BY FARAI CHIGORA Just like in a courtship, there is a time for engagement, marriage and life-long commitment. One that brings fruits of joy and eternity. That’s what brands should do in this age of entrepreneurship. Where we move from an over-the-counter relationship to a point where the customer becomes a strategic partner. It is high time our SMEs invested/considered relationship management as a transformative cog in brand management. Simply put, it is the driver towards repeat purchases/buying which escalates into shareholding of the business by our customers. That is when at the end of the race our SMEs will be known or identified through their customers’ attributes. Rather than a life-long commitment to advertisements/promotions that only increases operational costs of the business and chew the bottom-line; the growth of a business is also measured by the level of shareholding which also directly influences its market value on the stock exchange. We should be looking beyond just business to relationships that connect with the brand vision. Everyone in this life is more likely to follow where love is/builds and our brands should reflect the same in the mind/heart/soul of the current and potential customer(s). More has been said on this perspective from our previous editions where we have considered positive brand relationship to be an outcome of not only the promises and storytelling. But a creation of favourable brand personality/attitude, positive image and risk elimination. Of course, these have become a practice of most thriving SMEs around, but more still needs to be done.
As the world is revolving around the sun and every blink of an eye counting so does the relationship marketing matters in doing real business. Where we are not only talking about this as a concept but getting into action through wiring supporting systems, structures and behaviours that promotes brand longevity. It is not too late for those who are still to engage in this life/equity game changer since we are now taking a nose dive into Brand Relationship Management (BRM) as one of the global blue ocean strategies. We have realised that customers are not in search of a product/service (in their desire to be satisfied through consumption) but they look for a brand. A brand that gives them an exciting memory with a real meaning in their day to day living. Little did we know that we were giving birth to the concept of BRM. Where revenues of our SMEs are going to improve or reduce through a customer-centric approach that considers the customer as the king more than any time before. Of course, those in the financial/accounting school of thought have traditionally added goodwill as part of their books by converting positive reputation into money. We then go far to talk about the sensory nerves that connects brand management and positive customer relationship management of our SMEs. It is high time customer complaints and plastic smiles by our operators should die only to be rejuvenated as care and joy of doing business with our broader markets.
We start by looking at what our global customers are expecting from us in this day and age. Like what was shared in the previous edition they are now into product/service that are created out of innovation. Our customers are now relating more to technologies and machines in their consumption. They are prepared to pay a greater margin for efficient systems as compared to traditional delays. That is where the greater part of customer relationship starts or die by our SMEs. This is an opportunity for us to go back on the drawing board and reconfigure processes for digitalised brand relationship marketing. So that we are not compared to best on the market as we exit the market through redundancy. Time matters and highly significant in the buying decision of our present markets such that the customer tries by all means to eliminate negative opportunity cost associated with delays and slow response to market needs.
Also as we continue in this understanding it is high time for our SMEs to take a relook on the modes/channels they use to connect with the minds and hearts of their customers. This is when publicity through various forms of media should be considered as a driver to a positive brand relationship with the markets. It is no longer about sales calls and general broadcast adverts. The world has moved from mass marketing to personalisation. When we have/maintain better revenues through not just selling to everyone. Know your real customer(s). Here the customer is communicated to through a form of media that is specifically for him/her. Our customers feel valued when they are treated special (not in a general way but feeling that they have been considered as the only source of the SME’s success). In such a way that a happy birthday text from the SME database to a customer mobile text gives inform closeness with the umbilical value of the customer (Yes some of our businesses have engaged in this too and they are enjoying margins). Where are you? Food for thought. Just to remind that there are various platforms for engagement with the customer especially the widely used digitalised/online ones like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Pinterest. Know your customer first and decide which one is effective for a closer and lasting relationship.
Another key for an effective customer brand management is to know and totally engage with the strategic partners that you invite in your business (to share or do a brand extension). Not everyone is your friend for life in these brand matters. Sometimes we do partnerships for raising capital through venture creation, shareholder invitations or as our market intermediaries/agencies. How far do you trust them with your brand? You have to choose wisely. There is need to continuously engage and share the brand vision and culture with these partners such that they cascade the same to your current and potential customers/markets the way you will have done. These partners should be your band advocates and ambassadors through such openness and closures.
In this drive to improve on our BRM we should know that there is no one jackets that fits all. As long as you do it right as a form of strategic brand management then the market will be yours. Some common issues to take home are that at any rate of adoption customers move in stages/cycle for them to end up loyal to your brand in these marketing efforts. There is a period of trial which is the start of the whole process. Where the customer should be convinced that his/her initial choice was not a mistake and encouraged to engage more in the future. This then goes up to repeat purchase where the customer is always searching for the same brand. This does not happen automatically but need to be induced by your brand customer relationship effort and systems configuration. The ultimate outcome will be customer brand loyalty which will in turn builds up to strategic partnerships with the customer. I leave you to do a self-introspection in this drive towards smart business in the age of entrepreneurship.
- Dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is the Head of Business Science at the Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance. His Doctoral Research focused on Business Administration (Destination Marketing and Branding Major, Ukzn, SA). He is into agribusiness and consults for many companies in Zimbabwe and Africa. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted for feedback and business at email@example.com, WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.