Saturday, January 3, 2009

The LIFE(sm) Approach to Brand-Building

Several years ago, I was helping some University of Georgia college students with job-hunting and I told them about a customer contact philosophy I use that has the acronym, LIFE(sm). Before I tell you what LIFE stands for, I want to discuss brand messages and a way to approach what organization say about themselves.

More than anything else, an organization must achieve a level of trust from those who will do business with them. According to Stephen Covey, trust is a function of two dynamics: competence (how well you do your job), and character (your integrity). I think there is a third component and I call that commitment (how much you care about your customers' issues). These three form the basis of trust and determine how much organizations are trusted by their customers. There are many ways to build trust among customers but each must be grounded with a genuine effort. Sadly, many organizations continue to market their brands without the authenticity that is always present in great brands.

Perhaps not as important as trust but also critical to success is defining the relevance a brand has in solving the problems its customers have. Great brands continue to be relevant in the lives of those who use them. Staying close to your customers' needs via quantitative and qualitative marketing research can help companies keep their brands relevant to their user base.
Sadly, many organizations continue to market their brands without the authenticity that is always present in great brands.
Once a company has crafted a message that is both relevant and genuine, the question becomes "how"that message is conveyed to the target. By "how" I mean in what ways and how often are customers reached.

Every time a prospective customer or current customer comes in contact with a brand, I call this an "encounter." This can be a call from a salesperson, a drive by the store, a call into the company's customer service office or actual use of the brand. Every one of these is an encounter and there are hundreds of other ways that customers and prospective customers have encounters with brands. Some of these encounters are controlled (outbound) and others are not as controllable. The trick is to control as many of these as possible and, if your brand is genuine in every way, your chances of having positive encounters between your customers and your brand are good.

Just looking at those encounters that you control, the LIFE approach says that you will need a frequent number of encounters to build a memorable reputation for your brand. As a point of reference, pharmaceutical companies tell their reps that they will need to call on physicians 9-11 times before the doctor writes the first prescription for the drug they are selling. Wow! An average of ten sales calls before the first prescription is written. Does that tell you something about the power of perseverance and the importance of frequency?

Now, if you need that level of frequency of sales contact to build a brand, then it stands to reason that those frequent encounters need to be of a low intensity, or you will turn off the prospective customer. Said another way, if you are going to be "in their face," you damn well need to be nice about it. Thus, your authentic and relevant messages need to be presented in Low-Intensity Frequent Encounters (LIFE) to prospective customers. While I generally have given this advice to those marketing professional and business services, in the age of the empowered consumer, the rule applies to about every industry.

In future posts, I will discuss this concept as it relates to brand-building via your own employees and customers. Thanks for reading. More to come.

[Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

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