Posts Tagged ‘customer experience’

If building a corporate brand was ever a no-muss, no-fuss, “ivory tower” sort of exercise, where a marketer’s primary tasks were two — push out high-minded awareness messaging, and take pains to treat the logo consistently across all other marketing  touch points — it’s pretty much not that anymore.

Probably never was, come to think of it.

Two pieces of research, and one personal shopping experience, brought this to the forefront recently for me.

WPP’s Millward Brown announced its latest Brand Z rankings, highlighted in this AdvertisingAge article. As Jack Neff’s piece points out, the Brand Z rankings are among a handful of different (and often conflicting) methods currently being tried to place financial value on, and then publish rankings of, the most valuable corporate brands.

Neff quotes execs from some of the different brand-rankings publishers on how their methodologies differ. He also notes that the Marketing Accountability Standards Board has been working to develop an industry-standard valuation system.

To say brand valuation is a work in progress would be an understatement. In fact, after reading Neff’s article, @hwmarketing felt prompted to publish this alliterative tweet: “Is there any rhyme, reason or relevance to these rankings?”

–  The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project revealed new data, summarized in this eMarketer article, which shows just how “real time” consumers are becoming in using smart phones to seek information, solve problems and manage their lives. In the 30 days prior:

  • Half of all U.S. smart phone owners said they used the devices to coordinate a gathering.
  • 49 percent used their phones to decide whether to visit a business (e.g., a restaurant).
  • 47 percent used their phones to “solve an unexpected problem,” while 46 percent “looked up some information in order to settle an argument.”

I bought two shirts at a store inside Boston Logan airport. Reluctant shopper that I am, but with some time to kill and noticing a “sale” sign on a rack of shirts, I tried on a few and picked out a pair. The store associate (is “clerk” still an acceptable term?) offered to have them drop-shipped to my home, saving me the trouble of carrying them on the plane.

When I received the package, one shirt was missing a button. Straight away I went online to find a customer service number, then used my mobile phone to call and explain the problem.

This had all the makings of a brand moment of truth: I’d either get the run-around, or the person I spoke with (assuming I reached a real person) would pleasantly attempt to help solve my missing-button issue. Fortunately, a real person told me to either ship the shirt back for a replacement at no charge, or go to my nearest store and exchange it. “No problem.” I’ll make that trek to the store this weekend. Ideally, “no problem” will truly prove to be no problem.

Is Brand Value Macro or Microeconomic?

So what’s it all mean?

If according to someone’s rankings the brand from which I bought the shirt had a high valuation, that value would have gone to zero in the mind of this consumer if I’d gotten unreasonable resistance when I called to report the problem with my purchase.

That’s one reason why the true value of a brand is so relative, subjective, ethereal — and ultimately incalculable?

A brand, especially enterprise brands, comprise hundreds and thousands of interactions, experiences and information exchanges, happening every day, across multiple touch points. The website. Social media. The sales force. In-store experience. The monthly billing statement. The customer service operators. Oh yeah, and the product. Buttons or no.  

Presumably brand marketers know that where their brands rank on a list of valuation calculations is not really the point. Good for temporary bragging rights? OK. A macro measure of a brand’s strength among consumers, at least relative to other brands? Maybe. Sort of.

But how a brand performs in the micro — when someone picks up their phone or clicks through from their tablet, looking for answers and reasons to believe or buy — that’s still where brand value ultimately gets determined. Isn’t it?

The good and bad news for marketers?

According to Pew Research, these brief, fleeting opportunities to either demonstrate brand value, or diminish it, are likely to be coming our way more and more as time and mobile technology march on.

Are you putting much stock in brand valuation rankings? How important is it to have a common, agreed-upon brand valuation methodology? Comments and discussion welcome.

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, be sure and subscribe to Content Is Marketing.


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Look around your business. Better yet, conduct an audit: Where in your sales, marketing or service continuum do customers or potential customers get stranded in a content desert?

Where in your marketing continuum is the content desert?

What do I mean by a “content desert”? 

Think about the process of providing relevant, useful or entertaining content as cultivating an “engagement oasis” for the audiences you wish to attract and serve. A welcoming place where they can derive value and feel nurtured by your business and brand.

