Customer AlignmentAll organizations have a brand, whether they actively work to cultivate one or not. A well-defined and executed brand strategy is not just a logo or a name—it fully encompasses all aspects of a business to present customers with an honest and recognizable depiction of the organization. Many factors go into building a lasting brand that inspires long-term customer loyalty: clearly differentiating the company from competitors, transparent communication of the company’s mission and ideals, a recognizable visual presence, and more. Arguably the most important part of developing a brand is building it based on the expectations of customers.

Do your customers expect your company to be smart and reliable? Warm and friendly? Modern and on the cutting edge? If your brand is misaligned with these expectations, customer satisfaction can plummet due to mistrust of your brand, confusion over your company’s offerings, or doubt that your company can meet their needs better than a competitor. Customers’ perceptions of a brand do not exist in a vacuum—they are informed by the larger landscape of a company’s competitor and adjacent brands that make up the entire market, making it vital for companies to effectively differentiate themselves against competitors.

A brand that achieves alignment with customer expectations can expand market share, reach new audiences, and retain and delight existing customers. Companies that have strong brand alignment with their customers’ expectations tend to do two things well: they understand customer needs, and they factor in the competitive landscape to their branding decisions. To align their brands with customers’ expectations, successful companies follow six key tactics.

1. Understand Customer Expectations

Companies that get to know their customers and study their perception of the company gain valuable insight into how they can create better products, services, and user experiences. With insight into what customers expect and how they interact with their offerings, companies can stay competitive, differentiating themselves in the market and cultivating loyal clients who trust the company. Beyond studying customer demographics, companies that delight customers analyze what brought the customer to the offering, their purchasing motivations, and what they think the company can do better through surveys and online research into customer feedback. Companies can assess customer expectations through an analysis of customer feedback and satisfaction levels as well as a thorough examination of the current competitive landscape to understand their position in the market.

Nascar, for example, represents a brand that understands it can only thrive by listening and collaborating with its viewers. After Steve Phelps stepped up as CMO, Nascar developed the Official Nascar Fan Council, a platform that regularly captures fan insight from 12,000 loyal viewers. Partnering with Hewlett-Packard to develop a social media command center to stay in tune with fan feedback, the company saw increased appeal with sponsors and viewers due to its aggressive focus on fan engagement. By developing platforms and processes to increase its surveillance of fan opinions, the company has shown viewers that it is committed to meeting their needs and will adjust its offerings to best meet their expectations.

2. Study Customer Segments and Journeys

Customers are more in control of their purchasing decisions than ever before—with the past decade’s explosion of digital technology, customers can more easily research offerings, compare multiple businesses, and seek out the best prices. In response, companies have employed big data and analytics to react to their customers, anticipate their next moves, and study the buying journey that led them to their offerings. Marketers who study the segments of customers that seek their product and the buying journey they experience can shape the customer’s purchasing path instead of passively observing and reacting to their activity.

Oakland-based Sungevity, a residential solar panel provider, is one company that succeeds in shaping its customer journey. The company fully coordinates the end-to-end process of sales and custom installation of its products, managing data about the solar potential of homes and businesses to provide a seamless journey for customers. The company entices customers by detailing how their home or business can save energy costs with solar panels, directs the customer to a sales representative who provides further education on the process, and uses a behind-the-scenes platform to keep representatives up-to-date on the customer’s buying journey. By understanding the entire installation process and providing clear, transparent communication to customers, Sungevity meets customer needs while providing extra incentive to stay instead of seeking competitors.

3. Analyze How Brand Perception Has Changed Over Time

Many companies have a decent, if imperfect, sense of how customers perceive their brand. With brand research studies often requiring too much time and cost to set up and administer, companies may miss out on valuable insights into how their initiatives positively or negatively influence their bottom line. Marketers can avoid this problem by pursuing simpler, lower-cost alternatives to full-fledged brand research studies by studying social media and online product reviews. Not only do these strategies provide inexpensive and real-time data on brand perception – they also capture customer responses that are not informed by survey bias. Companies can translate their findings into a reference tool to track how their brand perception changes over time.

