Before the internet transformed the way we purchase goods and services, brands relied on advertising and communications to emotionally engage us.
Not much has changed, except today, regardless of how much we buy into overt messaging, a lot more is riding on our loyalty. The most compelling ad campaign will still struggle to counteract the bad feelings left behind by a disappointing customer experience.
This leaves little room for error. Every organization is seen, heard and experienced through the individuals who represent it, and customers expects a seamless, consistent interaction at every touchpoint. Brands must behave as seamless entities if they are to meet — let alone exceed — consumer expectation.
Many organizations are struggling on this front.
In a recent survey conducted by my company, Brandworkz, together with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), 81 percent of the 2,200 marketers we polled identified customer experience as a stronger driver of brand performance than communications. But our findings also showed that organizations are failing to implement, communicate and integrate brand experience as part of everyday internal working practice.
1. Align Resources, Priorities, Culture Behind the Brand
We began by asking respondents to identify their biggest challenges. These stumbling blocks cause the greatest concern, as they believe they have the greatest impact on their organization’s ability to deliver on-brand experiences.
For a clear majority, these problems exist at an organizational level. Budget and resource pressures topped the list at 65 percent, followed by competing internal priorities at 58 percent, and the culture of the organization itself causing the most concern for 51 percent.
It’s worth noting that 40 percent of respondents told us organizational design is a fundamental problem. Although not as critical as other issues, the figure highlights how traditional internal structures and silos can hinder the creation of a customer-focussed agenda and a unified view of the consumer journey.
2. Get the Board On-Board with Brand
Only 37 percent of marketers believe that the most senior levels regularly discuss brand performance, which goes some way toward explaining why decisions on resources, priorities and culture fall short of brand.
However, while it may not be a regular topic in the boardroom, almost two thirds of respondents feel their senior leaders do acknowledge brand as an important organization-wide concern. So the C-Suite recognizes brand, but does not prioritize it.
When it comes to the concept of brand, there’s a feeling among marketers that senior leaders still don’t fully appreciate the strategic role and potential of brand, and limit their definitions to its communications-focussed role.
3. Fix Poor Perceptions – They Are Infectious
Having glimpsed the picture at board level, it may not be surprising to learn that less than half of respondents believed their senior team leaders fully understand what brand means for their part of the organization — either in a corporate or theoretical context.
With brand so weakly perceived at the top, it’s almost inevitable that a similarly poor appreciation will cascade down the ranks. If the direction is misaligned to start with, it’s unlikely to course-correct further down the line.
4. Provide Education and Centralized Tools
So what about the staff themselves, often the people on the front line of customer relations? Only half of marketers believed their employees’ values and behavior aligned with their organization’s brand promise.
This gets to the heart of the culture/brand disconnect. No matter how clearly defined a brand may be, without the necessary tools and know-how to truly represent it, employees risk undermining brand from the inside out.
Internal education is key to transferring not just the philosophy, but the practicalities of a brand to everyone who needs to know. Internal team presentations, integrating brand and customer experience-related metrics into employee objectives, and giving employees a centralized brand platform not only informs, but empowers brand representatives at every level and on all fronts.
5. Value Staff Opinion
We discovered that businesses which encouraged employees to contribute their ideas to customer experience improvement had employees with a better understanding of the brand vision.
Yet, despite the belief among respondents that customer experience was a truly cross-functional responsibility, less than one in five organizations had a closed-loop process encouraging staff to contribute in this way. Given the reported positive effect on employees’ relationship with brand, this seems something of a missed opportunity.
Not only does excluding staff distance them from their role in delivering brand experience, but it reinforces a silo working practice and mentality.
6. Make HR a Brand Ambassador
Organizations that routinely induct employees into the brand when they join, reported individuals with a stronger appreciation of their role in delivering brand experience. This was also the case in companies where brands values and culture played a key role in recruitment.
But, in 72 percent of cases — despite being acknowledged as a function with significant impact on the delivery of branded customer experience — HR departments were not considered to have a high understanding of their role in that objective.
Given the accepted cross-functional nature of customer experience, and its reach across departments, it’s surprising so few organizations seek to leverage HR’s unique position as an internal brand ambassador.
7. Brands Grow from the Inside
When an organization fails to consolidate and communicate the brand, its philosophy and promise to the people whose job it is to represent it, the inner culture suffers. Every employee needs to feel a resonance between the corporate and the personal, between what the brand promises its customers and their individual role in delivering that experience.
The quest for a strong and enduring brand that delivers a consistent experience and exceeds customer expectations is not about damping individualism and turning employees into robots. Ultimately it’s about providing people with the tools and know-how to confidently share what makes their brand different from the rest. Because a brand that’s strong on the inside, safeguards its promise to the outside.
Title image Paul Dufour