Regardless of your company’s growth stage, there might be times when you look at your product, the marketplace or customer and find the world is evolving more quickly than your brand. If this sounds familiar, don’t despair. Here are three brand anecdotes and tips for breaking out of a brand rut and driving meaningful change.
1) Focus on the unsexy
When Tony Fadell, the founder of connected home device company, Nest, first told his friends and colleagues he was starting a new company that made thermostats, he was met with many baffled looks. Tony was an ex-Apple engineer who led the development of awe-inspiring products such as the iPhone and iPad, and now he would make thermostats? Who even really cared about the brand of their thermostat, and aren’t there more profitable categories and products to venture into? But, the ex-Apple engineer saw an opportunity others didn’t, that started with an unmet need in the marketplace. He knew people found thermostats to be unsightly and frustrating to use, but that households grudgingly fiddled with them over 1,500+ times in a year. Research also showed that heating and cooling expenses represented half of the average person’s energy bill—and that all the fiddling was inefficient and driving up their monthly costs. While Tony was turning friends and colleagues into believers one conversation at a time, he was also busy developing an energy saving, modern-looking, and “connected” thermostat that was smart enough to notice and replicate our energy preferences and habits, and in its efficiency, seriously trim energy bills. The company has since expanded its product offering to include a “smart” smoke and carbon monoxide detector called Nest Protect—as well as partner with other consumer products such as car and light manufacturers, on communication between devices—eg. connecting cars with Nest thermostats to seamlessly adjust the temperature in your house when you’re on your way home from work. In just a few short years, Nest became the leader in its category and was purchased by Google for $3.2 Billion earlier this year.
Key takeaway: If Tony had shied away from a low interest category, he wouldn’t have had as big of an opportunity to delight consumers and drive brand preference through product reinvention. While your company might not be breaking into new categories or products, the takeaway can still apply. If you are willing to spend energy and effort fixing the things people don’t like about your category, or your product in particular, you hold a key for injecting new life into your brand, and evolving the category to boot.
Jump-start progress: Leveraging customer and employee feedback, make a list of the things people dislike most about doing business in your industry, and with your company. It could be any pain point from customer service, to user experience, or even design. Narrow down to your top priorities, determine areas your company is best suited to address and create actionable steps to drive improvements and brand preference.
2) Think crazy
When the automatic ball launcher by iFetch hit the market this past year, I firsthand witnessed the buzz it created at my local dog park. It was one of those inventions that answered a need so beautifully that you kick yourself for not having dreamt it up. If you’re a dog owner, or ever had an energetic dog that thrives on fetch, you are all too familiar with the scenario when, after your dog’s been taken on its morning walk and been fed, and you’re finally getting ready to start your work day, they, instead of settling down for a snooze, walk on over to you with sad eyes asking you to play with them. And they’re relentless. This company made a product that your dog could operate itself (ideally with some owner supervision), to launch tennis balls and play fetch to its heart’s content while you get on with cooking dinner, doing home work, getting ready for work. Brilliant. Since unveiling the product last year, the iFetch is winning all sorts of industry awards and gaining traction in the marketplace. They’re already planning a larger version of the launcher for bigger dogs.
Key takeaway: Allow blue sky thinking in your company brainstorm sessions, without squashing them with the deflating “we can’t do that” hammer, and see what inspiring ideas surface.
Jump-start progress: Using category trends and/or proprietary research, make a list of five insights about your target customer, ie. pain points, how they use your (or your competitors’) products, their desires etc. Then, play the “what if” game where you fill in the blanks with ways your company’s product can delight. For example, if your company was iFetch (pre-invention), an insight might be that people love their pets but there are times when their high energy levels don’t allow owners to be productive. The “what if” statement might look something like: “What if iFetch could entertain and tire dogs while owners are productive around the house?” Once you have insights and “what if” statements, brainstorm on how the company might be able to answer those statements.
3) Utilize short feedback loops
Many companies invest in customer research, whether in early stages of product development, to review strategy shifts or communications, or to better understand the user experience—but in today’s rapid pace of innovation and fierce competition, customer service channels are a great recurring way to employ short feedback loops that can be analyzed for trends. For example, when enough people are calling or writing your company for clarification on how to read their bill, how to use your product, or even asking for a new product feature, there’s a trend worthy of a deeper look. Sure, it’s great that in the moment of need, your customer service rep has resolved a specific issue, but is your company making the best use of this information to fuel broader change? Your company could benefit from having a process in place where customer service feedback is aggregated and regularly shared with the appropriate leaders to evaluate if improvements are needed. If two people call to complain about a specific product issue that’s one thing, but 200 is another. American Express is a great example of a company that has developed new offerings and improvements, particularly online, as a result of customer feedback. They’ve done everything from redesigning the look of statements for easier and quicker understanding of information, to creating a customer engagement forum where guests can interact with each other or learn more about products—among other things. Customers and companies regularly recognize Amex for being best in class when it comes to customer service and the resulting positive brand experiences.
Key takeaway: Great ideas can come from anywhere, including your customer service support channels. Establish short feedback loops and listen to what your customers have to say as a source of inspiration for momentum and improvements.
Jump-start progress: Evaluate if you’re actively listening to customer feedback, and how you’re using information to better your brand experience. If you’re currently not soliciting feedback, a short survey given to past and current customers could be a good first step to find out how the relationship is going and to look for trends. Adopt a monthly team session to talk through opportunities that surface and how you’re meeting or missing needs. While there are many ways to give your brand a boost, these tips should hopefully help re-energize your team and brand. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
Author / Lauren Patton