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Worksheet: How Brands Can Learn From Their Competitors

How well do you know your competition? You know your own business inside out, but when it comes to your competitors, chances are your knowledge is limited to a reactionary perspective. That is, you know your competition about your brand. What if we told you that studying your competition as well as, brands that are completely unrelated to your industry could provide you with the means to command your space within the market?

It makes logical sense to look at your competitors, but what exactly are you looking for?

SEEING THE JOURNEY THROUGH THE CUSTOMER’S  EYES

Most organizations struggle to find the right balance between organizational efficiencies and choosing the company or the customer. With downturns and increased competition, companies’ internal requirements often trump the customers’ needs, and we do not need to go far to experience the impact of this tug-of-war. Anyone who is a frequent flyer or who has rented a car knows that the commoditization of these industries impacted companies’ ability to garner bottom lines and the level of service and experience customers have with the brands.

When companies decide to transform their brand to reflect the market dynamics better, they need to consider how their consumers engage with the brand as part of each of the critical moments of truth – from web interactions to the physical interactions with the brand, before and after a purchase decision. Through the customer journey lens, we can learn a lot about which of these moments drive customer loyalty and preference, which have very little value and allow marketers to invest for the most significant impact.

THE THINKBLINK MPS AND R.A.C.E. ENGAGEMENT MODELS

Over the years of countless consumer studies and branding assignments, we have identified a set of brand engagement factors that form the basis of how to capitalize on customer connections with brands. We have defined this as the MPS Model, which covers customer interactions’ message, process and structure factors. Through an integrated and holistic view of the various messages, processes and structures, we can effectively engage and build brand loyalty.  

R.A.C.E. Model is the second tool supporting the MPS Model, and we have found it profoundly influential. The R.A.C.E. (Reduce, Add, Consolidate, Eliminate) Model explores how brands can create meaningful connections by reducing elements that do not bring significant value to brand engagement, parts the brand needs to add to meet the needs of customers, aspects of the journey that need to be consolidated to reduce confusion and complexity while raising efficiencies and finally, parts that need to be eliminated as they bring no value and detract from delivering value. 

Each of the R.A.C.E. Model elements is reviewed as part of the message, process and structure of the customer’s path to purchase. These elements define the ultimate experience that drives differentiation and relevancy. A deficiency and lack of integration between these three factors can cause a transformation program to fail. To help define how the MPS Model applies to customer experiences, we have outlined below the various dimensions, namely:

Message: The message reflects the critical communication elements influencing a customer’s purchase decision. These consist of the following:

  • Visual communication: From store policy signs, pricing, brochures, wayfinding, identity applications, and online websites to mobile and digital elements. These elements of the message reinforce a visual manifestation of the brand while assisting customers in making the right buying decision.
  • Verbal communication: Background sounds, verbal interactions as part of the sales process, and music are necessary forms of how we interact with brands. Front-line staff in call centres, retail environments, and conventional sales processes rely heavily on verbal communication to connect customers with brands. Music and background sounds help create moods that reduce anxiety and allow a fertile ground to engage customers.
  • Tone and personality: A critical dimension of messaging is the tone and character of the vital communication elements expressed through images, font style, colours and textures. Through the combination of these elements, the brand can effectively build engagement with customers.
  • Cognitive, affective and conative messages: In the engagement process, visual communication is a tool to support how consumers gain information and make decisions through the awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction and purchase stages.

    Cognitive messaging provides customers with generic, rational, comparative data, including claims and arguments. This is followed by Affective messages that match the customers’ emotions to the products to resonate with them and generate emotive feelings. The final stage consists of conative messages which motivate, stimulate and support the purchase decision.
  • Hierarchy of communication: Developing the correct order of communication remains paramount, even if it is often overlooked due to a lack of focus or the need to provide a series of key features. The development of a correct hierarchy will ensure that the key message will be noticed and remembered throughout the path to purchase. In addition, reducing message overload will provide focus on the appropriate product benefit, stimulating the purchase decision.

Process: How a consumer navigates a brand can define its position as much as the relevant brand message. Organizations such as Apple, Google and Disney have all made their process a proprietary and differentiated factor in their brand, which they keep protected as part of patents and trademarks. 

