Push the Brand Without Losing the Consumer.

Marketers seem so intent on using every conceivable platform to leverage their brands, digital or otherwise, that they often lose the customer in the process. Brand-centric thinking isn’’t necessarily customer-centric, is it? Consumers aren’’t interested in purchasing branded products that are largely viewed as commodities in one category after the other – they’’re interested in being engaged with connective, emotive experiences. Brand marketers in every sector continue to state that customer experience (CX) is their top priority, yet it’’s clear that most are failing to accomplish their goal. Why is that? The short answer is that marketers need to reorient their thinking and the manner in which they work.

Why aren’’t we designing our brands to meet the want states – over the need states– – of consumers today? When will we catch up to the new consumer ethos which no longer wishes to buy products but, rather, to collect experiences? When will the power of product and package design be totally unleashed to connect brands to people’’s lives in a meaningful (read: relevant) manner? Finally, why haven’’t we made the transition, as marketers, to the understanding that the customer experience that we create IS our branded product?

How do we get there from here?

Unfortunately, most consumer product companies are still focused on top-down business strategies. Of course, it’’s important to have an overall focus and strategy but the old business model in which the consumer is factored in at the end, rather than at the beginning, ought to be a thing of the past. A Forrester study from 2014 found that less than one-third of customer experience managers confirmed that their companies consider the impact of their business decisions on CX.

Customer experience may be top of mind for most marketers, but delivering it is another matter. For one thing, the wrong metrics are being tracked. While important, sales, conversion rates and social media hits don’’t measure the level of engagement or the quality of customer experience, do they? They don’’t measure the consumer’’s emotional connection to brands. Customer experience has to be viewed through the lens of relationship building.

A recent research study compiled by Charlene Li at Altimeter, titled: “”Experience Strategy: Connecting Customer Experience to Business Strategy”, reaffirms that building consumer relationships should be the cornerstone of a brand and business game plan. It also proposes that it’’s time for a new way of thinking about customer experience. “”A next-generation experience strategy isn’’t about using the latest whiz-bang technologies to create ““delightful”” experiences. Instead, it harnesses the power of data and analytics to understand individuals at scale and develops relationships in a rapidly changing context, preparing the organization to serve the next generation of customers.”” The metrics to which Ms. Li is alluding are customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores; both barometers of the health and strength of consumers’’ relationships to brands.

This represents significant challenges to consumer product companies; there’’s no doubt about it. But if brand managers know their customer on a human level, rather than merely trying to understand them through digitally-generated reports, they can work to deliver consistently great experiences that build lasting relationships. And they can deliver in a personalized manner, which consumers increasingly crave and value.

In our work with some of the most powerful experiential consumer product brands and licensed properties, we absolutely know that strong relationships build incredible brand value in the eyes of consumers. Consumer-focused companies continue to anticipate what their customer wants next, making them relevant and rendering their competitors irrelevant. Consumers find these products meaningful and their brand packaging makes them compelling and irresistible, leading to satisfaction on a deeply emotional level. Experiential brands are dynamic and they make their competitors appear to be static.

Embedding design.

Every time consumers become deeply engaged with a brand; every time they enjoy a powerful experience, it leads to a rise in their overall expectations where every brand experience is concerned, presenting yet another challenge for brand managers. Yesterday’’s traditional marketing and business structures aren’’t effective, but a fusion of design thinking and design principles can elevate brands to consumer centricity because it humanizes everything that it touches.

Here’’s what I mean. Consumer product companies that are leaders within their sectors are working hard to adjust and respond to today’’s consumer’’s paradigm shift by continually elevating CX to deepen brand relationships. And that is being achieved by design. Mattel presents a great example of this, as the toy giant grapples with making heritage brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels relevant to a new generation of kids, even as they’’re launching successful, experiential new franchises like Monster High in recent years.

Mattel’’s evergreen brands are focused on updated product and package design, contemporary storylines, viewpoints and aspirations that appeal to a new generation in an emotive, relevant manner. New franchises are being designed with a thoughtful new approach. The latest brand, Enchantimals, has the power to become a huge hit because it is absolutely in step with young children. In the press release that the company issued to announce the new brand, these insights were shared: ‘At Mattel we are passionate about introducing properties that are both on-trend and purposeful,’ said Lori Pantel, SVP and GM for Girl’s Toy Box, ‘We’re essentially bringing a popular animal aesthetic inspired by social media filters and marrying it with product and stories encouraging empathy and friendship.’

