Thomas’ blog


SURPRISE BRANDING

THE NO. ONE STRATEGY TO A SUCCESSFUL BRAND IN TODAY’S BRANDING WORLD.

The classical idea of a brand, was predictability. The first generation of brands were created as part of Industrialism.  Brands were supposed to always be able to repeat themselves, mechanically.  And deliver predictably, in their brand names, or trademarks, exactness of the product, service benefit, or experiences over-and-over again, and make the customer/user sure he or she got what the customer/user expected. Every time should be like the last time. Predictability was not only for products, but also for services.

All this of course was extremely important in a society that was transferring from mostly handcrafts to industrialism.  The idea of absolute predictability and reliability was the core reason for the customer to remember a trademark and the predictability was the most important trait of any product or service brand. Now predictability is perceived as a basic characteristic with established brands, and is more or less taken for granted, we do appreciate, yes, but it doesn’t excite us much.  Thus we have also learned that because of fierce competitions in most categories of goods and services, a non-reliable products or services will expose themselves very negatively and become a losers.  Also the transparency of Internet with reviewing by interactive users gives us an even stronger confidence that if quality is not continuously maintained, it will be immediately become known to most consumers through the Internet.

In a new way modern brands the brands have become multidimensional, with perceived more dimensions besides the functional, like a social, individual-mental and spiritual meaning and purpose oriented (see chapter 5, for more on this).

What now excites us with brands are the surprises

Since brands were first introduced in an organised way with the industrialism over100 years ago, brands have now in important way changed their nature and role in our society.  Brands are now becoming what I already in Thomas Gad’s earlier book called Relation brands– creating not only a support for functional transactions of tangible predictable benefits and features.

Brands are built on perceptions and experiences, and branding can now be defined as management of perceptions and experiences in peoples minds.  And we are now looking at other things in brands than before.  We like a brand to introduce us to new things, brands should be representing the future in our minds  and make us feel more updated and savvy.  We like the brand to offer us things that will become new favourites to us, product or services that we proudly show-off to others.  The brand should be perceived a leader of it’s category, this makes us more confident in the brand, regardless if this in reality isn’t always true of its products or services. Some brands with a high innovation perception are not always being first with the technology as such, but with exploiting a new user experience (like Apple and GoPro). Even better is if we can identify ourselves with the brand, and maybe get the feeling that the brand is “always reading my mind”, being a step ahead of me, or make me as a customer in any other way feel special and important.

It’s not just a differentiated new experience we are looking for, it’s also the personality of the brand. This can anything from creating a sense of nostalgia, the brand being percieved as classic, or a trendy fighter on barricades in its category.

For the ones considered top brands customers already have very high expectations, not only to be predictable in tangible delivery, at equally much in what is perceived as their personality. Branding is very similar to friendship. And surprise has always been a way to maintain interest by different parties in a friends relationship. This becomes most challenging for all strong brands. Since we actually like in any relationship love to be positively surprised by our favourite brands, and the surprise-effect makes us more loyal.  And when we are more loyal to brands people around us, friends and family, take notice and get influenced. Without actually verbally mentioning the brand in our conversations we are important promotors for the brands just by using them.

When our favourite brands exceed the expectations we have on them by SURPRISE we get more excited and our interest for and loyalty to the brand increases.  Actually, one of the few things that makes us loyal to a brand over and over again it is the experience of something unexpected.  And when the brand (and company) fail, or vanishes from the market, it is usually caused by lack of positive surprises for a length of time. Surprises can become almost like a drug for us, the kicks of the new and different we don’t want to be without.  And when its getting longer and longer between the kicks of surprise we slowly get un interested. And that’s why brands failing to deliver those kicks have a hard, hard time. Especially the brands that have made their users/customers used to expect surpring innovations.

Look at Google, a brand continously on the rise, always with new surprises, out-of-the-box ideas like Google Glasses, or driver-less cars, or singularity research and thought leadership with Ray Kurweil,  not to mention all start-ups picked up also creating surprise despite being within the business strategy of developing the digital world, the web and the mobile business, like Android, Uber, Waze, Nest, etc Google is contionously surprising, even the logotype is changing every now and then. Something a classical Transaction brand would never, ever, do.

The other aspect of Surprise

Surprise, in terms of positive, innovative, new experiences is one of two important aspects of all Relation Brands, the brands successful in this new digital era. The other aspect is the fact that many brands are actually changing as they go, and become a brand not initially expected.  This change of what a brand stands for can come from within, i.e. the people managing a brand can on purpose re-define the brand and make changes, so that the brand is perceived as something else as it was earlier perceived. This new perception of the brand then gradually developes in the minds of many people outside of the organisation.  With start-ups this change of business and brand idea is called pivoting.  This change is usually caused by new and later learnings about users pereception and preferences of the start-ups product or service. Beta-testing of the first version of the product usually results in a lot of customer/user feedback. And this feedback leads to changes in the product. Some time these changes are huge and fundamental. The product created by the founders of the start-up has shown to be way off what the consumers actually wanted.

