At a keynote panel at the National Center of Database Marketing (NCDM), I made a comment that customer marketing was eclipsing brand marketing as the core of marketing’s mission in many companies. That sparked a lively discussion among the panelists. As is to be expected among panelists at a database marketing conference, there was general agreement that this was the case. But is it, really? Does brand marketing still matter? Of course, it does!
The point I was really trying to make is that customer marketing is becoming more central to brand building. The two streams, which have often been separate, and sometimes hostile to one another, within many marketing departments, are actually converging. The brand message is increasingly being shaped by customers and consumers, sometimes with the active encouragement of marketers and sometimes despite their best attempts to resist these trends. Take the now famous example of Apple – which controls its brand very zealously but is also masterful at leveraging the legions of brand evangelists that spread the Apple gospel among the faithful as well as the great unwashed, waiting to be converted. This has now gone beyond just opinions and recommendations. The iPhone app store, of course, has allowed innumerable companies to piggy back on Apple’s brand name by providing Apple’s customers with a cornucopia of choices and greatly expand their market and grow their revenues (after Apple extracts it’s pound of dollars, of course). By helping Apple’s customers, this choice as well as the quality of apps helps the brand. What is less known is that Apple customers now get more services and help from the Apple user community (through a variety of online sources) than they do directly through Apple’s own customer service and support. This phenomenon reduces Apple’s service costs, actually increases customer satisfaction and builds a community of Apple loyalists. The fact that the users feel strongly enough to support the product in this way, sharing their valuable time and expertise, certainly reinforces the brand. Apple is a well known example, but there are multitudes of brands that are smartly leveraging social tools to embrace their customer and make them an integral part of their brand – from Coach handbags using crowd sourcing techniques to develop and promote new designs to hotels and resorts that have come to realize that Trip Advisor has become a more trusted source of information about their properties than their own advertising.
So brand marketing is not dead. Neither is customer marketing taking over, yet. However the two are coming together like they never have before. Organization structures lag behind. Silo fights rage on (more on this in a future blog). But this trend is your friend. Embrace it. Enjoy it.