Kids form a powerful bond with their pets, who become their ““besties””. Thus, Mattel’’s Enchantimals are designed as half girl/half animal creations, and they’’re imbued with characteristics of the pets with which they are paired. For example, Bree Bunny and her rabbit, Twist, are up to their ears in creativity. Danessa Deer and her pal, Sprint, love to run through the woods to see who can win the race. And so on. The dolls are beautifully designed and they are sold within a unique package structure with ““ears”” and woodland scenes as a backdrop for the product. A custom type treatment, with the top of the ““T”” as a fox’’s tail, is used for the Enchantimals logo, which appears in a soft green on the bottom center of each package against deep blue package design architecture. The dolls, playsets and their packaging are not only enchanting; they’’re highly experiential.

Mattel’’s plan is to bring Enchantimals characters and their stories to life via short-form YouTube content as well as an hour long TV special in the fall. No doubt, Mattel will create brand extensions, use multiple platforms to keep the brand in front of its audience, and eventually license Enchantimals, but how relevant and engaging it remains going forward will determine the success of the brand.

Taking licensing to a whole new level.

I’’ve cited Moose Toys’’ Shopkins toy collectibles recently because of its brand design. Conceptually, there wasn’’t anything quite like Shopkins in the marketplace when the brand launched in 2014, yet kids love collectible, funny characters and silly storylines. Especially when the characters are presented in a fanciful manner, and they’’re imbued with charming faces and personalities and irresistibly packaged. With Shopkins, all of these elements are part of the brand design. Everyday items have been turned into cute characters and stories delivered in a series of short YouTube webisodes, enthralling kids around the globe.

How did Shopkins come to the attention of so many kids? Paul Solomon, co-chief executive of Moose Toys: “We didn’t launch with any TV series or any mainstream entertainment because we knew consumers were on YouTube as much as traditional TV. Kids are looking for instant engagement from the brands they love.”

Exactly. Several generations of Shopkins have been launched with fresh characters and new storylines, continuing to engage kids. But we all know that relevance with kids, or any consumers for that matter, can be fleeting. The Shopkins brand team wisely did more than seek out strong licensing partners to create products in the ubiquitous apparel, home décor and accessories categories. Understanding the power of real life experiences, Shopkins marketers have planned compelling, licensed events for young fans in the U.S.

What better way to launch the season’’s newest Shopkins collection dubbed World Vacation (Europe) than a Parisian-style pop-up café? Over a four day period in June 2017 in New York, 400 Shopkins fans were able to experience the Macaron Café in person. Reservations to attend sold out in less than a minute after going live, with more than 4000 families on a waiting list. Shopkins-themed macaroons and French delicacies were served, manicures were given and swag was presented to the lucky attendees: all free of charge. Even better: a sneak preview of the brand’s forthcoming US theatrical tour, Shopkins Live was shared with a captive and captivated audience. On that note, a 75 U.S. city tour is planned beginning in September. The show will feature favorite Shopkins like Jessicake, Bubbleisha and Peppa-Min in a new storyline filled with colorful costumes, sets and original pop music.

Besides live events, the company has launched Shopkins Direct, a subscription service that kids sign up for, allowing them to receive home delivery of a box filled with Shopkins goodies once per quarter. According to the company web site, apparel, toys and accessories will be tucked inside each box that can’’t be found elsewhere.

What Shopkins is achieving, in essence, is 360⁰ marketing that is highly emotive to its legions of fans. These experiences are the Shopkins brand and we could argue that they’’re more important than the products themselves. Otherwise, why wouldn’’t kids be as enthralled by other collectibles? I have no doubt that Shopkins will continue to enthrall its young fans by designing product, packaging and live experiences that go well beyond meeting basic expectations. Experiences that will continue to deepen the relationships between kids and their Shopkins besties, making countless other brands irrelevant.

And that, my friends, is the power of meaningful CX.

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