Now think of doing the exact opposite, either purposefully or unwittingly. Allowing a place on that continuum where your organization makes little or no effort to provide information, interactions or experiences of value. Or, perhaps worse yet, where you bombard y0ur audience with purely promotional, “let us tell you more about us” messages.

A content desert.

Please Continue to Hold While We Fail to Engage You

I survived 10 minutes in a content desert this past weekend, when it was my misfortune to have a malfunctioning dishwasher. When I called the manufacturer and service company (in this case, one in the same) to schedule a repair, I was placed on hold because, according to the automated voice, “all of our representatives are assisting other callers.”

Now, let’s examine this commonplace scenario from the corporate marketer’s perspective: A person who bought your product is having an issue with that product. They reach out to you. You’re about to have five, eight, or in this case 10 minutes of one-on-one, uninterrupted communication with that customer.

What will you do to engage them during this special time? What can you offer that might leave them feeling better informed, entertained, or in some way more connected to or empowered by your brand?

Take thought and care with those 10 minutes, and the potential benefits are clear: That person on the other end of the line is more likely to become a brand advocate and referral source. More likely to buy your products and services in the future.

But here’s what this manufacturer and service provider chose to do with its 10 minutes of uninterrupted communication:

  • Invite me to visit them on Facebook. Why? No reason given in particular. No promise of an entertaining video, helpful information, or even a cheesy contest or sweepstakes. Just a flat invitation to “visit us on Facebook.” Sorry. You’ll need to do better than that.
  • Invite me to join them in online chat. OK, that might be a good idea. And I’m somewhat impressed that they offer this feature. But in this case it meant I’d need hang up the phone and go boot up my computer, surrendering my place in the phone queue, a place I’d already invested some time to earn.
  • Cross-sell another service. In this instance, a free estimate on a particular home improvement service. Not the worst offer or call to action in the world. But how much better would it have been if that service were presented in a value-adding context? Perhaps the recorded message could have spoken to issues and challenges I might be experiencing with my home, rather than merely promote the service the company was trying to cross-sell. Or it could have invited me to visit a website to learn more about financing options that would make the service being offered more affordable. Or a series of videos that showed how other consumers have improved their lives and homes by using the service.  Instead, all I got was an offer to buy something else from a company that was already causing me some grief because of the last product I’d purchased from them.
  • Thank me for my patience, and for remaining on the line. You’re welcome. But then again, what choice did I really have?

Where’s Your Content Desert?

As content deserts go, this wasn’t exactly Death Valley. Probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, of on-hold messaging scenarios play out like this every day, from businesses large and small. The marketing “sins” here, if any, are more of omission than commission.

The larger point is this: If somewhere in your marketing, sales and service continuum you can expect to have a few minutes,  maybe even 10, of direct, uninterrupted communication with customers or potential customers, what will you do with that opportunity?

Subject them to a content desert? Or cultivate for them an engagement oasis?

Where in your marketing, sales and service continuum is there a desert you can transform into an oasis?


Photo credit: www.freenaturephotos.com

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Prediction: Content marketing will increasingly become a strategy — perhaps THE strategy — retailers employ to defend against unrelenting price pressure.

If that sounds unlikely, check out the excerpts below (boldface emphasis added by me) from an article by Iain Thomson, writing for technology news website The Register. Thomson reported on a presentation by eBay CEO John Donahoe, who spoke recently at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.

Paraphrasing Donahoe, Thomson wrote, “…the concept of e-commerce is dead and buried, since consumers really don’t care about where they buy, so long as they get the cheapest price.

“…Donahoe said that the increasing use of mobile technology had blurred the barrier between e-commerce and regular retail to such an extent that the former term was essentially meaningless.

Now consumers are walking into retail stores, and using their phones to identify better prices for goods they like, and will use either online or offline purchasing to get the price they want.”

The Commodity, Low-Price Death Spiral
Pity the bricks-and-mortar retailer. You go to great lengths to create an outstanding and differentiated shopper experience. Choose a unique and high-quality mix of products. Create clean, well-lit store environments. Do attractive merchandising. Hire and train experienced sales staff.

