I was genuinely surprised that in the era of Internet revolution, which opens the floodgates of information and informed decision-making from a multiplicity of information sources, there are still brands that believe in holding customers at ransom! Madness writ large!
That Zimbabwe is in a man-made crisis is no longer speculative but a living reality. Given this reality, like any other hard working citizen, I chose to take an inventory of my expenses and downgrading my lifestyle. This meant cutting down on many services such as Internet access and satellite services through pay per view.
So I contacted my Internet service provider, ZOL Zimbabwe that is one of Zimbabwe’s leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) requesting to downgrade from my current 25GB per month package, which costs $40, to 15GB per month which costs $29. I was informed that for me to downgrade to the preferred service, it would attract a $49 once off downgrade fee! I was consumed is anger. I felt a thick lump developing by my throat as if I was about to be struck by a heart attack. As a competitive marketer, I then subsumed my emotion with bargaining power and responded, “You are very crazy, you want to lock me in that expensive package… I m going to migrate to TelOne which offers 20GB per month for $20.00…”. Within six hours the ZOL Zimbabwe marketing team called and informed me that they will ‘exceptionally forgo’ the $49 downgrade fee. I give it to the marketing team for being swift in responding to the challenge, which was definitely going to harm their brand in the long run. At the same time I feel for the brand, because there are those customers who definitely left without giving them feedback and engaged their competitors like I was about to do.
The case of ZOL Zimbabwe is typical of the yester-year thinking whereby businesses had the monopoly of information and it was hard for customers to get information on competing brands. The corporates would take advantage of this information gap and reap off the customer without any repercussions. That dark and somewhat Stone Age era is gone and not coming back. Brands can’t literally hold the customer at ransom and successfully ‘box’ them since they are fickle and highly restless due to their ever-changing tastes.
In this highly competitive environment of intense competition, the brand promise and brand experience become the defining differentiators. This entails that the only guarantee that leverages the brand existence is its ability to be consistent in its promise and somewhat exceeding the customer expectation in delivery of the brand experience. When I checked the ZOL Zimbabwe brand promise, it is adequately captured in the company’s vision, which states that, “To create the most admired brand in Africa by delivering simple & useful technology, paired with excellent customer service “. My experience when I requested for the downgrade is at a tangent from the brand promise of excellent service in powering my data requirements.
When I contacted DSTV requesting for the downgrade to my current package, it was instant, I became grateful to the fact that they further knocked down their prices through their Business Unusual promotion, leading to the brand creating an indelible mark in my mind through its promise of reaching to every home through innovation and the experience of being the answer to my immediate needs. With such an experience, I can easily recruit the net of influence around me to the brand through word of mouth referrals.
I m always at pains when I see brands injuring themselves, consciously or otherwise, the later being most pronounced! On the 21st of January 2017 my sister in law wedded. Occasions like these are once off and one will need the services of brands that will create lasting memories. She chose a venue along Enterprise Road, in the leafy suburbs of Harare. The company, Events HQ provided for catering, venue and decorations services. Everything was exquisite and splendid. Towards the end of the event, we had a disagreement on the extra services of waiters and then hell broke loose. The senior management instructed the waiters to stop serving the support staff to the wedding over the minor disagreement. Out of courteous, we paid off the insignificant figure but the attitude had departed from their brand promise on their website http://eventshq.org and the ultimate experience during the event. To this, when people see the nice pictures and the services they provided on the day and sought recommendations to use the services – “at owner’s risk,” has been my consistent response and the league of people who constituted the organizing committee. A brand is more than a good product or service, but the entire character and personality that is highly positioned in the customer’s mind to assist in the purchase decisions.
One can only but argue that in this great age Internet revolution, the brand’s ability to deliver superior customer experience is its major source of creating and maintain sustainable competitive advantage. This entails the need to engrave the brand promise, values and vision at the heart of the business’ strategy and operations.
As you can see from the afore-stated isolated experiences, the brand experience is that harmonious marriage between the brand promise and the customer experience. This is the interaction that customers have with the brand at every touch point, be it in the virtual space or brick and mortar should contribute towards a unique experience through out the customer’s decision-making journey. The delicate gap that frequently exists between the brand promise and experience is the brand perception. Remember in the branding world, perception becomes the living reality!
Companies should therefore realise that a brand is more than a logo, corporate colours, or slogan. It is rather the most valuable asset at the business’s disposal. It is the competitive advantage, which is the most difficult for competing forces to replicate. This is so because; brands that are self-conscious of their net worthy are by their own nature, a relationship between the company and the customer through the value proposition exceeding the customer expectations.
As brands grow big, they tend to start taking this ‘harmonious marriage’ for granted. But the consequences are too dire to contemplate. The case study of Econet’s attempts to fleece the customers of their hard earned income which was reversed by the government, led to the company loosing more than 400 000 customers in less than a week to its competitors.
In conclusion, there is always a need for the internal-external brand alignment as the paragon of virtue. This will ensure the brand promise exceeds the customer expectations