Take the red pill - A new approach to brand management

Take the Red Pill – a new approach to brand management

If you’re a fan of the film The Matrix, then you will no doubt remem­ber the piv­otal scene in which Neo was giv­en a choice to take the blue pill — which would keep him exist­ing behind rose-tint­ed lens­es — or the red pill — which would open his eyes to real­i­ty. Sarah West­wood, Cre­ative Strate­gist, Our Design Agency. explains what this has got to do with brand management.

Here’s a real-life real­i­ty check: these days there are few mar­kets where brands can gain com­pet­i­tive advan­tage through prod­uct fea­tures, dis­tri­b­u­tion, or mar­ket­ing. Tech­nol­o­gy and ultra-accel­er­at­ed com­pe­ti­tion mean that most brands are on a lev­el play­ing field in those areas.

So, do we take the blue pill and keep on doing what we’ve always done, focus­ing on prod­uct and visu­al expres­sion? Or do we take the red pill and face the real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion? The red pill means start­ing to ask big­ger ques­tions about how cus­tomers are expe­ri­enc­ing your brand in the real world, and, cru­cial­ly, what you might do to improve that experience.

A new perspective

To take the red pill frees our minds. It helps us chal­lenge our assump­tions and embrace a new mode of thought. For exam­ple, instead of clus­ter­ing propo­si­tions to appeal to tar­get audi­ences”, we resolve to get clos­er to the indi­vid­ual cus­tomer experience.

This requires real empa­thy. We need to get a feel for how the brand looks to real peo­ple, what they do with it, how it makes them feel. Yet it helps us dis­cov­er gen­uine­ly new per­spec­tives and unlock the brand’s full poten­tial. It gives us the free­dom to cre­ate a total expe­ri­ence beyond just image, an expe­ri­ence that con­sid­ers every inter­ac­tion between brand and cus­tomer. This cre­ates a brand that those cus­tomers and col­leagues enjoy, and, impor­tant­ly, want to expe­ri­ence again, and tell oth­ers about.

Con­sid­er how care home provider HC One, The Kind Care Com­pa­ny, has looked beyond the brand strat­e­gy and iden­ti­ty at ways to embed kind­ness deeply into the way that Res­i­dents and Col­leagues expe­ri­ence the brand.

A re-imag­ined com­pa­ny brochure, makes it less a cat­a­logue of ratio­nal facts about com­plex care pro­grams, and instead a book of beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed lit­tle sto­ries that illus­trate the kind care in action. Fam­i­lies expe­ri­enc­ing a moment of cri­sis and look­ing for sim­ple reas­sur­ance report­ed: it just felt right’.

Vis­it an HC One care home today and you will find they get the lit­tle things right, like the wel­come expe­ri­ence, and bright, fresh flow­ers in recep­tion. Car­ers’ badges car­ry unex­pect­ed facts about them — Rachel, Cham­pi­on Knit­ter’ is stopped so often in the hall­way to ask about her knit­ting, that now she car­ries her knit­ting around in her bag to pull out dis­cuss and share with them.

Unex­pect­ed truths

Delv­ing more deeply into cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is to set off on a jour­ney with an open mind and no assump­tions about the answer. Much like Neo tak­ing the red pill, until you start you can­not be sure where it will take you. You dive down into the rab­bit hole, and very often you dis­cov­er a com­plete­ly bril­liant but unex­pect­ed truth.

Look at BUILT/, the start-up builders’ mer­chant from Travis Perkins Group. Cre­at­ed for an emerg­ing breed of builder, astute busi­ness­peo­ple who are adopt­ing the pro­gres­sive mind-set of the mod­ern ser­vice indus­try. Dig­i­tal natives them­selves, these builders active­ly seek to elim­i­nate inef­fi­cient prac­tices. While they were stand­ing in a long queue they weren’t appre­ci­at­ing all the point-of-sale mate­ri­als telling them about in-store offers; they were look­ing impa­tient­ly at their watches.

The solu­tion from Travis Perkins is BUILT/​building sup­plies on demand. This new propo­si­tion val­ues cus­tomers’ time as much as their mon­ey and effi­cien­cy is evi­dent through every cus­tomer interaction.

In Lock and Load for exam­ple, cus­tomers can order sup­plies online and dri­ve up to the load­ing bay where a team, behav­ing more like a motor-rac­ing pit crew, quick­ly loads up the goods to get the cus­tomer back on the road and on-site quick­er. In no time they’ll be able order a tonne of bricks in a click from the site or liv­ing room.

Aggre­ga­tion of mar­gin­al gains

Some of the world’s largest and most suc­cess­ful brands are embrac­ing this approach. Cos­ta is

right­ly proud of its cof­fee and its strong and dis­tinc­tive visu­al iden­ti­ty is recog­nised across the world. How­ev­er, Cos­ta also under­stands the val­ue of improv­ing the entire cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, and we have worked close­ly with them to realise this.

Cos­ta is intro­duc­ing a host of new changes that togeth­er add up to a much improved cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Recog­nis­ing that cus­tomers con­gre­gate at the busy cof­fee pick up area, the brand has turned a poten­tial neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence into some­thing dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed by extend­ing out the counter to cre­ate a Brew­bar area where cus­tomers have space to find out more about their cof­fee while it’s being made.

A small­er change involved swap­ping instore com­mu­ni­ca­tions to time-effi­cient mag­net­ic boards, which not only look bet­ter, but also leave baris­tas less frus­trat­ed and free to do what they love best – make great cof­fee. These were just two of many incre­men­tal improve­ments – very often it is the accu­mu­la­tion of these mar­gin­al cus­tomer expe­ri­ence improve­ments that adds up to brand success.

Sus­tain­able com­peti­tor advantage

Under­stand­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence cre­ates real val­ue for the cus­tomer and builds com­pet­i­tive advan­tage and brand pref­er­ence. It reduces the costs of man­ag­ing com­plaints, acquir­ing new cus­tomers and con­tin­u­al­ly replac­ing dis­il­lu­sioned staff. It dri­ves rev­enues through the reten­tion of cus­tomers who are more will­ing to pay extra and even become advo­cates for a brand. In the age of social media, cus­tomers with a good expe­ri­ence tell nine peo­ple; those with a bad one tell six­teen. Get­ting it right the first time has nev­er been more important.

More pro­found­ly, empathis­ing with how cus­tomers expe­ri­ence a brand ensures you close the authen­tic­i­ty gap so that their expe­ri­ences reflect the mar­ket­ing promise. And, because it’s based on a unique busi­ness mod­el it allows the cre­ation of a brand that is own­able and hard to imi­tate, one which pro­duces endur­ing change rather than a super­fi­cial iden­ti­ty that will need to be changed in three years’ time.

Time to begin the journey

To stretch our Matrix anal­o­gy one last time, you’ll find that once you’ve tak­en the red pill you begin to look on every inter­ac­tion you have with a brand with an eye on cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. You’ll also won­der why more peo­ple aren’t doing the same. Once you’ve tak­en the red pill you can’t ever see the world the same way. You’ll look at any indus­try and find your­self won­der­ing why, after invest­ing in the cre­ation of a brand and iden­ti­ty, com­pa­nies would leave the expe­ri­ence that cus­tomers have large­ly to chance.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty is there, and per­haps it is time to start ask­ing whether there is oppor­tu­ni­ty for your brand here too. Are there ways you could improve your cus­tomer expe­ri­ence? Only you can decide. As Mor­pheus said to Neo: I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

Image Cred­it: W Carter

Check out the full arti­cle here

19 April 2018 | Sarah Westwood