Now imagine that consumer after consumer enters your store to wander the aisles, admire the merchandise and seek advice from your sales staff. Then, just as they’ve finished shopping and are ready to buy, 80 percent of them whip out their mobile phones, do a quick search, and walk out your door to go buy the product elsewhere, or online, at a lower price.

Frustrating? Certainly.

Images from FreeStockPhoto.biz

Deadly to your business? Absolutely.

Inevitable? Judging by the comments from eBay’s Donahoe, maybe.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe not if bricks-and-mortar retailers get innovative and committed when it comes to content marketing.

Winning with a “C-commerce” Strategy
Let’s say those same consumers visit your store or your website, but you’ve gone to great lengths to provide value-added content, more so than any other retailer they could shop. Content that will help the consumer make a buying decision, experience the product’s features before they buy, or know how to maximize the benefit and enjoyment they get after they take it home.

You’re setting yourself up to be a sucker, right? Investing in providing great, relevant information, interactions and experiences, only to see consumers go elsewhere to buy products at lower prices.

That might be the case. But what if you didn’t give away the content?

In other words, what if you charged consumers a fee for your content? The terrific in-store experience. The expert guidance. The demos. The careful hand-holding that helps them make a smarter purchase and get maximum value out of the product.

And here’s the trick: You credit them for the content fee when they buy the product from your store or website.

That’s right. You build content into your value proposition as a way to not only attract consumers, but also to close the deal. If they choose to go elsewhere to buy, you’ve still made money on the content and customer care you’re using to set your retail business apart.

Sound crazy? Impractical? Maybe.

But only if there’s another way to keep the majority of consumers from walking down the street or going online to find the products your store offers at a lower price. If there is such a strategy, then bricks-and-mortar retailers should adopt it as soon as they can.

If there isn’t a “secret weapon” to keep a retail store from being price-shopped out of business, maybe there’s an answer to be found in content.

E-commerce dead?

Maybe the era of C-commerce is about to begin.


Most of my experience is in B-to-B marketing, so I’m a bit out of my depth here. What do you think? Are lots of traditional retailers already using content to avoid being price-shopped into extinction? Or is this a pipe dream, and we’re destined to live and shop in a lowest-price-always-wins retail world? Comment and discussion welcome.

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Sgt. Phil Esterhaus

When following up with prospects, let's be careful out there.

Sometimes we marketing and sales folk seem to have a death wish when it comes to new technologies.

Not a death wish for ourselves.

A death wish for the technologies — and the possibilities for audience outreach and value-add, win-win each might enable.

Case in point:

Last week I clicked through to the website of a leading marketing automation company. I’d just read a third party’s blog which quoted one of the company’s execs. A new piece of content, an infographic, was mentioned. Curious, I clicked, poked around a bit, then downloaded said infographic.

Mind you, I’m NOT a qualified prospect for the company’s software as a service. To describe me as a potential influencer might even be stretching it. As a business developer and marketing strategist working for a content marketing firm, at best I might someday be on an account team that might someday be in a position to someday recommend this SaaS to a client. Even then, that solution would likely originate with, and be vetted by, one of my more technology-savvy colleagues.

Thanks for Sharing
Still I was not very surprised, but did find myself a little irked, when my brief web visit triggered an e-mail from a sales rep. I’d visited the company’s site once previously and downloaded an ebook. Clearly that earlier  “engagement” had earned me a cookie, plus status as a “lead” to be tracked and scored within the company’s lead management system.

But this particular example of sales follow-up triggered by a website visit left me wondering: Haven’t we been down this road before?

Haven’t marketing and sales types taken a marvelous new technology (e.g., e-mail, fax) for reaching out and engaging directly with audiences, and done our level best to turn that potential into something often intrusive, ham-handed and annoying?

I’m pretty sure this particular e-mail was Exhibit A for how NOT to do lead nurturing based on web visitor tracking. A few of the do’s and don’ts that jumped out:

DON’T make “Prospect on Website” the subject line of your e-mail. That’s right. This sales rep received an e-mail alert from his company’s marketing automation system, then simply forwarded that e-mail to me, adding a three-sentence message of his own. Although I did open his e-mail, “Prospect on Website” is not exactly an inviting subject line. In fact, it sounded ominously like a security system loudspeaker warning “Intruder on Premises!”

