Dr Andreas B. Eisingerich, Professor of Marketing and Programme Director of the Full-Time MBA at Imperial College Business School, argues that businesses have yet to develop a compelling perspective on what customers value
An old saying springs to mind when thinking about human relationships: there are three types of people that we never forget. First are those who stand with us and help us through difficult times; second are those who leave us in our difficult times; and third are those who force us into difficult times.
Perhaps more importantly than not forgetting these types of people, we should ask ourselves the following: what is it that we might have done to others that caused them to either help or leave us? This kind of question is of great relevance to business. Customers can make a business lucrative or they can make it bankrupt. Customers can be willing to wait in the rain and queue to pay a lot of money for the company’s latest product, or they may switch and go to a competitor company or even attack and actively damage its reputation.
Relationships with customers clearly matter to companies but what can actively be done to strengthen these? The answer to this question can be both simple and deceptively complex. The simple answer is that no company can reap the benefits of a brand unless they provide value to customers. The deceptively complex answer is that the field of business has yet to develop a compelling perspective on what customers actually do value. This perspective is the focus of a brand admiration framework that my colleagues and I present in our new book – Brand Admiration: Building a Business People Love.
Brand admiration framework
Brand choices are largely driven by perceptions of what brands do for customers. What customers are looking for is a brand whose benefits help them to do what they need and want to do, in a way that is experientially gratifying to them and that makes them feel good about themselves as people.
We find that brands build the strongest and most durable relationships with customers when they offer the following three benefits:
1. Customers find value in brands that enable them. Such brands solve customers’ problems. They remove barriers, eliminate frustrations, assuage anxieties, and reduce fear. They provide peace of mind. With the brand as a solution, customers feel empowered to take on challenges in their personal and professional lives.
2. Customers also seek benefits that entice them. Enticement benefits stimulate customers’ minds, their senses, and their hearts. They replace work with play, lack of pleasure with gratification, boredom with excitement, and sadness with feelings of warmth.
3. Customers seek benefits that enrich them and their sense of who they are as people.Customers want to feel as if they are good people who are doing good things in the world. They want to act in ways that are consistent with their beliefs and hopes. They want to feel as if they’re part of a group in which others accept and respect them. They want to feel proud of their identities and where they came from.
We call benefits that enable, entice, and enrich customers the 3Es for short. Combined, these three types of benefits have an exponential effect on enhancing customers’ relationship with a brand, building and sustaining customers’ trust, love, and respect.
Why all three: trust, love, and respect? Trust alone only does so much for a given relationship. In human relationships, trust alone perhaps makes us shake someone else’s hands. Will we hug them? Probably not. What about love? Love needs to be accompanied by trust and respect for a relationship to be healthy and sustainable. Love without trust is like a car with no engine. We can make it go by keep pushing it, but it won’t go very far. How about respect? Does respect alone carry a relationship? Respect alone may not trigger strong behavioural motivations. Respect without love is likely to involve an arms-length relationship. Respect may make us bow at someone from a distance. Without love, a relationship only based on respect won’t be a lasting happy bond.
Thus, in order to have a meaningful, strong, lasting customer-brand relationship, a brand must elicit all three relationship-inducing variables, brand trust, love, and respect. In our book Brand Admiration: Building a Business People Love we explore further how one embarks on this journey.