Many companies today are refocusing on something they'd all but forgotten: their relationships with customers. After all, if you had a lot of venture capital and a plan to take your company public and sell it in six months, did you really need to spend time figuring out your product's value to consumers? The answer was no for the dotcoms-and the consultants they hired to create their brands-that never did in-depth market analyses.
"There are a tremendous number of brand experts and consultants in the world now who know nothing about the product, nothing about the development of information technology that allows you to interact with customers in the marketplace," says Regis McKenna. Chair of The McKenna Group, a Silicon Valley-based international consulting firm that works with technology companies, McKenna helped Intel launch the first microprocessor and worked with Apple to get the first PC to market. He even designed Apple's famous logo. "When brand becomes abstracted from what [your company does] from day to day, it loses meaning," he says.
Of course, building a brand is still as important as ever. Brands simplify and add comfort to consumers' purchasing decisions. Good brands deliver on a promise. (See "Case Study: Trader Joe's" below.) In fact, it's rare to succeed long term without branding, Dufresne says. "[Brand is] your fundamental relationship with an end user, who is buying your service and creating revenue," he says. "It's what sustains you."
|THE QUIET BRANDER|
|CASE STUDY: TRADER JOE'S|
When Trader Joe's opened a few stores around the Washington, DC, area last year, it was overwhelmed with customers. This specialty retail grocery store has nearly 159 stores and is expanding rapidly. Its Monrovia, California, headquarters regularly receives calls from relocating customers who want a list of the company's locations so they can move near one.
Relocating to be near a grocery store? What gives? How does Trader Joe's earn that kind of loyalty? Consider the fact that the company does little advertising and relies mainly on its newsletter, The Fearless Flyer, to promote its products, new and old.
Pat St. John, Trader Joe's vice president of marketing, sums it up this way: "We keep our promise." That promise is delivering interesting, high-quality foods at very good prices. But St. John says the Trader Joe's "brand" isn't about the products; it's about the customer experience. The company's employees, decked out in Hawaiian shirts, are a friendly and knowledgeable presence for customers navigating aisles stocked with unique products. "No amount of advertising can create what we want to create with our customers. [Advertising] can remind people, but it can't create an experience," she says. "It's the personal relationship with these people that builds loyalty."
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.