Monday, January 09, 2006

Branded for life (A half-assed review of Jim McEwan'sMarried to the Brand)

Married to the Brand: Why Consumers Bond with Some Brands for Life was delivered to my office by the book faerie. Barely reaching 130 pages (if you generously count both appendices), this is more like a long essay than a book. I'm glad I didn't pay for it. The list price is $24.95, or about 20ยข per page. If I'd been reading the 880-page Middlemarch, widely regarded as one of the greatest Victorian novels, it would have cost me less than a penny a page in paperback. I have never read Middlemarch, but I have read Married to the Brand. At free, the price was beyond fair, and I'm frankly glad that it wasn't 880 pages.

While this "book" is worth taking the time to read, I do suggest that this is a perfect time for you to dust off that local library card of yours.

Married concerns itself with the things an organization can do to build positive, long-lasting relationships with its consumers. Here's the argument in a nutshell:
  1. Passionate customers contribute most to an organization's profitability. (They spend more, visit more often, and are anxious to recommend a product or service to others.)
  2. The first step to leading customers to passion is to make a "brand promise," which is not just a promise, but one that differentiates you from the field. Then you have to keep the promise and provide an excellent experience at every point of contact. (Especially in cases where problems are encountered.) The key is constantly showing respect for the customer.
  3. The experience of the brand is often determined by people in the rank and file of the organization. The people who answer the phone, ring up the purchase, and stock the shelves are in control of the destiny of customer relationships. This is not where businesses focus their attention, though.
  4. Organizations that regularly deliver excellent service and fulfillment of their brand promises are the ones that will eventually cause customers to cross-over into the realm of "full engagement."
Even though I've nutshelled the book for you, I do think it's worth reading. I think it's an excellent tool for meditating on your business. Or your not-for-profit organization. Or even about how your "market" yourself. If you can get a few people on your team to read it with you, it could be a great starting point to thinking about how to improve your relationships with the people who fill your checkbook.

My main complaint with Married to the Brand is one that I have with a lot of the popular business and social science literature that's being generated for the mass market these days: slim evidence. I'm sure that McEwan and his employer, Gallup, have the copious evidence claimed in the book. But I like to see evidence. In the text, though, there's only a minimal amount provided, and it lacks sufficient clarity to be useful in answering "when compared to what?" questions. I'm not asking to be buried in charts, but there's clearly more room for the display of quantitative information, even in works intended for a very general audience.


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