What aspects of a brand engage customers, calling attention to a branding calculus?


For all the discussion about brands, few models exist that explain a brand as a co-created experience with customers.

The figure below depicts one of the first holistic, customer-centric models of a brand, emphasizing several important and generally overlooked aspects of branding.

All brands start as an offering in the marketplace: store shelves, dealerships, catalogs, online Webshops, etc.

The term marketspace connotes the integration of traditional marketplaces and newer digital ways by which customers find and use needed products or services.

Customer value propositions represent those attributes of a product, service, and buyer-seller relationship that customers consider valuable. In the digital era, online services represent a new source of value to customers.

Buying logic represents the deconstruction of a complex value proposition, calling attention to the perquisite knowledge that buyers must possess before they can understand the value proposition. GISTICS expresses buying logic as a progressive set of buying propositions.

Branding calculus connotes the experiential elements by which customers integrate their experience of discovering, purchasing, using, and disposing of a branded offering.

Elements of Brand

Customers generally perceive a branded offering—a product or service from a trusted provider—as a gestalt or multidimensional, multisensory experience.

Further investigation of customers’ experience of a branded offering reveals nine aspects, all interacting with the other elements of the brand system.

To start, no branded offering exists very long without delivering real value to the buyer, eliciting the experience of satisfaction and a fair exchange of value. However, satisfaction in this context may range from the negative pole of gratification to the positive pole of service. The customer’s experience of satisfaction remains dynamic and in flux.

Every branded offering creates a relationship, initially between a buyer and seller, evolving into a customer-provider relationship and later into a relationship of stakeholder-institutional citizen.

This relationship creates a positioning: the distilled essence of customer satisfaction and how satisfied customers express their satisfaction to other marketspace stakeholders.

Learning drives this evolution, suggesting deeper and more intimate understanding of the process of discovery, purchase, use, commitment, and advocacy of a branded offering. Learning in the positive pole evokes coalescence or the sense of customer-provider or stakeholder-institutional citizen growing together. In the negative pole, learning shows up as knowledge or first-hand experience of how to buy, use, and dispose of a product with a minimum of cost.

The pursuit of satisfaction may create conflict: unfulfilled expectations and thwarted intentions of the customer. In the positive pole, vendors resolve conflicts through negotiation; failing that, conflict can escalate into the equivalent of a war.

All brands entail some form of interaction throughout a lifecycle of discovery, purchase, use, and disposal. In the positive pole, customers and trusted vendors collaborate; in the negative pole, customers go through the unthinking motions of habit. Traditionally, marketers sought habituation of customers; in the digital age, habit rarely results in advocacy, positive word of mouth, and real aversion to switching to other brands—true loyalty.

All successful brands tell a story about the buying, using, and disposing experience of customers. In the positive pole, brands evoke the experience of self-recognition and deeper cultural narratives of place, tribe, and destiny. In the negative pole, brand stories reaffirm darker, cynical narratives of consumption—gratification of more base desires.

The pursuit of satisfaction also creates feedback. In the positive pole, feedback shows up as rhythm or the transit through the phases of a satisfaction lifecycle—keywords and phases indicating awareness, consideration, trial, satisfaction, and advocacy mined from blogs, forums, and social networks (social media monitoring). The negative pole of feedback expresses complaint.

Brand Satisfaction
Brands tell stories about the experience of buying and using a product or service and how these stories and related satisfactions evolve. Full customer engagement entails mastery of a collaborative process as well as a systems-based approach.

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