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I love Audible. It feeds my passion for learning wherever I might be: on a flight for work or on my bike in the early AM. Listening to insightful works (or reading them) also tends to reaffirm some of my core beliefs, which is helpful. If you can get reinforcement of the critical assumptions that drive your thinking then you will be more willing to carry on in the face of adversity.
I recently listened to “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler. It’s an amazing read/listen and I highly recommend it. In Chapter 15, the book covers advancements in education. As the authors advance their argument they write, “Human culture…is really a set of permissions.” This idea is a critical insight, and one that I honestly believe most marketers and product leads ignore.
Flipping the discussion, I also recently finished “Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information. ” The book is a must read for anyone looking to understand how user generated product and experience information has reshaped how consumers think.
I agreed with everything the authors put forth with one glaring exception: the idea that consumers generally want an “open marriage” with brands. While I understand how they made this leap of logic, it ignores the fundamental fact that we, as humans, need to delegate to be productive. Constantly re-evaluating brand relationships in near real time is more work than it’s worth.
While the authors rightly point out that brands are less and less a proxy for quality, they ignore the fact that brand relationships are hyper efficient. Brand trust allows us to do one less thing daily, at scale. The reason people get so mad at brands they trust when they disappoint is the same reason they get mad when the bread aisle moves in the grocery store. We have a set of autonomic processes that we put in place to manage daily life—assumptions we rely on to manage the endless number of choices and challenges that, if left unchecked, could eat the average person alive for no good reason at all.
These two realities—that we crave reinforcement of our beliefs and that we expect brands to help us manage our lives—are tightly intertwined. These assumptions we rely on to clear our heads every minute of the day aren’t handed out freely, and they don’t come easily. In fact, most companies have to earn trust and loyalty. As Forrester Research puts it, we are in the age of the customer. We expect brands to go above and beyond the basics of simply providing goods and services. We expect them to have a deep knowledge of who we are and what we need. For brands, cutting prices, adding features, or offering points may get you in the door, but if you want to stay in the house you need to demonstrate real value. Simply put, you need to make your brand useful.
How can brands be useful? They have to find a problem to solve. Audible solved the problem of consuming books on the go (and by the way, Audible is owned by Amazon, which ranked #1 in our Useful Brands Report).
It can be small; some of the most thoughtful gifts often are. Clorox’s splash-less bleach is a great example. It clearly demonstrates it’s willing to wrap itself around the customer and not the other way around. The North Face’s Watson solution shows it’s committed to finding the perfect apparel for your challenge. Allstate’s QuickTrip app is another (for the sake of full disclosure/humblebrag, I worked on this app). QuickTrip demonstrates how Allstate is more than insurance—it wants to make your life easier and better. These and countless other examples are the way modern brands earn permission to get inside a consumer’s set of personal operating rules, then stay at the top of their priority list. Just like Audible is at the top of mine.
James Lanyon is the director of strategy and innovation at T3.