DON’T show the prospect your lead intelligence underwear. Because the web tracking alert e-mail was forwarded, I could see the lead scorecard the company is building on me. How many times I’ve visited their site. Pages viewed. Downloads. Date of last visit. Even a paragraph of directions for sales reps: “Your personal notification of activity on your website. Target prospects, identify visitors, and develop sales relationships with your online visitors.” Felt a bit like reading Big Brother’s dossier on me. Kind of creepy.

DO take a few minutes to customize follow-up. If this company were really interested in developing relationships, they might look to customize this type of e-mail. For example, they could require that reps research web visitors on LinkedIn prior to sending follow-up e-mails. If that were standard operating procedure, the rep would have discovered I work for a marketing firm.

Based on that, the e-mail might have had as its subject line: “How agencies win new business with marketing automation.” And the message might have read: “Would you be interested in talking a bit about how agencies likes yours can be heroes, and be more profitable, by recommending marketing automation to your clients?” Instead, the generic e-mail sent to me read: “I received a notification that you have returned to our website. Is there anything I can help you with? Let me know if you’re free to chat for a few minutes at some point today?

DO offer value beyond the opportunity to talk about your product. To simplify, let’s say there are two primary buyer personas for marketing automation. Corporate marketers who buy. Marketing consultants who recommend. Would it make sense to develop some relevant lead nurturing content for each persona? Based on a solid content strategy, the follow-up e-mail might have offered me a report on how other marketing firms have grown business with Fortune 1000 clients by implementing and managing their clients’ marketing automation systems.

DO try to recognize when it’s best to hold your fire. If this sales rep were really ambitious, he might have clicked from my LinkedIn profile to this blog. He might even have spotted a post in which I express irritation toward over-eager retail clerks who assault shoppers with “what can we help you with today?” before we’ve stepped both feet in the door. Granted, it would have taken some shoe leather to glean that insight. But it would have been a valuable clue to not send a standard follow-up to this particular web visitor.


Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should
If “do not track” sentiment and regulation gains momentum in this country, and if e-mail spam laws and penalties expand to include this sort of web tracking-prompted e-mail, marketers and sales execs will have only themselves to blame.

The ability to track visitors’ on your website, then respond via e-mail or phone, is now a given. Whether we do it carelessly or thoughtfully will determine whether this particular technological advance proves a relationship builder or an engagement barrier.

If your organization alerts sales reps to contact web visitors while they’re still on site, or shortly after, think through how best to leverage that communication moment. Start by making sure you have a relevant content strategy that extends to this particular touch point.

“People,” as Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to caution fellow police officers during roll call on TV’s Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there?”


What do you think? Am I a luddite on this website visitor follow-up issue? Does your organization alert sales to the presence of web visitors? Any thoughts on best practices for effective follow-up? Would welcome your comments and discussion.

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Once you commit yourself and your organization to content marketing, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Suddenly “content” means articles. Or maybe white papers or webinars. And the focus becomes building an efficient, repeatable process for cranking out a steady flow of that particular asset type.

It’s important to avoid this trap, and to look for opportunities to vary the format of your value-adding content. Why? Well, here are two reasons:

  • First, if you focus primarily on producing content in one format, you’re going to consistently bypass a percentage of your audience.

There are people who love learning via webinars, but who lack that same zeal for articles. There are others who won’t take time to watch a video, but will make a point to download or print a white paper and stick it in their “read on the plane” folder.

Punch out just one type of content over and over, and you’re glossing over these differences in learning styles and content-consumption preferences.

  • Second, get into a monoculture mindset around content and you’ll never know how successful you might have been at creating engagement (however you define that term).

Varying formats let’s you test which types of content have a lifting or depressing impact. As the saying goes: “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Content as an Experience

Where I work, we’ve evolved this definition of content:

Value-adding information, interactions and experiences that drive relationship momentum
among audiences critical to an organization’s success.

