the world, when a company successfully aligns its marketing communications, product, operations,sales, and culture teams with a singular brand idea, it sees results.
Retail is struggling. Amidst declining sales and increasing online competition, Macy’s and JCPenney are closing dozens of their stores, Rue21 and The Limited are closing hundreds, and RadioShack is closing over a thousand as it files for bankruptcy.1 Yet somehow Sephora has continued to thrive, welcoming millions of shoppers into its stores every year.
In addition to its retail success, Sephora has soared from 73 to 48 on Business Insider’s “Top 100 Millennial Brands”2 and dominated as the second-most loved brand on the Condé Nast and Goldman Sachs “The 2017 Love List Brand Affinity Index,” which analyzes millennial and Gen Z consumer preferences in the fashion, retail, and beauty categories.3 How did Sephora pull it off?
For example, Sephora’s retail locations are known for their customer-empowering approach. Consumers stroll through the stores, sampling high-end products and testing out innovative beauty retail technology, freed from the pressure of hard sells from retail associates. When they do ask for assistance, customers encounter helpful, energetic sales associates and beauty experts who are specifically trained to help the customer explore what she’s interested in, rather than pushing a specific brand. This experience was uniquely crafted to allow for customer experimentation, encouraging consumers to pursue their own interests and beauty goals. And whereas the company’s competitors are increasingly turning to digital as their primary sales platform, Sephora leverages digital to further drive in-store traffic, to create a seamless shopping experience across touchpoints that all ties back to Inspiring Fearlessness.
Everything the company does, both strategically and creatively, revolves around a singular brand idea: Inspiring Fearlessness, defined as “supporting and encouraging bold choices in beauty and in life.”1 Across each Sephora touchpoint – retail locations, advertising, Sephora.com, the Innovation Lab, the Beauty Insider loyalty program, and Sephora Stands social impact programs – it consistently delivers on this consistent brand experience.
In fact, if you polled customers at the end of any interaction with Sephora and asked them how they would describe their experience, their aggregate responses would point to this singular brand experience. So how can a customer journey help you achieve these same results?
To achieve a consistent brand experience, the critical first step is to understand your brand and what makes it differentiated in your category by defining its singular brand idea. Next, define the experience that you want to deliver to customers (including outside of marketing communications) and what that means in terms of what you want to deliver. And finally, break the silos and drive these ideas throughout your entire organization. Only integrated companies can deliver integrated brand experiences across all touchpoints.
While mapping category journeys is helpful in gaining an understanding of how the customer interacts with your product or service in the marketplace, it is only the first step in creating a valuable and distinctive customer journey strategy and activation program. Companies need to understand their targets’ unique and unmet needs and behaviors in the context of their journeys to identify the salient moments where they can intercept them and speak to them in a compelling manner that’s consistent with their brand. In other words, they need a branded customer experience.
Ensuring that your customer’s journey is consistent throughout all touchpoints is essential to delivering a memorable and coherent experience, but there’s more work to be done to further differentiate your brand from competitors and lock in loyal customers. How can you achieve this? Stay tuned for Part 3.
UP NEXT: Problem 3/6 – The Absent Dialogue