As competition heightens, Islamic brands need to adopt more strategic customer-centric approaches to meet the pace of change. Enhancing personal relationships with customers is critically important in order to attract and retain customer loyalty, and to secure competitive success.
Brand advocate is a marketing term for a highly satisfied customers who goes out of their way to actively promote the products or services they have a
meaningful relationship with. A positive and emotional experience with a brand leads to the development of a brand advocate who praises the brand through word-of-mouth. In this digital era, social media tools enable a brand advocate to share their brand experience. Relationship marketing came about from the specialisation of direct marketing which emphasizes customer retention & satisfaction. It focusses on the LTCV—Long Term Customer Value. Today given the technology available relationship marketing has become part of what is popularly known as ‘inbound marketing’ (which is a combination of SEO—search engine optimisation-; web & social media content & public relations. In achieving an effective Brand Management, let us look at what are the differences between creating genuine trust vs. paid exposure.
So, why does brand advocacy matters more than ever as consumers globally shift their focus towards Islamic brands?
For brands operating in the space of the “Islamic economy”— developing brand advocates is an extremely important part of the marketing strategy for an organisation. This emanates from the behaviourial changes that cut across ethnic and economic consumer classifications globally. The financial crises and socio-economic factors coupled with rapidly deteriorating corporate trust and an increasing information overload has led to consumers automatically tuning out ‘paid exposure’ or advertising. Instead with the increasing growth of social media one sees a rise in ‘interest-based communities’ i.e. groups of netizens on social media that group together based on a common interest. These groups share their recommendations on brands and consumers tend to trust this ‘word-ofmouth’ or advocacy in guiding their own purchasing behaviour.
For brands operating in the Islamic economy space, it becomes critical to connect and provide a very fulfilling experience that is based on
alignment, understanding and projection of the value-system by which the Muslim consumer, technically, operates.Whilst paid brand exposure is
required from a basic awareness and proposition communication perspective, more importantly, it absolutely a must to identity the key values and develop an authentic brand story that delivers a clearly felt value-benefit in order to generate brand advocacy. Without this brand advocacy, the sustainability of the brand would be in question.
In relations to Islamic banking and finance, why is relationship marketing important in maintaining strong customer loyalty or in gaining new customers and when venturing into new markets? The route to brand advocacy is a long-term one. It’s not a tactic that shows result within a fiscal year and it’s not a marketing gimmick that can be created. Celebrity advertising or testimonial advertising is not brand advocacy. That’s ‘paid exposure’. The route to developing brand advocacy is through relationship marketing. The brand has to have a very clearly identified objective, target
audience, value-proposition and an overall brand experience environment that would allow for a positive experience where the consumer is concerned. All of this requires strong internal service level planning and high level of employee engagement which ensures the right brand value message is communicated through the interaction between the brands’ employee and its consumer. Banking is a category that’s of, both, high interest & unknown territory, to the man-on-the-street. Coupled with this there exists, amongst consumers, subliminal prejudices and biases about
how banks operate and are only interested in maximising stakeholder profit. Couple this with the sketchy financial planning awareness and a rising tide of mistrust amongst consumers, given all the negative news about the global banking industry, and you have an ideal recipe for ‘blocked
reception’ to any advertising put out. Islamic banking is no different. In fact, the prejudices against a Islamic banking brand is higher as
comprehension of the difference between Islamic banking products vis-à-vis conventional banking products has not really been well communicated This makes relationship marketing that much more important for an Islamic banking brand. It’s important from three points of view:
A) Long-term perspective of sustainability and brand leadership
B) A customer base that enables for product portfolio sell-in without additional or incremental communication cost and
C) Establishing the brand in both local and international markets. At this point, let me digress a bit to clarify that relationship marketing is not a loyalty, collect-points & redeem, programme or campaign. That is a tactic within the overall portfolio of relationship marketing. A relationship marketing campaign has to be based on the two key facets of not a loyalty, collect-points & redeem, programme or campaign. That is a tactic
within the overall portfolio of relationship marketing. A relationship marketing campaign has to be based on the two key facets of developing trust as mentioned earlier— authentic bran experience based on the brand values & a clearly perceived value benefit.
Brand has to have a very clearly identified objective, target audience, value proposition and an overall brand experience environment that would allow for a positive experience where the consumer is concerned.
Customer’s satisfaction acts as key in influencing Brand Loyalty. I Quote … “You can make some of the people happy all the time, but you can’t make all the people happy all the time”. Satisfaction by definition, is an emotional behaviour. It’s a feeling that comes about through the stimuli received
by our five senses and the same being decoded by our brain based on our cultural and social experiences stored in memory. So when we attempt to satisfy consumers with the intent of increasing brand loyalty we must be very clear that the loyalty will remain as long as the defined parameters of satisfaction, from the consumers’ perspective, are being fulfilled. The moment the consumer has a drop in the satisfaction level there will be
a competing brand taking over. There are no second chances!
So what are some of the key factors that go about in ensuring a brand is able to provide excellent satisfaction?
1. Employee engagement—it’s critical that the front line employees are highly engaged in the organisation’s purpose i.e. the employees understand
their role and its impact in the bigger scheme of things.
2. Authenticity — the brand communication & actual behaviour i.e. action, has to be authentic and open.
3. Accountability — clear accountability in terms of operating processes and quick resolution to service issues need to be demonstrated. In summing up, the area of relationship marketing and brand advocacy is an area that the Islamic banking industry, till date, has not paid a great deal of attention to. A focus on this is now critical given the business requirements, across markets that are pushing Islamic banks to explore cross border
growth. This is an area that will demand much more focus as it has a direct impact on operating business processes, in terms of manpower, leadership, service levels, product development and technology utilisation.