Customers want to feel privileged. They want to be a part of a unique and distinguished group.

Build a better brand

Having a better brand is more important than having a better product (read: network). In fact, your brand is not your product, company, or even what you spend millions of dollars to promote. Your brand is your customers' prevailing perception of you. Don't believe me? Ask Apple, Coke, Disney, Nike, McDonalds, Sony, Microsoft, or any of the other household names you see slathered on your children's food, drink, clothes, phones, devices, games, and movies. Notably, none of these names are particularly synonymous with "quality" or "reliability." If they were, your kids would be wearing Rolexes instead of downloading $.99 digital clock apps for their iPhones. The bad news is, (regardless of what your marketing team is telling you) you cannot control your brand. But, you can understand customers. If you understand them well enough, you have a good, fighting chance of influencing your brand. Better yet, you have a good shot at being cool.

So what is cool? Cool is what cool people do. It's what they wear, what say, and what they are. Steve Jobs is Cool. Obama is cool. They have swagger. They are creative and deeply in touch with their audience.Their followers feel connected; a part of something special. Ordinary is not special. Normal is not cool. Cool is a not feature, data point, measurement, or statistic. Cool isn't followed by a "G." Cool cannot be measured, it's felt. It's understood. It's a lifestyle. It's a demand that drives people to be associated with your company and wear your logo proudly – at almost any cost.

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So, how well do you know your customers? How is your brand impacting their lifestyle? Do they feel like they are a part of distinguished group? Do they feel privileged? Are you helping them be cool? In the 80's, people were literally killing each other for a pair of Nike's Air Jordan shoes. As tragic as that was, how many of your customers kill for your product? Chances are they would more likely kill for a new competitor to enter your market than wear your logo.

Now the question is: can you do it? Can Comcast's Xfinity become a culture? Can AT&T make its millions of customers feel like they belong to something special? Can anyone unify and empower their customers' lifestyle?

Five things service providers can do to influence their brand:

We've already established that reliability and quality are not competitive differentiators. But, they are table stakes. If you unable to reach this basic threshold your customers' perception of you will be incredibly and increasingly negative. If this is all you can achieve, you're doomed to become a commodity provider. Not cool.

  1. Understand you customers. Branding begins with understanding your customers and their perception of you. Don't market to the lifestyle they have but the lifestyle they want to have. Understand how they want to be perceived and create service packages to help them achieve that perception.

  2. Be Unique. Tailor your offering to the lifestyle your customers want to live. Empower them. Stop giving them obsolete phones with useless functionality. Embrace the mobile, digital, internet age and social media. Allow your customers to access all of it without restriction. Become a trusted content and service provider. Continually renew your services to rejuvenate your customers' experience.

  3. Provide Incredible Service and Value. Stop taxing your customers to use your services. Stop metered usage. Bring back the Unlimited Plan. Enable them to select only the services they want, so they feel in control of their experience. Leverage your Operation and Business Support Systems to offer àla carte services, self-service, and bundled packages so your customers can save during this difficult economic time. You customers will buy more from you and you will attract more customers as a result.

  4. Be the Brand. Your brand must permeate every pore of your business. You must have your own pride before you can bestow it to your customers. You should reek of it. Create and empower brand evangelists. Ignore the nay-sayers. Take risks. Merchandise.

  5. Build loyalty. Create a community people want to belong to. Build a customer group and bring them together once a year for a posh conference. Spoil your customers and earn their trust. Become more than a utility, a commodity; become a part of your customers' lives. Make your customers rely on you for the services, features, devices, content, and applications they can't live without.

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