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Design Can Drive Advocacy

by Guy Parker

What are you communicating to your audience?

If your design and messaging focus on your products or services, then you’re only showing your audience what you do. You need to dig down deep to the root of why you do what you do, why you are unique and why your audience should care. It’s only when they begin to see the real “you” that the brand can be properly differentiated from the competition and earn the attention of the consumer.

Communicating authenticity leads to brand advocacy and long-term relationships.

As designers we’re taught to design beautiful and functional things. The problem is, “things” don’t make long-term relationships. Anyone can build a computer, make a cup of coffee or create greeting cards. But, emotional connections to the brand behind the product is what makes the consumer form a relationship. While Dell may pitch a computer, Mac sells you inspiration. Starbucks has turned coffee into a stylish beverage, while Papyrus has turned lines of greeting cards into small works of art that celebrate the milestones and events in our lives. As designers, we should be creating experiences that foster emotional response, engagement and long-term commitment.

The interaction with a product or brand goes through four stages: tolerance, acceptance, adoption and advocacy. A consumer will never move past the first two stages unless their expectations have been met and exceeded.

While a consumer may be willing to try out a new brand (tolerance), he or she is still very much biased towards which brands are favored and what expectations he or she has. If the criteria is met or exceeded, then he or she will start to accept the new brand. After expectations continue to be met or exceeded by the brand, the consumer will start to choose that brand over others. Finally, if the brand continues to perform in an outstanding way for the consumer, then the consumer will turn into a brand advocate that stands up for the brand socially and shares positive reviews with others.

Remember those four steps: tolerate, accept, adopt, advocate.

It is the advertiser, designer and marketer that must communicate the brand to the consumer. The consumer sees the ad, reads the copy, sees the package on the self, reads the label and trusts that what they read is honest. This forms an expectation of what the product or service will be. If you oversell or don’t communicate properly, then you may end up with an unhappy customer instead of a brand advocate. Design creates expectations and is the watershed point that can make or break your brand’s perception.

It’s paramount that designers, marketers and communicators spend the time and resources needed to understand the brand’s attributes, as well as the needs and desires of their target audience. Both the brand’s direction and the audience’s preferences must align or the brand is merely wasting time working to sell something that will ultimately fail in the eyes of the buyer. The brand can only build a long-term customer relationship if it’s able to accurately give the reason “why” they are different and how that’s relevant to the consumer.

Is your brand struggling to win advocates?

You may need to:

  • Change the product to serve the customer better
  • Change your target audience to one that better fits your brand values
  • Or communicate the brand benefits (the “why”) more accurately

Of course, none of this works if you’re not authentic and completely honest with what the brand experience entails. Pinpointing your trouble areas will help you improve your direction and design an experience that is in line with the wants or needs of your audience.

Be honest – not only about the product, but with the driving force behind the brand, its values and its relevancy to the target audience. An on-track campaign can make a big impact with the audience it’s geared towards influencing. This is how you build long-term relationships with customers, creating brand advocates who will continue to build up the reputation of your brand when talking to family, friends or followers.

Read more about the importance of authenticity.

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