Consumers expect more from brands. "Branding" has long been the art and science of applying meaning to products and services that drive people to purchase and value a brand beyond its purely functional benefit. Today, consumers want their brands to deliver more value through utility, entertainment or information (the latter two are really just forms of utility). They want high quality products and services but expect brands to go beyond that to keep them as customers or to at least earn their advocacy.
Here's an excerpt from the Global Web Index that asked European consumers what brands could deliver that would be most relevant for them. Utility tops the list.
Trendwatching has a great collection of brands providing utility in their recent "Brand Butlers" report. There are some intriguing examples including:
"In March 2009, Galp Energia launched Galpshare, a carpooling platform available throughout Portugal, where commuters can create a profile, specify their daily route and find others heading the same way"
"ColorSnapis a free iPhone app from US paint brand Sherwin-Williams that allows consumers to match the color of a photo taken on their iPhone with over 1,500 colors listed in the Sherwin-Williams database"
"Beck's Gig Finderapp helps users to find local music gigs. The app's map and GPS interface allow users to see where he or she is in relation to the gigs"
The Utility Brief
What if brands embraced this role via their marketing? What if they standardized a "Utility Brief" to replace their standard marketing or creative brief. Its really replacing the creative brief, isn't it. I mean, what was that all about anyhow? We thought at one time that if we were only creative enough (read: disruptive, interruptive, clever, loud) consumers would look up from what they really wanted to do and notice our brand. Should they do that 3-4 times, we octile claim they were "aware" of our brand.
The utility brief would have the following fields:
1. Current business objective: every communications or service brief must start with what are we trying to get done. It should reflect our understanding of our current business model, i.e. how we make money.
2. Customer and brand moments: an outline of how our core product or service intersects with our customers lives. For a home surfaces product like Corian (disclosure: client), we would be tracking all of the moments that drive a customer to consider and purchase the product from home renovation to dream home building. We want to understand the role we currently play in their lives. Ogilvy uses the term "customer journey" to document this in pathway form.
3. Customer intent:this section outlines what the customer is trying to get done throughout those moments by acknowledging that they have some intention that drives them. We do something cool called "Consumer Intent Modeling" via our colleagues at GSI. This looks at consumer intent via search engines to better understand what they are trying to get done and the language we all use when seeking answers via Google.
4. Customer profiles: from digital behaviors to shopping tendencies to trends, we want to have a pretty good view of other parts of our customers lives. This is the hardest section to standardize. It could include everything from their mobile phone usage to video interviews with customers.
5. Social Brand: This is quick, It strives to articulate a natural or authentic place the brand can come from via social media. Often this is but 10,20, or possibly 30 degrees left of where their overall brand position is. And while utility is not always expressed via social media, it pays to know the social personality fo the brand as you venture towards interacting via utility
6. Utility Mapping: okay, that is a fancy name for brainstorming big, disruptive utility and more subtle services you could provide. It starts with blue-sky brainstorming around customer intent and continues through some more subtle problem solving. Example:
- for Corian, I will hypothesize that many designers and property owners would love to see a convincing visual overlay of a Corian installation in their kitchen. (big disruption)
7. Measure of Success:if you provide a smartphone app that really provides utility you must gauge success by more than the app metrics (installs, stars, etc..). You will want to measure its impact on your net promoter score and the likelihood of customers to share word fo mouth (i.e. advocate)
Its just a first attempt at a new type of brief that gets brands pointed towards utility.