Guest Blog: Brands branch out for deeper customer experiences,-Susan Poole, Head of Planning, ZAK

Susan_c _small [1389884]It’s no news that tighter consumer purse strings have played an enormous role in consumer decision-making. But so too has trust. Trusted brands are leveraging trust in innovative ways. Some are expanding into new categories while others are tapping into the concept of offering ancillary goods and services alongside their standard fare. Using a trusted brand in a new area could appeal to a busy, time-poor consumer. But it can also go further to propel brands to create a far more enhanced customer experience. So does it work, and is the act of branching out enhancing trust in brands?

Brand extension gets interesting where companies branch out into sectors or demographics that are not just “me-too’s” which would cannibalize from their main line of business. Several brands went down new routes this summer. Tesco launched a pop-up wine bar in London’s Soho showcasing its Tesco Finest range, while Ribena recently launched a Colouring Café in London for one day only. And then in the US Taco Bell introduced their own version of valet service. This provides an opportunity to reinforce brand memory structures and provide new opportunities for people to come across the brand (physical availability) – both are things that help brands grow[1].  But if they are to go down this path, trust remains key in building an authentic experience for people.

Starbucks opened their Express store in London with a strong focus on speed and convenience, offering a streamlined version of the Starbucks menu and the ability to order in advance via the app. The store responds to consumers spending large parts of their time in transit. And branching out exploration has entered the financial services sector too. Virgin Money have is setting up lounges in cities around the UK for its customers. A free service offering complimentary refreshments and access to wi-fi and iPads, the lounges offer Virgin Money’s customers a place to do their banking – but, more importantly, a venue in which they can also do business or choose to simply hang out.

In order for these examples above to be successful, they have to build salience for the brand and help it get noticed.  But all the while the initiative needs to build relevant associations and reinforce memory structures for the brand.  It used to be believed that attitudes drove behaviour, but in fact it’s the other way around.  Behaviour drives attitudes which means more interactions with a consistent brand can help to recruit users.  The chosen initiatives and products must be relevant and closely linked to the brand, otherwise it can reach the point of dilution, where focus and identity is lost. Brands can over-extend themselves. They cannot be all things to all people.

Brands are having to work much harder to build and retain consumers’ trust and by innovating into new areas, the opportunities are rife. But to make an impact, experience must be at the heart of these initiatives. By pinning them to meaningful, relevant and distinctive touchpoints, the audience’s attention, and purse-strings, will be captured.


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