I like the definition, in part, because those three words — information, interactions, experiences — invite us and challenge us to alway be thinking in terms of developing and delivering content in varied formats.

Yesterday I was treated to three great examples of content formatted as an “experience.” All three were described in an e-newsletter called trendcentral®, published by The Intelligence Group, a self-described “youth focused consumer insights company.”

Trendcentral is a consistently eye-opening and thought-provoking resource. This issue — themed “Fitness Followers” — was no exception. It speaks to a trend toward new tracking technologies that help amateurs and professionals alike monitor their workouts and performances. Three examples cited were:

  • Fitness clothing maker Under Armour partnering with software firm Zephyr on something called the E39. It’s a compression shirt with a built-in sensor that tracks and wirelessly transmits data on an athlete’s motion, heart rate, acceleration, g force and other data points related to performance.
  • Wahoo Fitness, which has developed a device to feed workout statistics for runners, bikers and others to their smart phones.
  • The Ski Track app, which enables skiers to track their number of runs, total miles covered, top speed attained, even visualize the runs they’ve skied via Google Earth maps.

If you’re feeling as though your content program is largely stuck in information mode, take a cue from the world of fitness. Next content planning session, devote some time to brainstorming an experience you could deliver for your desired audience.

Think about their work and life routines. What do they physically do during those activities? What would make their lives easier, richer, more informed? For example, how might you help them keep score of what they’re doing, so they can compare themselves with others, or pursue continuous improvement and personal bests?

In other words, is there a way to equip, empower or entertain your audience with a tool? An app? Content in the form of an experience.


Do  you agree it’s wise to vary the format of the value-adding content you produce for your audience? Have a favorite example of content as an interaction or experience vs. purely as information? Would welcome your thoughts — and experiences — as comments.

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Are you daring to be different with your web presence?

Roger Smith Hotel website

The Roger Smith Hotel: Daring to be different

Not different in the sense of getting in visitors’ way with a goofy flashy intro. Or different like one of those precious minimalist sites where the home page is a field of white or beige, with a tiny phrase or object in the middle, supposedly intriguing visitors to click through and discover more.

Different as in being all about delivering a unique content experience right at the top of your site. Daring in terms of having your differentiated positioning be more prominent than your core product. Then believing (trusting, daring) that visitors will click through to the core product and service information one or two levels beyond, when and if they’re so inclined and engaged.

On his Web Ink Now blog today,  David Meerman Scott posted a video in which he and Tim Washer are shown wandering the streets and expo aisles of SXSW 2011. Sort of a modern-day Hope and Crosby road movie, with Austin, TX, as their backdrop. Some of you will recognize Washer as the creative mind behind, and co-star of, IBM’s spiral video series, The Art of the Sale. Washer now works as a senior marketing manager at Cisco.

Anyway, the video is fun in itself, but even more remarkable is this: It was shot and produced by two people working for The Roger Smith Hotel, a Midtown Manhattan property that positions itself as an “art hotel.”

When I clicked through The Roger Smith link on David’s post to learn more, I was greeted by what appeared to be the website for an eclectic modern art museum. Nothing even close to a traditional room-nights-and-breakfast-packages-and-yes-we’ve-got-a-pool hotel website.

In fact, I had to look a fairly closely to see the word “Hotel” on a tab in the main nav bar. Turns out this is something of a companion site — a side entrance, if you will. A site the hotel calls “Roger Smith Life.” If you Google “Roger Smith Hotel,” you’ll arrive at their more conventional site.

I don’t know whether the marketers at The Roger Smith are seeing sufficient ROI to justify keeping up two different, high-quality websites. Let’s assume so, or they probably wouldn’t be doing it.

What I can say with some certainty is that of the dozens (hundreds?) of hotels I might choose from when traveling to New York City, The Roger Smith appears to be promising something different. And if I’m the sort of persona who appreciates art, media, technology — and intersections, convergences and mashups thereof — The Roger Smith demonstrably wants to be my hotel of choice in Manhattan. And they’re apparently willing to travel to SXSW and shoot a video as one of the ways they can demonstrate that want to.

