For businesses- to get value, give value

First, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. As marketers, we are all familiar with the buyer journey or the sales funnel. It serves us well because it helps us map out our customer’s purchase decisions. It shows us there is logic at work in the decision-making process and it allows us to control for this logic when we re-engineer our leads back into leads, leads to the readership, readership to engagement and engagement into loyal customers. But we need to beyond metrics to having authentic, heartfelt conversations aimed at giving value.

A business’s value is created by delivering value to others. In a healthy business, it is easy to see how value flows from the customer to the business and from the business to its suppliers. Businesses that get this right are experiencing a virtuous cycle of growth.

If your aim is to build a business, you need to give value. It sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Conventional businesses think of value as something they can extract from their customers, not something they have to create. “Whose value are you talking about?” they ask. But if your aim is not to capture all the value that comes out of your company, then at some point you have to start talking about creating value rather than extracting it.

No matter how cool your company is, if no one knows about it, no one will get value from it. And building a company so people notice it is hard work. But there’s an easy way to do it: give value to everyone anyway.

How can brands embrace this? The first step is to recognise that, in the connected age, every customer interaction is an opportunity to create value. The point of brands is not merely to provide information but to provide it in memorable, interesting ways — to make people feel richer, wiser and happier for having interacted with them. You can view all potential interactions in your product or service space as opportunities for brand-building.

Value shifts from products to interactions — from logos to conversations — the playing field is levelled for nimble, mission-driven organizations that can lower the barriers to entry and exit with a direct relationship with a loyal community of volunteers, passionate advocates and ‘superfans’ who drive word-of-mouth, draw new customers and generate real ROI.

Another new product, another claim that it changes everything. Social media has changed the way we communicate, share and access information. The internet has dramatically altered the way we shop, read and work. Apps have transformed the way we behave and brands need to adapt to these seismic shifts. But new products don’t necessarily change things — the way we interact with them does. It is this idea of engagement — of new ways of interacting with a brand

Marketers are starting to recognize that consumers are not the only ones influencing the brand-customer relationship.

The conversation between customers and brands is increasingly multi-directional, involving marketers, too. But recent research suggests the paradigm shift initiated by social media is still in its early days. Existing campaigns, tactics and tools are certainly insufficient to manage consumer engagement across multiple channels.

The meaning of any interaction is defined by the people who experience it.

No brand has the power to dictate its meaning, even if they own the channel where it takes place. To interpret and control your reputation, you need to promote and facilitate engagement — private and public conversations that will bring out its full meaning. You can’t just put your brand in people’s faces and tell them how to see it.

Your brand thrives on the conversations you have with your users.

These conversations are about so much more than marketing — they are vital in creating a meaningful brand experience. Brands must build relationships and value their skilled community, because without user-generated content, without authentic champions of the brand, and without user participation and contribution, there is no reason for anyone to pay attention to your brand.

Few marketers recognize the need to proactively engage their audience in a two-way dialogue to enhance brand loyalty, customer satisfaction, and advocacy. Such engagement requires that the marketer put the customer first in everything he or she does, rather than making decisions based on traditional, personal or short-term corporate interests.

Brands have to stop thinking of every interaction between a consumer and a marketer as a ‘conversion’ or a ‘sale.’

A Twitter follower, someone who “likes” your Facebook page, a Slack message from an anonymous user — all of these engagements can be opportunities to give value. The key is to see these interactions as starting points for a relationship rather than milestones on a checklist.”

Most interactions with customers are one way. Brands broadcast, customers absorb. But in the face of digital fragmentation, that is no longer good enough. Now, executives expect brands to listen and to respond. That means interacting with consumers in a manner that includes them in the process of building value over time.

If your brand is perceived as having value, your role changes. You move from providing information to driving actions that improve the customer’s life. That shift demands changing other habits. Triggered by interactions, dialogue becomes the lifeblood of your brand.

A brand is only as valuable as its ability to engage with its customer in a way that is meaningful.

Too often, the approach taken by the old advertising agency view of branding leads to one partner being more active in the conversation than the other, leading to an asymmetric dialogue that results in limited value being generated.

We’ve been measuring for the wrong things. At the end of the day, success is not about building a funnel that leads from awareness to consideration to preference to purchase. That’s a solid start, but if you look at the data carefully, it’s also what most brands are doing already. The real skill today lies in creating cultures in which your customers want to have a deeper relationship by discussing their needs and wants in the open.

I’m not saying brands are completely irrelevant in the digital age. But I am saying that in our new age of transparency, when your average consumer is far more empowered, the brand value must be earned in every interaction, in every touchpoint, not before.

Or, to put it another way, I think we’ve lost touch with how to think about our own brand. We can’t build a relationship with a person we don’t really know; we can’t give value to someone we’re not in conversation with. And yet that’s precisely what agencies and brands and businesses of all kinds are doing: approaching people like strangers and pitching them like salesmen.

I can’t think of a better way to describe the use of brands in the modern world than to call it ‘meaningful engagement.’ We all have ‘brands’ whether we are actors, athletes, authors, educators, or even children. It’s not just about what you sell or who you are, but how you engage people to give them value. And the more valuable your conversation with another person is, the more valuable your brand becomes.

If they are to survive, brands will need to move beyond their egos, beyond obsessing over the current bottom line, beyond focusing on transactional exchanges, beyond obsessing over branding. They must become obsessively customer-centric or face existential threats from disruptors.

Value is not just about transactions. Value is the ability to inspire and enable action and engagement, and that depends on nurturing individual relationships and keeping an open dialogue.

Many branded companies are stuck in their own bubble. Rather than treating every customer interaction as an opportunity to learn, they react to feedback with suspicion. They view it as just another opinion, fit into their old framework of what the brand is about. They don’t try to understand what customers are saying, or why they are saying it, but only whether they are proving them right or wrong. Such companies are undermined at their very core by this approach

Most brands don’t understand that their real business isn’t selling stuff. It’s giving people a reason to listen, to pay attention, and to feel something.

Brands need to be personal, helpful, sincere. It’s not enough for them to have a strategy, mission, vision statement etc. They need to have conversational strategies supported by real people with interesting stories to tell.