How to Drive Relentless Relevance in a Changing World

Today’s consumers are experts at ignoring the tens of thousands of brands that don’t interest them. But for their favorites, they go above and beyond what “rational” people do. In a recent study, we found that they mention these brands an astounding 90 times per week to friends and family, who are, in turn, 61 percent more likely to buy based on those recommendations. These brands earn and re-earn loyalty by doing something others don’t: They connect, engage and inspire their customers. What makes these rare brands—brand stalwarts like Apple and Starbucks, to emerging favorites like Birchbox and Nest—stand out from their competition? They are what we at Prophet like to call relentlessly relevant brands.

Aware that they are fighting for share in an era of infinite customer expectations and constant competitive change, these brands have made it their mission to continually find new ways to engage and delight customers. Whether it is through new offerings, experiences, channels, value propositions, communications or content, they understand that at some level every brand is both a defender and a challenger. They always have the mindset that if a brand giant like Amazon or Google isn’t disintermediating their business or brand, someone smaller may be. Look at what Airbnb is doing to the Marriott’s and Hyatt’s of the world – challenging a business model that has worked for decades – in a very short period of time.

These relentlessly relevant brands understand that leveraging the power of digital brings an ease of commerce, communications, engagement and instantaneous feedback that can make or break a brand. Even five or ten years ago a company could fool themselves into believing that a brand’s value stemmed solely from customers’ willingness to pay a premium. Sales were the primary measure of success. Today, companies are realizing that an equally important currency is getting your brand to achieve deeper levels of “all-in” engagement, resulting in the levels of loyalty described above.

Sales still rule the day, of course, but winning brands understand that relentless relevance and the deeper engagement it creates is what drives those transactions. Prophet recently surveyed a representative sample of U.S. customers, and four out of five say they choose brands for “how they connect with my life” rather than those that are widely known or advertised. And 59 percent say that their ability to interact with a brand they are considering is important to their purchase decision and driving longer-term loyalty.

59 percent say that their ability to interact with a brand they are considering is important to their purchase decision and driving longer-term loyalty

At Prophet, we believe relentless relevance requires a commitment to four big ideas:

1. Be customer obsessed

Customer centricity means more than conducting research. These days, customer preferences can change in an instant, and user feedback is immediate. To achieve relentless relevance, companies must uncover and act upon evolving customer insights faster than their competition; and figure out how to disproportionately win with those consumers that both drive margin and influence. These companies don’t just listen to their customers, they embrace them as true partners in achieving commercial and brand success, taking co-creation, collaboration and participation to entirely new levels. Look at old school IBM and new school Waze for examples of customer obsession at work.

2. Build brands that are distinctively inspired

Our job as marketers is to build brands that are inspired in their promise and aggressively positioned in their ambition. A brand has to induce customers to act and inspire employees to help deliver the promise and essence every single day. Great brand builders know that successfully building inspiring brands externally requires the energy and talent of the entire team. If you want to see inspiration practiced day in and day out, look no further than Burberry and Starbucks.

3. Pervasively innovate

It’s all about being nimble and responsive in creating opportunities for authentic engagement, and delighting customers at every turn. Whether it is with new offerings, content, channels, experiences or business models, brands that constantly give customers fresh, novel and better ways to interact and engage, will win. The best companies are also recognizing the power of participation and co-creation in building and innovating their brand. From T-Mobile to Electrolux, the customer is as much a part of the innovation team as is R&D.

4. Be ruthlessly pragmatic

Once companies construct a customer-driven brand/growth strategy, they must adopt a strict level of pragmatism. This applies both to how the brand can support the business strategy, and how it is actually brought to life. These practical considerations are often the most challenging aspect of brand positioning and require clear alignment around growth objectives. From Capital One to Google, there are great examples of companies that are not afraid to test, learn, fail fast and continue to rapidly innovate to keep their brands front and center, in both inspired and pragmatic ways.

80 percent of consumers say they are more loyal to brands that continue to find new ways of being relevant in their lives.

It’s not just a matter of trying harder and earning and re-earning loyalty – that’s a given. Companies who understand the value of relevance look for the bold moves required to amaze customers and push competitors out of consideration. That’s how they win and find accelerated growth.

It’s worth it: 80 percent of consumers say they are more loyal to brands that continue to find new ways of being relevant in their lives. By harnessing relentless relevance as the new norm, companies can re-energize employees, shape brand perceptions and change behaviors, which thereby increases engagement, sales and share of market and share of margin.

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