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Brand Building: When Is It Ok To Ignore Customer Feedback

Remember the old phrase: “The customer is king” and “The customer is always right”, well there are occasions when they’re not.

In marketing, we spend a lot of time trying to understand what the customer really wants, to get under their skin and to design a product and service that is incredibly well aligned to their requirements. We then go about building a brand (normally that process happens simultaneously but bear with me).

The thing is, if you are going to build a strong brand, product or service, the one thing you don’t want to do is create something that just does the basics or just does what the customer wants. Because that’s mediocrity. That’s middle of the road, wishy-washy blah. Excuse the technical marketing terminology there.

If you want to build a product or service that has a future, you are going to have to take into account the customer’s wants, desires and needs. Then you’ll need to come up with a roadmap for developing that product and service into the future, beyond their initial requirements. You’re the expert, how do they know what they really want? The customer’s only frame of reference is what they can already get on the market.

Think about mobile phones. When mobile phones first came out they were seen as a gimmick. The mobile phone providers and networks had to create a market and create demand. If they had asked the customer what they wanted from a phone, they would have said to be able to call someone whilst sat comfortably at home or at work. They’d have had no frame of reference or understanding of why it might be handy to be able to use a phone wherever they were. Afterall, they had payphones on every street corner!

Now, in the space of 15 years, a new revolution occurred, which the mobile phone manufacturers and networks had to equally manufacture a demand for: Smartphones. Remember the days when all you did on your phone was make calls, send texts and play snake? We had to be shown the way. We had to be encouraged to take up internet shopping and social media-ing from wherever we were.

This is known as blue ocean strategy and it’s where a demand is generated in an audience that didn’t even realise it had a need for a product or service.

If you’d have asked a mobile phone user what they wanted Apple to include in their first iPhone (without explaining what a smartphone is), what would they have said? Probably make phone calls, send texts and play snake.

It takes vision from a business to create demand, and it takes a brand-led and product-led approach, to pull it off. Remember business was quite slow to uptake on iPhones and stuck with their Blackberrys. One of the reasons was because execs told Blackberry they wanted real buttons. The business owners didn’t have the vision to see that having virtual buttons on a smartphone would be fine and almost certainly better because it offered greater flexibility. Look where that left Blackberry in the end.

If you have launched into an established market, it’s likely you’ll struggle to get the customers in through the door for some time. During this time there is a temptation to review everything you’re doing to attempt to see what can be improved. One of the most common ways of doing this is by asking for customer feedback.

In order to do this, it’s essential you have a clearly defined brand message and purpose that the whole business has completely bought into. This will give the different people in your business the context with which to interpret the feedback they’re getting in.

It’s very easy for brand revisionism to set in when things aren’t quite going to plan. If this happens, you can find the things that made you unique can very quickly be eroded.

If you’re not upsetting some people then you’re not trying hard enough. Brands aren’t built by keeping everyone happy, they’re built from differentiators. That’s not just colours and logos, that’s about culture, tone of voice (both written and spoken), it’s about the choices made for product or service and about the way and where you promote yourself. It all plays into creating the customers perception of your brand.

Finally, customers can only tell you what they know. If you frame the question wrong, you will always get negative answers. Why is it we always ask them what they don’t like instead of asking them what they like? Forget what your customers don’t like about you, to start off with and ask them what they do like. It’s harder to answer this question, but you will get some interesting insights.

And stick to your guns. Perseverance is the most important P in the branding cycle. You know the vision for your brand better than any single customer. Challenge any negative feedback by asking yourself “if we act on this feedback does it make us more or less unique compared to our competitors and does it move us away from what we set out to do.” If it does, then it’s these kind of circumstances where it’s fine to ignore your customer feedback.

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