Processes also often tie to new business models that generate value while creating a platform for better customer engagement. Similar to the message factor, the process has several supporting elements which should be considered as part of any reinvention or rebranding program, namely:

  • Sales choreography: How employees engage with customers as part of the cognitive, affective and conative stages is critical in engaging customers and building brand loyalty. In many categories, such as retail, food service and banking, the sales choreography must be carefully crafted to ensure customers are effectively engaged while providing the organization with the means to upsell and complete the sales transaction.
  • Steps and stages: Understanding the number of steps and locations in which a customer makes a purchase decision is critical to ensuring a practical path to the purchase journey. The ability to reduce the number of steps, or put greater emphasis on a given stage, is an opportunity for brands to stand out and gain customer attention. Some steps need to evolve as part of a “Trust Ladder” to ensure processes are aligned with customers’ expectations and habitual behaviours (see ToolBook: Trust Ladder).
  • Offline and online:  With the growth of online purchases, showrooming and mobile price comparison at retail, it’s essential to understand the role of mobile, online and near-field marketing versus conventional bricks and mortar environments to define a digital path to purchase (see Toolbook: Digital Path to Purchase).

Structure: Structure is often associated with portfolio optimization programs, exploring branded house versus house of brand structure. Although this is a common aspect of the structure factor, it does cover a broader range of elements such as current and future channels of distribution, online and offline environments, target group segments, the physical aspect of the product or branded experience, departments, or categories to more operationally focused elements such as compensation, pricing, staffing models and size of the merchandising environment. Pending the type of rebranding initiative, from packaged goods to retail, the importance and emphasis of each of these factors will vary, and consideration should be given to those that have the highest impact on the at-purchase moment, namely:

  • Physical versus virtual: It is essential to define and understand the role of the online versus the physical environment, what is the ideal relationship between the two, and how they behave as individual engagement elements. From how the website is linked to endless aisle kiosks to how the navigation structure aligns with how consumers shop the category, it has become table stakes for brands to design a path to purchase systems that leverage the best of both.
  • Location and distribution strategy: Brands’ at-purchase environments, distribution channels, and proximity to specific customer segments set the stage for the critical factor in delivering the value proposition. Attempting to sell convenience-driven products in destination-driven locations, or vice versa, will only lead to missed opportunities and loss of sales. A strong understanding of which channels best engage and drive sales is an essential element for developing go-to-market structures.
  • Service offering and portfolio: One of the organization’s most significant challenges is finding potential growth through SKU optimization, white space innovation, and portfolio consolidations. 
  • This challenge, combined with a growing need of organizations to improve product margins while finding offerings with sustainable differentiation, the ability to identify high-potential added-value services that cannot be easily imitated by competition, is becoming an essential tool for marketers.
  • Cost/investment: Pricing has always been critical in how brands succeed and compete. However, the overemphasis on pricing has eroded brand loyalty and has laid the foundation for crowdsourcing and heavy discounting trends. Identifying ideal pricing models, price elasticity, and the role of promotional activities provides another leverage point for creating a competitive structure.
  • Staff size and needs: Staffing models and structures provide a robust platform for efficiencies while creating an effective platform for driving customer engagement. Understanding the design of the front-line employees that effectively aligns with the customer journey is critical in driving repeat purchases.

VIEWING THE MPS MODEL THROUGH THE R.A.C.E. MODEL

The R.A.C.E. Model allows organizations to reconstruct the customer experience and identify the factors that provide the most significant impact. The R.A.C.E. Model considers what can be reduced, added, consolidated or eliminated at each MPS factor, ensuring optimum brand experience.

  • Reduce: What elements of the MPS factor can be reduced to allow greater focus on features that generate more engagement and differentiation? Exploring how to reduce the number of messages, processes or structures within the customer at-purchase moment journey will ensure those that remain are effective.
  • Add: In reviewing the MPS Model, check what is missing in the process to truly deliver a differentiated and unique customer experience and offer the potential to provide growth and sales.
  • Consolidate: Most organizations have grown through line extensions or by building on current processes and infrastructure. Which of these extensions and methods can be consolidated to identify efficiencies and reduce the complexity of the customer’s at-purchase journey?
  • Eliminate: As it’s more straightforward to add parts of an existing MPS Model than to eliminate them, this filter is the hardest to undertake. The elimination of elements which do not contribute to the value of a brand allows the fundamental salient value proposition to be noticed and leveraged.

CONCLUSION

The MPS and R.A.C.E. Model are practical tools under the ThinkBlink Process umbrella. They create compelling at-purchase moments in a product or retail environment. The ability to deconstruct and define a new version of the path to purchase using these models ensures sustainable differentiation and relevancy for the brand. 

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