Robert A. Heinlein originally coined the term grok in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land as a Martian word that could not be defined in Earthling terms. The gist of the expression is to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to lose one’s identity in the experience.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.”
Still with me?
What brand wouldn’t want an experience so poignant that the consumer/customer becomes totally absorbed in the experience – to understand the brand with the same emotional force as the company founders? What are the elusive qualities a brand must possess in order to get their stakeholders to grok?
My initial research on the subject called for a focus group of eight to 10 Martians, but since my space ship is in the shop, I decided to settle for some interviews with humans.
In a recent interview with insurance agents regarding their marketing organization, one agent told me a heart-rending story about how his business was on the brink of failure when his marketing organization provided some free services, empathy, and counsel that not only got him back on his feet, but producing at levels double his past year’s premiums. “They not only saved me,” he said, “they saved my family.” This gesture has bonded the agent to the marketing organization’s brand for life… and I mean the brand, not the brand name, because to the agent, the brand stands for “my safety net,” “…they truly care…,” “…they are a partner who really understands my situation.” Or, in Martian terms, they grok me.
When strong bonds like this are made between brands and people, it’s usually based on an emotional, rather than logical, appeal driven by a brand’s core values. When the product is not easily emotionally driven (like screws, machinery, and other B2B categories) the brand voice of the organization’s people and marketing carry the brand; increasingly so as the category is commoditized. Consistent alignment of brand values among internal (employees) and external (customers) stakeholders is essential in order to bathe the customer/consumer in the brand halo and feel the love.
Emotional attachment is the most powerful force in the brand world — even B2B. It is the quality that allows your customers to grok your brand. This brand loyalty is very difficult to create, yet so easy to destroy; especially with social media’s ability to spread bad juju like wildfire. One instance of misalignment between the brand promise and brand performance is enough to cause a consumer or customer to abandon the brand, especially where switching costs are low. When switching costs are high, the brand elasticity is usually greater. This means there is more margin for error in the brand promise v performance alignment, because the relationship or product is complex and it costs so much to switch brands that many imperfections are forgiven. These are usually in high involvement-purchases such as capital equipment or contracted professional services. In the consumer realm it could be your doctor, dentist, or car purchase. But even with great elasticity, eventually the bonds can be broken.
In my consulting practice, I’ve seen an uptrend in B2B organizations to “emotionalize” their brands. OK, so let’s see now, you want me to emotionalize a machine screw? Really? Well, I guess if our brand of screw is the hero in a story in which our Earth-bound Martian friends, pining for the friendly red skies of home, finally find the perfect fastener to fix their spaceship, which allows them to streak homeward to their groking flocks…well, then I guess I grok.
Take a fresh look at your brand(s) from a new perspective. Do your stakeholders truly grok your brands? If not, maybe they could use some emotionalizing, re-energizing, messaging, integrating, or metrics strategies to measure the love. If so, GroPartners can help. And remember, everything is measurable, as long as you keep the commitment to measure it. For more on groking up your brand, contact me.
— Greg French