Agile Companies Understand That Branding is a Relationship

The following is based on a chapter in my new book, The Agile Brand. For more thoughts like these, as well as to read the rest of the book, please visit my website here:

There is a lot of talk about agile marketing, agile business, and design thinking these days. All three approaches require novel or unconventional ways for companies to approach traditional challenges, and are forcing decades-old companies to rethink the way they do business.

Each of those methods also require us to develop new and more complex relationships with prospective and current customers, going well beyond one-way communication prevalent in the Mad Men era, and even beyond superficial social media marketing messages disguised as two-way relationships. It requires truly understanding our customers and helping them achieve their goals, solve their problems, becoming a trusted resource and fostering loyalty. And the numbers back this up. According to Oracle’s analysis of a top retailer, it found that its top 5% customers brought in 35% of the company’s total revenue, with its top 20% bringing in half of the company’s revenue. Simply put, it pays to have loyal customers.

This extends beyond customers even, to our employees, and new generations who, surprisingly are staying at jobs longer than their counterparts of 25 years ago. However, their reasons for staying are quite different. In this new age of agile businesses, employers mustn’t take for granted that millennials will stay at the same company for 20 years or more. Today’s employee is looking for more than just a job—they also want to be somewhere that supports them and the things they value. Corporate social responsibility programs can help with this when implemented well, but if those programs are just paying lip service to causes, employees can see through this. Employees also want to work for companies that support their lifestyles, whether that means supporting a family, having a flexible work schedule, assisting with student loan debt, or many other factors.

This requires a shift in approach for companies who have often grown rigid while focused on turning short term profits, or deriving much of their decision-making from data and insights where the questions they ask of their data may not be taking the full picture into account. Agility is needed at the company level, to see and understand where change is needed, and to take action, analyze, and optimize.

The agile company doesn’t stand behind a rigid set of brand guidelines, and they know that in order to succeed, they must possess genuine corporate values that are demonstrated to their customers in tangible ways. Gone are the days when corporate social responsibility could be a bunch of words printed on a wall, programs listed on a website, but full of empty talk. Customers and employees alike demand more.

How does a company embrace a true two-way relationship? It starts with open communication, but that’s not enough. Brands must clearly articulate their values to customers and employees, and it must demonstrate those in real-world actions. Customers aren’t going to your website to read what your values are, they need to see them demonstrated. Smart companies embrace personalization, automation and other exponential technologies to better adapt their approaches and their marketing and advertising to the individuals. And still other companies, like Dell with its Ideastorm, or GE’s FirstBuild, involve customers in the development of products so that it can get input and consumer buy-in right from the start.

With employees, an agile company understands that different people have different needs, and many types of work can be done with flexible schedules and locations. Giving employees the ability to be themselves while being a loyal employee is a value that any company can embrace.

Companies who expand the way they approach their relationship with customers, and rethink the way their brand communicates to their key audiences are able to get a lot more in return through long-term customer value. By sharing values with customers and employees alike, they grow their brand in relationship with the people who support them.

The above is based on a chapter in my new book, The Agile Brand. For more thoughts like these, as well as to read the rest of the book, please visit my website here:

BrandingGreg Kihlstrom