It’s been emotional (or should’ve been)

Branding and customer experience expert Alex Hunter launched an absorbing and informative IBIS 2017 in Madrid today, which is being held under the banner, Currency of Trust.

Alex, who devised the social media strategy for Virgin, began his presentation by highlighting how the business landscape had changed so drastically in the last five years, urging businesses not to get swept up by new technologies while forgetting that their customers are human beings.

He said, ‘We can all do more competitively. The landscape has changed in the last five years, there is so much more noise, so many more competitors, so the challenge has got so much harder. Social media has given everybody a very loud voice, so we have to work harder to rise above it and connect with the right person and, more importantly, hear them when they try to connect with us.

‘In the olden days, five years ago, it used to be easy. We’d put up a billboard. But there is no way to communicate with a billboard.’

He said that customers today are increasingly immune to traditional marketing, and relying on influencers such as celebrities to convey the brand message is only partly successful. Instead, with the advent of social media and other technologies, customers are in a position to challenge the previous, one-way relationship from business to customer.

‘This has taken a lot of businesses by surprise,’ Alex said.

Instead, customers can now evaluate brands far more forensically and fluidly, and post-purchase engagement is as important – if not more important – than the pre-purchase relationship. He said businesses used to sacrifice the bottom line to ‘get people over the line’ when, in reality, their products or services should be selling on merit.

That, Alex continued, would lead to a much more positive ‘evaluation phase’, with customers going online to promote the product to their peers themselves.

The key though, is emotion.

Alex said, ‘You cannot have loyalty to a person or product without emotion. It’s impossible. If you don’t think about your customer in these terms, they will leave you. If you want someone to do something, you must appeal to the emotional side of them, not the reasonable side. That will get them to stop looking through the shop window and make the decision.

‘To do that, you need to treat people as individuals. We’ve forgotten how to do that. In the last 15 years we’ve inserted layer after layer of technology, and while we’ve been doing that we’ve been pushing the consumer further and further away.’

He urged businesses to instead use the technology available to understand their customer more, which would enable them to create ‘wow’ moments – or ‘moments of delight’ – that would generate loyalty to the brand.

Alex added, ‘There is nothing you can’t add a little wow too. Magic is underrated. But you must maintain the illusion. The customer doesn’t care how it works, they care that it works.’

Of course, that does raise the issue of skills, and knowing which ones to train your staff in to ensure they are able to deliver on this ethos. But, countered Alex, it’s less about skills and more about attitude.

He concluded, ‘You have to trust your staff to do the right thing. You have to ‘empower’ them. Essentially, it’s about you more than the customer. That’s more important than any training you can ever do. You have to get your people invested. Making the promise is the easy part, delivering it is the hard part so the frontline staff must never forget to treat customers as individual people.

‘And that relationship doesn’t change at all whether it’s business to business or business to customer. The mechanics of it might change, but the theory of it does not.’

Ibis 2017 wouldn’t be possible without the continued support of headline partners 3M, AkzoNobel, Audatex, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Fix Auto World.