In a recent leadership coaching session, I was told that great leaders “show up.”
That phrase is rich, full of layered meaning. Showing up means leaders aren’t just there, but that they’re fully present. They connect with their employees and consumers, they support and defend their people, and they operate with focused, purposeful intention, perhaps even anticipating the needs of others.
In many of the same ways, the most powerful and successful brands today show up for their customers and other stakeholders. The sign of a great brand is no longer just the quality of one product but instead that brand’s ability to engage with consumers at all touch points, communicate its mission, and innovate constantly--to ‘show up’ in multiple ways, demonstrating how they care for their customers.
Delivering On The Brand Promise
First and foremost, brands must literally show up for their customers, as every customer has a minimum expectation that a brand will deliver on its promise. For instance, FedEx or UPS won’t be in business for long if they don’t deliver on the promise they make to pick up or deliver packages.
The minimum level of showing up is simply to keep the promise that the brand makes. However, no sustainable competitive advantage can be gained from brands that use this low bar as their sole criteria for success.
Brands demonstrate a deeper level of showing up when they thoughtfully make sure their communication and their delivery appear where and when a customer has a need. Coca-Cola is legendary for striving to be within arm's reach of a customer.
I know that when I have a desire for a Coke, I won’t need to look far to find one. That doesn’t mean every brand needs to have ubiquitous distribution and mass communication across every medium.
But it does mean that brands should know their customer and the customer’s behavior deeply enough that when the customer needs the brand, the brand knows where that would be, and the brand is there for the person--by satisfying the brand desire before a substitute can be obtained. Showing up here means brands are saying, “No need to look for a substitute--our brand is ‘everywhere you want to be.’”
Showing Up Through Customer Service
An even deeper level of showing up is being there for customers when they have a problem.
As opposed to simply being present at the first need, brands need to be present throughout the entire customer experience should something go awry. This point is most important, as it’s the most often neglected customer touch point and also the most detrimental when handled poorly.
Simplifying Through Self-Service
There was a time when a brand meant a consumer packaged good, sitting inertly on a shelf in a physical store. Today most brands are some combination of product and service, often delivered through multiple channels and sometimes through partners and third parties. This leads to a complicated service delivery model with multiple chances for disconnects or failure.
As the system becomes more complicated, one powerful way to show up for your customers is by providing them with access and information to solve the problems themselves if they so desire. In other words, simplifying the customer experience can mean putting your customer in control.
FedEx provides tracking information digitally in real time should I have a concern about my package. Rather than requiring customer service involvement, FedEx shows up by allowing me to answer my own question easily.
Perhaps the most powerful way of showing up is anticipating customer needs through deep understanding and insight, and using that information to provide a distinctive and customized brand experience. For instance, my experience on Amazon.com is informed by all of my previous experiences with Amazon.com and how the company has taken what it knows about me to make my Amazon experience better. When it works, this level of showing up can provide the greatest competitive advantage and engender the deepest customer loyalty.
Showing up for customers is much more complicated for brands than simply being available. But brands that show up for customers in multiple ways will create sustainable competitive advantage, as well as a fan base that will show up for the brand in return.