Difference between myth and reality

In today’s globalised, interconnected and service-dominant economy, the pressure to create compelling, distinctive and meaningful engagements with customers and consumers is becoming evermore challenging.

Customers now have greater choice, information and power than marketers have witnessed to date. Their expectations from the brands and businesses they choose to buy from continue to grow, placing new pressures on the growth ambitions of businesses.

In the background, the last 15 years have seen the concept of branding evolve from merely a design and communications-led ideal to one which runs far deeper into the DNA of an organisation. Chief marketing officers have little choice but to acknowledge that, while brands are built on promises, it’s the experience delivered that makes the difference between myth and reality.

It was these factors combined that led The Chartered Institute of Marketing to create the Branded Customer Experience Benchmark, an in-depth study among senior marketing and brand leaders from over 100 major international businesses.

One of the first results we saw confirmed was that these changes are reflected in the priorities of marketing and brand leaders, 69 per cent of whom strongly believe that the best way to build brand performance is through investing in a strong day-to-day experience, rather than greater investment in marketing communications.

While brands are built on promises, it’s the experience delivered that makes the difference between myth and reality

The importance of “getting the board on board”, a mantra for anyone driving change within an organisation, is unmatched when it comes to an issue as subjective, and potentially emotive, as brands and corporate reputation.

Encouragingly, enduring disagreements among marketers, finance professionals and business leaders about the definition, role and value of brands appear a thing of the past as businesses report positive traction with leaders:

  • 51 per cent of marketers surveyed strongly agree that their leadership teams see brand as a high priority for the entire company;
  • 54 per cent believe their chief executive and top leadership’s behaviour reflect the brand promise;
  • 70 per cent of organisations say their chief executive is integral to their brand story.

To make a difference to the customer experience, however, support from leaders needs to flow from theory to practice – a gap many organisations struggle to bridge. Leaders typically represent a very small minority of an organisation’s workforce and are often distanced from where “the rubber meets the road” – the point of delivery to the customer.

Telling colleagues about the story they’re a part of is a good start, but it can often be passive and fail to flow further into the business. The real challenge for marketing, brand and customer leaders is to get people at all levels to think differently about their jobs, plans and decisions, and the impact these have on the customer experience.

The pervasive nature of brand and customer understanding, or lack thereof, is clear in the results of our benchmark:

  • Only 39 per cent of marketers strongly agree that leadership teams use brand to guide decision-making;
  • Just 31 per cent believe that each of their leaders understands what brand means to their own part of the organisation;
  • Only 25 per cent of marketers believe their leadership team, human resources (HR), corporate communications and marketing departments all speak with a unified voice;
  • And just 25 per cent agree that employees across the business instinctively act in ways that embody the brand promise.

Creating organisational change of any sort, not least around brand and customer experience, requires people and teams to embrace the need to do things differently. It often means parting with legacy processes, priorities or responsibilities and embracing new ways of working. It’s in this context that rational considerations are replaced with emotive ones and culture becomes paramount.

“At its very simplest level, delivering a consistent and branded customer experience requires all parts of the business to work together to common principles, in a common direction,” says Simon Glynn, of global brand strategy and design consultancy Lippincott, which helped develop the benchmark research. “While direction and orchestration should rightly stem from the marketing organisation – those with clear expertise in brand strategy, communication and management – all parts of the business must be engaged and aligned in playing their role, no matter how small, in bringing the experience to life.”

Consider the potential impact that employees can have in bringing the branded customer experience to life. It’s your people who close deals, build relationships, handle complaints and defend your business from criticism. It’s your people who deliver things on time, show empathy, resolve problems and add the sparkle into otherwise mundane transactions.

Yet our benchmark points to a general vulnerability in this area: only 31 per cent of businesses empower their employees to build and protect the organisation’s brand; and only 22 per cent strongly believe that their employees understand their role in delivering a branded customer experience.

Even in calm waters, business leaders can be demanding when it comes to evaluating and justifying investments in intangibles, such as brand or customer experience. During times of economic turbulence, the ability to measure impact and value becomes an even more important tool at a chief marketing officer’s disposal.

Only 34 per cent of businesses report that they consistently measure brand and customer-related, non-financial metrics of success, and just 19 per cent of marketers strongly believe in their organisations ability to link the quality of brand experience to an impact on business value.

This isn’t to say there are no measurements being taken, but metrics lack systematic impact. For example, brand health, a key measure of performance and customer sentiment, is measured by 64 per cent of businesses, but only 20 per cent see this impacting on decision-making.

Understanding how your brand is performing in the eyes of your staff and customers, and identifying how customer experience improvements and associated investments deliver business value, remains essential.

Marketers cannot afford to ride on the coat-tails of common sense and assume that support for brand initiatives comes without scrutiny. Working with partners in finance to establish a robust measurement framework is a must, not just to secure or defend investments in brand and customer experience, but to ensure that those investments are being directed in the areas that make a difference to the customer and, by association, future performance.

For further insights into the branding practices of high-performance firms, go to www.global-benchmark.com