The change of “brand strategy” can be more or less dramatic. It can lead to a totally different brand, or just a slightly different one, it can be a perceived difference caused by a change in products or services, or by the product or service being introduced in new different categories or markets segments. Or just by change in a general perception, caused be factors changing peoples mindset or perceptions, without much support from tangible difference in other ways.

If you take a look at the most successful brands in say the last 15 years, Facebook, Google, Apple, Starbucks, etc (see examples below), these brands were initially all from a branding stand-point unexpected. Maybe this goes for business in general when introducing a new brand, some new brands though are just following up on already existing trends. I any case it is certainly a truth in branding: the biggest successes are unexpected. How can you plan Surprise for your brand?

The start of a new type of brand-driven business strategy

In fact the old business strategy does not fit in a scenario in which the strategy is prepared to exclude and deny things that could happen along the route, rather than open up and accept the possibilities of it. Classical business strategy feels like a contradiction to the concept of strategy as we now have learnt to know it, by build in uncertainty.

In the Industrial Paradigm uncertainty was really not acceptable. Creating the mashine was difficult enough and one had early to decide exactly what it should manufacture, and how it should do it. Small adjustments afterwords was acceptable, but not big ones, like if we later find out that we have to do a totally different product, this was not interesting.  The old industrial world was never flexible to the demand or the preferences of customers and users. If this change would happen it was considered a total failure for the strategy.  The classical approach to business strategy is to run it as if you know that you are right in your assumtions.  And if your assumtions fail you need to discontinue and test a new business strategy, and that failure.  Infact enginners hated that. They were like a child that tries to put a piece in the puzzle and if it doesn’t fit then tries again to get it in there with force. That’s why we in the Industrial Paradigm have seen so many examples of desperation, trying again-and-again to change customers and users mind, and proving that technology is right, repeating same mistakes in the market over-and-over again, just as if to try again after a failure suddenly would take the failure away. Of course now in most industries enginneers have had to technically accept the fact that if your users and customers don’t like what is produced, it has to change. Production just have had to be flexible following to the needs of the market. But fundamentally the classical business strategy as aconcept has not changed, it’s still very unflexible in it set up.  And classical brand strategy has followed that.

The new way of looking at business strategy should be to set it up as a kind of a living, developing, document – like an hypothisis in science, as something preliminary to be iterated.  Then putting the strategy into real life like a Beta-version with real customers and users to be proven, adjusted and changed.  Then figure out the way to market it and to constantly improve it, including creating surprises as you go.

The new type of business strategy plays several important roles in setting up the business. 

1. The first role of the new business strategy is to tap in to the minds of a a smaller number of representatives for selected predicted potential customers/users and to figure out what is in there including reading also the weaker signals and user patterns. This kind of research is called Business Ethnography, the depth and the fact that it is unfiltered from your own wish how you like reality to be, it will most likely produce a result of the research that is suprising and unexpected.

2. The second role of the new business strategy is the actual strategy; i. e. to come up with a different, exciting, new, yet practial idea how to do things; a product or service alike. As input you are obviously using  your own creative ideas of how to change and make better something that you had in mind already when you started.  You are now also including the ideas and nuances in functionality, usability and communication etc. that is the result of the business ethnography in step 1. Then what resources it would need, and at what cost it can be made, etc.  Now since this is a hypothetical idea that is likely to be adjusted & change, it can allow itself to be more daring, different, and surprising than otherwise. So, already here we have an opportunity to build something unexpected. Still it has to be relevant to most of the signals and patterns of thinking and using that the users/customers experess.

3. The third role of the new business strategy is to test launch the product or service and to sample all the users/customers experiences (of buying and using it). Including the NPS-question: “Would you recommend this to your friend?” Here you adjust or change your business strategy so that it fits with the most important experiences of the customers/users. You may add some usage patterns or ideas that is not main stream usage, but an odd way to use the product or service, and thus surprising, but still relevant for those who need this specifically.

4. The fourth role of the new business strategy is the continuation of the business project including the sub-strategies how to reach a the potential customers (also here you need to adjust and test also take in account potential customers you didn’t predict).  Apart from testing channels, messages and offers. You also set up a program of surprises; which could include new products, features, technologies, way of usage, markets, applications and combinations with other businesses and brands, etc and the task for the CSO – the Chief Surprise Officer

Integration of Brand Strategy and Business Strategy

See the Brand Strategy as an integrated part of Business Strategy and use the outcome of the business strategy as you go. The Brand Strategy part is managing the perceptions and experiences in peoples minds. This means that the brand will always interact with the product-development, and the sales and marketing activities in the business and with the customers perception.

 

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