If your website and strategy are due for a rethink, or you’re pursuing what you believe is a differentiating positioning and strategy but you don’t feel it’s fully reflected in your web presence, here’s a little exercise: Check out David’s blog post. View the SXSW 2011 video. Click through to the Roger Smith Life site and poke around a bit.

Then think about how your organization’s web presence might dare to be different. Different in ways that would matter to and resonate with people you consider your sweet spot customers.


I bet you’ve got a favorite example of a website that dares to be dramatically different within its category. I’d love to learn about it. Please share it in a comment.

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Marketing can be complicated. But recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple. Case in point:

This week my wife scanned our monthly bank statement. She noticed a $2 charge that lacked clear explanation. Curious, she called the bank’s customer service number. After a few minutes, a customer service rep picked up. When questioned about the $2 charge, the CSR politely explained it had been deducted from our account by mistake.

She went on to explain that the bank now charges $2 for providing photocopies of cancelled checks on customers’ monthly printed statements. Based on the type of accounts my wife and I have, under the bank’s new policy we should have been passed over for the fee. The CSR apologized and offered to credit the $2 to our account.

So far, so good.

But my wife, a small-town banker’s daughter, felt compelled to ask a few more questions.

Wife: What if I hadn’t noticed the $2 charge?
CSR: It would not have been restored to your account.

Wife: Why?
CSR: We lack the ability to identify and credit accounts mistakenly charged the $2.

Wife: Will you notify customers, so they can check their accounts and let you know if the $2 fee has been deducted?
CSR: No. Again, the bank lacks the ability to identify customers who were mistakenly charged the fee.

Wife: Yet you had the ability to charge our accounts the $2?
CSR: The CSR didn’t really have an answer for that question. Perhaps because it was phrased rhetorically. And perhaps because the answer, in fairness to her, resides with someone above her pay grade.


A Micro Brand Management Case Study
Never mind that a financial services company making record profits decides it needs to charge $2 per month to help customers with their financial record-keeping by providing photocopies of cancelled checks. I know a certain small-town banker who, if he were here today, would have labelled that idea…well, a word that rhymes with chicken spit. But again, let’s leave the policy aside for a moment.

Leave aside, too, that the reason for providing photocopies is that the bank decided years ago that collecting and returning the cancelled checks themselves was too costly and inefficient a practice to continue.

Let’s just focus on the $2 mistake.  

Here’s the Harvard Business Review case study, in a nutshell: You are a bank executive. Your bank has mistakenly taken $2 from some customers’ accounts. Incredibly, your crack IT team is unable to tell you which accounts were debited $2 in error.

What’s a bank — what’s a brand — to do?

I’m pretty sure my banker father-in-law would have recognized this as a brand moment of truth. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t have used the word “brand.” He’d have spoken about the situation in old-school terms, such as “honesty,” “fairness,” and “doing the right thing by customers.”

Then he very likely would have sent out a message — a letter, an e-mail, some tweets — suggesting that customers check their recent statements, to see if by chance they were mistakenly charged $2. Those communiques would have expressed regret for any errors. And they would have encouraged customers to call or e-mail if they see the $2 charge on their statements.

Finally, the letter and e-mail might have noted that, in an era when consumers’ trust of the financial services industry could be at an all-time low, your bank is committed to earning your trust and safeguarding your money.


What Price Brand Image?
It’s possible my bank is taking steps to correct its $2 error. And it’s possible the CSR was not fully aware of efforts underway to correct the situation. Ideally, both of those caveats are the case.

If not, then this scenario illustrates that recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple.

And yes, sometimes there’s a cost involved. In this case, the cost to maintain a brand image might have been to forgo the $2 fee revenue in the first place. Or, if not that, it might have been the potential expense involved in owning up to an error and refunding some customers a $2 mistaken charge.

But from all indications, at least for this bank, at this particular moment of truth, the number crunching was already done. The value of its brand image has been calculated and set into policy. And that value turns out to be remarkably low and fungible.

Two bucks a month.


Sound like a brand moment of truth to you? What would you have advised the C-suite if you were the bank’s head of marketing and brand management? Does brand image and loyalty really hang on such seemingly trivial policies and interactions? I’d welcome your comments and discussion.

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