Need, culture and experience – three sides to the brand relevance triangle

Relevance is the most valuable commodity a brand can have, says Joel Trethowan. Taking care of all three sides of the customer relevance triangle is crucial to keeping up with today’s evolving landscape.

Joel Trethowan 150 BWRelevance is the most valuable commodity a brand can have and it is one that is transient, tied to change and (at times) difficult to predict. It’s an incredibly nuanced and tricky topic to tackle, one that many in the industry are still grappling with at present.  

A triangle is the strongest shape. It’s also the most stable. And by nailing the three sides of the relevance triangle, brands can build positive long-term connections with their customers quickly and at scale. I’m going to look at the importance of product relevance, why cultural relevance is compulsory and why the dynamism of a hyper-relevant experience is what forward-thinking brands need.

Customer need

Brand relevance starts at the core of any business: product. Without an offering that directly addresses a customer need, your brand will never be relevant – no matter how good your customer experience is, how much you invest in media or how compelling your story.

Your ability to stay relevant in fast-moving markets will ultimately be measured by your ability to develop and build products that customers want to use, and that enhance their lives.

History is littered with brands that failed to stay relevant (Blackberry, anyone?), and were subsequently left behind. When we look at businesses like Koala, Hims and Glossier, their relevance – and ultimately their success – comes from their ability to present simple solutions to common problems in industries that were stagnating.

But being relevant doesn’t necessarily always mean creating entirely new offerings for emerging consumer needs and behaviour. It can also mean pivoting and constantly evolving your product and branding. Think Fender, Nike, Kmart, Tiffany and Co or Lush – the latter constantly proves it’s unafraid of reinventing itself, announcing last year that it would discontinue 45 of its iconic products – some of which have been around from the very beginning – to make way for new and even more creative inventions.

Customer culture

Across the top of the relevance discussion, brands must stay relevant within the cultural context of their market.

Gone are the days when a brand could expect to sit on the sidelines of social dialogue, choosing to not get involved in the conversation. Now, if your brand is not on the right side of an issue, it’s on the wrong side. There are no more fences to sit on. A few notable cases in point:

  • Victoria’s Secret (VS), once the pinnacle of lingerie brands and widely regarded as the trend maker in that space, is now struggling to keep up. At a time where diversity and body-positivity should be celebrated, VS is widely seen as whitewashed and continues to tout the size four body shape. Comparative analysis puts VS revenues at a 9% decline since 2016.
  • In a time when environmental consciousness is at a record high, Coles supermarkets dragged themselves into a full blown fiasco over reusable plastic bags – first offering them, then not offering them, then offering them again (despite forecasting showing that the switch to reusables would net it an extra $71 million per year) – causing massive brand damage in the process.  

In both of these shortsighted cases, a desperation to cling to old-world values has meant that consumers see these brands as stale, irrelevant and behind the times. They are the consumer equivalent of the Australian Liberal Party. 

On the flip side of this is Lego, the household brand selling tiny plastic building bricks since 1939 is as relevant as ever in 2018. Lego has committed to using entirely sustainable materials in all core products and packaging by 2030 and is launching its first sustainable collection this year.

Related: ‘Innovating through the lens of clicks’ – Lego executive on the state of modern marketing »

lego stormtroopers

Customer experience

Many well-informed marketers will say the link between brands and consumers is culture. But for that link to be meaningful, data is key.

The use of customer data for personalised, timely and relevant experiences has changed the game and has brought us out of the loyalty era and into the relevance era.

As explained by Accenture, “The objective of the former ‘Loyalty Era’ was creating incentives for brand memberships which drove repeated purchases. The Relevance Era upends that thinking. The goal now is to create a gravitational field that attracts customers into orbit around a brand – a field strong enough to withstand the constant re-evaluation of the digital age.”

CX plays a huge part in this. Currently brands provide relevant customer experiences through personalisation, strong use of customer data and a detailed understanding of the channel mix. And many do it well.

The white paper the above quote is taken from argues we are quickly moving past the time of personalised relevance and into the time of the hyper-relevant customer experience.

In the world of hyper-relevance, predictive analytics play a huge role in creating dynamic experiences that shift and evolve with customer contexts – not only their needs. By focusing on providing a hyper-relevant experience, brands can go further than building a personal interaction with their customer, they can become part of the customers personal narrative.

But the truth is that data is only one piece of the hyper-relevance jigsaw. And whilst the hyper-relevance revolution may be powered by useful analytics and consumer-driven insight, you still need passionate, engaged and intelligent human talent in order to truly curate customer connections.

The relevance triangle

You might feel that one of the three facets above is more important than another, but the truth is they support each other. Without one, the strength of that triangle is lost entirely. Without product relevance, your customer will not pay attention to your story.

Without a relevant (or hyper-relevant) experiences, your customer may still purchase your product, but apathetically, as there is no loyalty. Without a relevant cultural association, your customer will opt for another brand – leaving your great product and experience totally irrelevant.

Above all, without a dedicated and switched-on team of people driving strategy, your game is over before it begins. But by looking at relevance as a whole-of-business pursuit, brands can ensure they deliver powerfully compelling experiences based on human connections.

 

Joel Trethowan is managing director at Alchemy One.

 

 

Image credit: Hossam M. Omar