When it comes to brands really engaging and succeeding, connecting with consumers in an authentic and meaningful way is the key to creating a great story. Organic detail and the brand’s natural personality trump the artfully chiseled brand caricatures we see so frequently in market.
My agency creates customer journey maps for clients that describe, in detail, the way we believe that people engage with their brands. I’m going to use the story of the Texas Rangers baseball team to illustrate the type of details that people appreciate and should be included in customer journey maps you create to guide your decision making. At the time I started this post, the Rangers had just beaten the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. It was one of many firsts for them this post season. You could say the Texas Rangers might be the Cinderella story of the year, though we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if it’s “happily ever after” or back home dreaming about next season
The Rangers journey to the playoffs is a great example of how a brand has connected with their customers in authentic and meaningful ways. In hindsight, the Rangers’ story would have made an excellent underlying brand narrative as a guide to a customer journey map, but I don’t know a single marketing professional that would dare to propose such a story. Likely because it’s too improbable—a case of reality being better than fiction. So, let’s take a closer look at the Rangers “story” leading up to this point in the playoffs.
For the past few years, the Rangers have been bringing up players organically through their farm system. And while they do bring in free agent talent (thank you Cliff Lee), they’re really not a team of hired guns. Earlier this season, their owner filed for bankruptcy, checks bounced, the team was put up for auction -- a painful process that dragged on --yet, they kept winning by playing old school baseball. The Rangers, instead of just relying on homeruns to carry them, manufactured runs and won games through grit and determination. And, let’s consider one of their star players, Josh Hamilton, the centerfielder and American League batting champion, who also has had a well chronicled battle with substance abuse. He’s a huge among the Rangers faithful and someone his teammates, fans and curious onlookers follow closely and look to as a source of inspiration. It was the mounted deer antlers above his locker that inspired his teammates to create a hand signal for congratulating one another for an exhibition of speed. And, it didn’t take long for the Rangers fan base to adopt the now pervasive “Antlers” sign, as recent coverage of Ranger fans shows large numbers of them wearing a t-shirt with this hand signal. The antlers are inescapable in the area, showing up not only on t-shirts, but on posters, hats, flags, signs, in songs, and in people’s everyday interactions with one another.
The details of the Ranger’s journey created opportunities with their current and potential fan base for authentic engagement and this interaction with their fans is priceless. The Rangers story has been punctuated with similar authentic, unscripted, and unplanned “brand” activities that have met the needs of fans and helped them feel like they are part of the team. As marketing professionals, we can only hope the ideas inspired by our customer journey maps are half as effective.
Now, how can we apply this team’s story to everyday brand marketing? In the latest Forrester report, Assess The Effectiveness Of Your Customer Journey Map, analyst Andrew McInnes states that customer journey maps can help customer experience professionals plan improvement projects. Much like the Rangers did this season; I believe good customer journey maps should tell an authentic story about a customer using all of the brand’s touch points across marketing channels.
Mr. McInnes presents 10 ways of assessing a customer journey map’s effectiveness. I’ve highlighted a few of these that I agree are essential in understanding how to create engagement with your customers which should lead to more sustainable relationships. The 2010 Rangers story provides great examples of customer interactions across multiple marketing channels and how they addressed specific customer’s needs.
- Does the map clearly define the target customer it represents?
- Does the map clearly describe the customer’s key interactions?
- Does the map clearly describe the customer’s needs during each interaction?
- Does the map clearly describe the customer’s current perceptions of each interaction?
A good customer journey map brings the customer it represents to life, including their needs during each interaction. The customer journey maps at the agency I work at begin with a complete persona. We do this so our creative teams can understand the perceptions and needs of the people we believe will engage with a given brand because they are inherently compatible, not because we want to know how to seduce them into buying more product. This understanding helps us recommend the right engagement vehicles so brand interactions align with the customer’s needs and perceptions.
The Rangers are a good story, but what makes that story interesting to me as a marketer is how the Rangers' "brand" has chosen and embraced authentic vehicles, such as the antler and claw gesture, creating a long tail of merchandise and fan behavior, as well as their approach to success by winning the right way with the right guys. These actions allow their customers to embrace the story and carry it themselves.
So, in closing I have two requests. One, please help me root my Texas Rangers on to a victory over the Giants in their first World Series EVER. Second, remember that a good story is important, but equally important is the ability to relate that story to the needs of your audience. Once that happens, customers champion your cause and drive your business in a deep, sustainable way.