Measuring brand perception over the long term can help companies identify trouble areas to target in boosting customer satisfaction. When United Airlines experienced backlash earlier in 2018 due to the mishandling of their security team in taking an unwilling passenger off of an aircraft, 53% of customers replied by saying they were less likely to purchase United plane tickets in the future. The company took short-term action to change its policies, but to rebuild its lost consumer base, it will need to employ a long-term approach showing commitment to addressing customer concerns. By studying how its brand perception evolves over time due to its rebranding initiatives, United may one day regain trust from previous customers who have sworn off the brand.

4. Survey Lost Customers and Competitors’ Customers

Certain businesses may see substantial customer churn each month—some wireless carriers, for example, lose 3% of subscribers each month, with insurance companies, gyms, and online streaming services similarly affected. Companies often look to replace lost customers with new ones, but some experts show that their efforts may be better served in trying to win back previous customers. Customers who have abandoned the company have demonstrated a need for the service and familiarity with the company and provide companies a way to better meet their needs by studying their previous purchase history. To take advantage of this information, successful companies survey lost customers, asking how they used the product before canceling and why they canceled, and observing how they respond to win-back offers. Regardless of their success in winning back lost customers, these companies can use insights gained to adjust their offerings for current customers.

Cox Communications, the third-largest U.S. cable provider, experiences a high monthly churn rate that makes win-back strategies vital. Aside from seeking to win back customers, it also uses the information gleaned to adjust its policies to delight current customers. Taking dissatisfied customers’ feedback into account, the company developed personalized marketing and new services, using real-time decision engines to stay up-to-date on customer opinions. By studying the customer experience, the company was able to develop a strong retention program to fight back against high churn.

5. Benchmark Themselves Against Competitors

Gaining an accurate sense of how well one’s company is performing against similar businesses is vital for companies to align their brand with customer needs. Understanding why customers choose competitor brands and how competitors differentiate themselves in the market can clarify what is working well for a company, the improvements it needs to make, and how it can stand out in the crowd. Companies can benchmark their performance against competitors by establishing key metrics that are most important for their success. By identifying competitors and comparing key data points like revenue, order volume, or cost of goods, companies can develop actionable plans to drive business success.

The 2018 State of Market Intelligence report outlines how companies monitor their competitors and approach their market research efforts. While 91% of companies monitor direct competitors and 82% monitor indirect competitors, 82% monitor their own company as well to understand how it is performing in the market. Companies monitor competitor websites, social media, and news sites to gain multiple perspectives on public perception of its performance. Though the majority of companies monitor their competitors in some way, only 22% of business have defined goals for their competitive intelligence programs, missing out on clear indicators to show how their performance is evolving over time.

6. Scan for Potential Market Disruptors

In the past few years, many industries have been affected by the evolution of technology: taxi drivers are feeling strained as Uber and Lyft take over car service; smartphones now come with built-in GPS capabilities, threatening traditional GPS providers like Tom-Tom. With new advancements like technological developments, cryptocurrency, and virtual reality entering the market, it is important for marketers to be proactive in recognizing and anticipating market disrupters. By identifying early on how new advancements may disrupt their businesses’ performance, marketers can adjust their strategies, offerings, and communication styles to stay relevant and competitive in an ever-changing market.

A well-recognized success story of a business adapting to market disruptors is Netflix, which overcame the Blockbuster retail chain once streaming video became viable. In 2007, Netflix rapidly pivoted to offer streaming video, recognizing not only the potential of the technology to significantly impact the video industry, but how it could drive customer satisfaction with convenient and fast access to films. Blockbuster later launched its streaming service, TotalAccess, well after Netflix had attained success; however, with an $800 million loss in revenue since 2005, Blockbuster’s late reaction to streaming video lost the company the opportunity to seriously compete with Netflix.

See how to update your brand to reflect shifts in the market and ensure alignment between the new brand and customer expectations. Download the 7 Tips to A Successful Rebrand eBook now:

Brand Customer Alignment: Top 7 Tips Successful Rebrand

Hanover Research