June 26th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Though data and dollars typically tend to be the stars of the brand strategy show, this year’s Forrester Customer Experience Forum shone a light on the importance of corporate culture, the power of design, and the need for companies to be more “true.” Sounds a little vague, yes, but TRUE is actually an acronym that represents a pretty powerful message. In a breakout session on Day One, analyst Tracy Stokes discussed what it takes to for a brand to be considered “truly TRUE”: it has to be Trustworthy, Remarkable, Unmistakeable, and Essential, she explained, and the extent to which it exhibits these qualities orients it according to Forrester’s True Brand compass. Stokes also went on to highlight brands that are heading in the right direction (pun intended!) and scold those that have fallen behind.

Car service company Uber earned praise for excelling on all fronts, with Stokes noting that its cab tracking display and its moving black car icons make it “remarkable” and unlike any other service. The business model is unique as well–Uber cars can’t be hailed like a yellow cab, but don’t have to be ordered hours or days in advance like a town car. With a few taps on the Uber app, customers can order a car, pay for the ride, and track the car in real time as it makes its way to the pick-up location. The company is a disruptive force, Stokes pointed out, because it didn’t set out to take on taxi services or limousine services, but rather completely shake up the space and bring together the best of both worlds.

JetBlue, on the other hand, is struggling. When JetBlue emerged as a major airliner, the company stood out thanks to its promise to not nickel and dime people. Customers were treated to a full complimentary can of soda rather than half a cup (looking at you, Delta!), a free snack, live television already built into the price of the fare, and other amenities that set it apart. But in recent years, the company has changed.

Not only are prices of basic flight essentials like headphones and pillows getting outrageous, but employees are also becoming downright nasty, and customers are noticing. Just weeks ago, a woman on a flight from New York to Boston was almost kicked off for non-compliance after a flight attendant didn’t allow her three-year-old daughter to use the bathroom while the plane waited on a taxiway. The little girl had an accident, and instead of offering to help, the flight crew argued with the passenger and threatened to have her removed until an off-duty pilot intervened. The accident is, unfortunately for JetBlue, one of many. The company is losing its trustworthiness, the first pillar of being a TRUE brand, and that could hurt it in the long run if things don’t change, according to Stokes.

Consumers’ expectations of brands are rising, analysts unanimously agree, and with little to differentiate their products, customer experience is what will make the difference. For companies that are well-aligned along the TRUE Brand Compass, the goal is to keep moving forward. For ones that are losing their way, the time to get back on course is now.


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