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India Brand Building | Brand Experience

Indian brands must improve this driver of engagement and retention

By Gazala Vahanvati

Senior Brand Strategist


Customer acquisition is a brand's eternal quest. But in today's world of extensive but similar choices, how do we expect consumers to differentiate among mass merchants such as Big Bazaar, Star Bazaar and Reliance Mart; or Vodafone, Airtel and Idea, leading telecom providers?

There is one key differentiator a company can offer to surpass its competitors and drive customer retention and engagement: a uniquely branded customer experience relevant to their needs. Products and offerings can be copied, whereas customer experience is the only competitive advantage that is sustainable and inimitable.

Unfortunately, most Indian brands are still battling with the basics of customer service. On the flip side, their customers are evolving much faster. Indian brands do not have the luxury of time to follow a linear trajectory. No longer is the customer just a buyer. Customers are more informed and connected, interacting with each other in online communities to learn more before they buy. They seek reviews and peer recommendations and, more often than not, they value these over expensive company advertisements and product descriptions. Their standards are high and their expectations even higher.

To stay on top, brands will have to deliver better customer engagement. Their websites should be easily navigable. Their phone agents should be empathetic and more empowered, their service personnel more informed. Brands must work harder to stay relevant and to stay connected with their customers.

Brands must also examine all aspects of the customer experience and align them across all touch points to ensure the brand experience is consistently delivered. Only then will the experience be memorable. Only then will customers return for more. Here are recommendations for designing a great brand experience:

  1. Walk the talk. Brands must visualize the experience from their customers' viewpoint. Start with the end in mind: what memories do you wish to create for your customers? How do you want them to feel? First define these and then work backwards to deliver on these emotions and experiences. Example: Disney Parks. The Place Where Dreams Come True.
  2. Zoom out. Consumers make choices on brands before they even come in contact with them. Think through the entire shopping process, from awareness to decision-making, with a focus on understanding needs and behavior at each stage. Example: Uber, the transportation service, tied up with Restaurant Week India to offer customers a discount on rides to partner restaurants. Uber also has an ongoing incentive for new referrals.
  3. Connect constantly, consistently and constructively. Brands tend to forget about customers after closing the transaction. Even their loyalty programs fail to constantly connect. But brands that keep the engagement alive by aligning their beliefs with those of their customers are often able to break the barriers. Example: As part of their commitment to the environment, M.A.C, the cosmetics brand, runs the Back To M.A.C program that rewards customers with a free lipstick when they return six M.A.C primary packaging containers.
  4. Be consistent with your brand's fundamental values. Be clear about what your brand stands for in the minds of your consumers and use those values as a filter. Example: From its website to in-store experience, Café Coffee Day uses dialogue to deliver a consistent experience derived from the brand’s fundamental values of "fun place to hangout, talk and get inspired over a cup of coffee." Its “dialogue box” identity is universal in the signage, quirky comments on the walls, brand tagline and crockery.
  5. Look at other categories for inspiration/ideas. Thinking outside the category means thinking out of the box. Sending your team as customers on shopping trips to other categories can yield more relevant insights than any brain storming session.
  6. Prioritize. There are many aspects to creating a unique and memorable customer experience. Implement those ideas that have the highest customer impact and take the least execution effort, while reinforcing your brand promise.
  7. Engage your employees and your business partners. Customer experience is only as good as the people who deliver it. Your employees and your business partners are the two key resources for delivering this experience wholeheartedly. Unengaged stakeholders means failure even before the process is initiated.

For employees, engagement should start at the beginning. Reexamine hiring criteria, measurement criteria, performance appraisal formats, rewards and recognition programs and training programs to ensure complete alignment with the company’s defined experience goals.

For business partners, especially where some parts of the customer journey are outsourced (e.g. service centers for cars and durables), the company must clearly articulate and monitor the customer experience.

Engaged customers are the best brand ambassadors. They endorse products and services and provide information to other customers, saving the company valuable time and resources. Companies need to develop innovative experiences that leave customers with desired memories and emotions. Only then can brands create lifetime loyalty.