There seems to be a consensus that we need to understand how a brand is build today to help manage it. To do this we need to understand that the process begins with identifying each point of interaction, or brand “touchpoint,” between the company and its customers. Here, a company can uncover the various opportunities for its brand to be positively upheld or negatively represented.

As Mark Ritson explains in Professional Marketing Magazine July Sept 2008, touchpoints for a bank can have many more negative impacts on a customer’s perception than positive. ie statement of account, letter from the manager, out of work cash dispensers, and long lines to speak to a bank teller. If you think about it from the customer’s view how many opportunities does your brand have to disappoint them?

Ray George from Prophet.com explains: each activity falls within the three touchpoint experience categories: pre-purchase, purchase (or usage), and post-purchase.
Pre-purchase experience touchpoints represent the various ways potential customers interact with a brand prior to deciding to do business with a company. Some typical pre-purchase touchpoints include Web sites, word-of-mouth, direct mail, research, sponsorships, public relations and advertising. Cymbic.com adds that most marketing dept of B2B companies spend most of the marketing budget on the pre-purchase part of the customer interaction when most of the customers experience is spent in the other two areas.

Each pre-purchase touchpoint interaction should be designed to shape perceptions and expectations of the brand as well as heighten brand awareness and drive its relevance, while also helping prospects understand its benefits over competing brands and the value it brings in fulfilling their wants and needs. As the pre-purchase experience for prospective customers is examined, the focus should be on refining those touchpoints that most effectively will drive customers to put the brand into their consideration set.

Purchase (or usage) experience touchpoints are those that move a customer from considering a company’s brand to purchasing a product or service and initiating a brand relationship. Examples of purchase touchpoints include direct field sales, physical stores and contact with customer representatives.

The main objective of these points of interaction is to maximize the value that prospects see in offerings and instill confidence that they have made the right decision in choosing the brand. During these interactions, it’s critical to instill trust in the minds of prospects by demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that a company’s product or service offerings are better than those of the competition.

Post-purchase experience touchpoints come into play after the “sale” and maximize the customer experience. These can include loyalty programs, customer satisfaction surveys and warranty and rebate activities. These touchpoints are frequently under-leveraged or ignored as brand-development opportunities, even though they offer the potential for businesses to drive sustainable and profitable growth. Three goals of post-purchase experience touchpoints are to deliver on the brand promise, meet or exceed customer performance and usage expectations and increase brand loyalty and advocacy.

The long-term benefits of assessing a brand’s touchpoints are tremendous. This knowledge can help build a strong, powerful brand that keeps its relevance in the minds of customers. But even more important is how this exercise fully equips an organization to better control the most important interactions customers have with the brand.

Here’s what typically emerges as a result of a touchpoint assessment:
New Opportunities. Many of the identified touchpoints won’t fall in the category of typical “brand-building” activities, but if they’re aligned with the company’s current brand message, they can instill strong customer preference and loyalty. By demonstrating how they impact customer perceptions, they can be used to give the company a fresh perspective on its brand-building activities.

Control. It’s a common misconception that brand development is the sole responsibility of the marketing department; in reality, the responsibility for the development, execution and ongoing maintenance of each touchpoint may fall within several different functional areas of the company. In fact, some touchpoints—word-of-mouth, for example—may seem to be impossible to control altogether. In such instances, analysis of what’s driving word-of-mouth exposure may reveal a greater degree of control over this touchpoint than initially thought. The tactical importance of minor touchpoints
that are not typically considered within the marketing domain. The automated phone answering experience. The product User Interface. The monthly invoice. However you can see the potential impact they can have on the perception of the brand of a company.

Complexity. Managing all the different points of interaction customers have with a brand is a multifaceted and interdependent responsibility.

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force adds: It really is about all the intangibles around those products and services that form customer perceptions, thoughts, emotions and attitudes based on repeated, interactive experiences with corporate brands. This mix of intangibles transcends actual products or services—all of which can be purchased from a number of competing companies. Meaningful brand experiences are unified experiences; that is, they are corporately designed, properly managed and aligned across all customer touchpoints.

Examples:

Pre-Purchase: Borders, smell of coffee,quiet, sections of books to easy to find. Information centre, large variety, cafe to enjoy while reading. Entertainment value. Meet friends.
Purchase: Quick and streamlined, discount for valued customers. Staff all dressed in borders black t-shirt, easy to identify.
Post-Purchase: Follow up with email offers, vouchers in your black bag with logo – status bought book at borders or CD or whatever.

From within the offices of Starbucks, a branding guru had summarized the Starbucks brand into an extremely concise brand statement: A great coffee experience.
This brand statement encompassed the Starbucks store design, bean selection, barista personalities… even its toilet paper. 2 ply for Starbucks.

A lousy experience with one touchpoint can negate all the brand equity you build in other touchpoints. When Microsoft releases a security patch that creates more openings for hackers, its brand is diminished.

They are marketing the experience and the brand as much as the products they sell and doing it effectively through every touch point.

What are the distinctive, heritage elements of your brand that resonate with customers?

Once all current and potential customer-experience touchpoints have been identified, the next step is to determine which are the most important, and why. Trying to control every touchpoint can be an overwhelming and costly endeavor. However, prioritizing the touchpoints and identifying which have the greatest impact on customers ensure that customers are being spoken to where and when most relevant. Additionally, prioritizing the touchpoints maximizes the use of corporate capital and human resources.

Consider the following factors in prioritizing the touchpoints:
Value in decision-making. What impact will the touchpoint have on the overall customer decision-making process? Ability to control. To what extent is the touchpoint within an organization’s ability to control?
Degree of misalignment. How is the touchpoint diluting or contradicting the brand message, and how quickly must it be aligned?

Achieving business objectives. Does the touchpoint support the underlying business objectives?
Companies across the board are facing numerous challenges that require leadership to take a hard look at how well their brand strategies position them with customers. Competition is fierce and growing and customers are both wary and confused, particularly in the face of largely undifferentiated products, services and messaging.

Businesses that intend to successfully stand out from among the competition would be wise to scrutinize the core of where and how they interact with customers and communicate the essence of their brands. That sort of thoughtful and measured assessment is what will lead to brand investments that are most likely to create powerful results.

If you want to do some touchpoint analysis for your company here is a good url
www.marketingdriven.com/userImages/touchpoint_analysis.pdf

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