The new battleground for brand management
In today’s high-tech world, brand management is becoming an increasingly critical way of governing the customer experience, presenting both new challenges and opportunities for CMOs.
In nascent businesses, the brand promise and customer experience are usually driven by the vision of the founder. But as organizations grow, they can lose sight of that vision and how it guides the customer experience.
It becomes easier to focus on internal pressures and efficiencies than on collaborating with other divisions. The result is that the customer’s experience becomes fragmented. Each customer contact point belongs to a different department, with little—if any—communication between them.
Unless the board appreciates the need for consistency, from brand promise to customer experience - brand management’s role is reduced to directing the design look and feel, promotions and advertising. Almost 50 percent of CMOs state that they are only responsible for driving sales rather than the overall experience.
There are exceptions, from small startups such as Deliveroo to large multinationals, such as American Express, which understand that customer experience is a core part of the proposition. Every innovation and increased efficiency is designed to add to the customer experience. But for many, the brand promise has become detached from the customer experience.
In the past, when consumers had less access to information and alternative solutions, a fragmented customer journey did not matter too much. That changed radically with the advent of the internet, mobile and social media.
Consumers now have a greater choice of brands at their fingertips than ever before. They skip across digital and real-world interfaces from one second to the next, expecting brands to track them and provide both consistent and personalized experiences. Without a moment’s thought, they switch from a TV commercial to a mobile app and then to social media to comment. They try out products in retail outlets where they use mobiles to compare prices and then buy the product online.
Consumers have also become more receptive to innovation and new brands, adopting services like Uber and Airbnb before the established industry players can react.
The result is that people have become less tolerant and more demanding. Poor experiences and failures to meet the brand promise can result in significant damage to a brand within minutes.
In the corporate boardroom, there is a growing realization that operational and IT efficiencies alone will not protect against disruptive competitors. The board is starting to look at customer experience as a key business asset. And we can see from the great success stories of our age that brands focusing on customer experience are those experiencing the strongest growth.
As customer experience becomes the focus of attention for consumers and the board, the need for central governance is greater than ever before. Whilst management consultants cite technology and processes as the solution, these are easily copied, and are not based on an understanding of the customer-brand relationship. Only brand management can provide the sustainable, differentiated vision that companies need over the long term.
CMOs are best suited to govern the customer experience since they understand the customer-brand relationship. But they will need optimized structures and support to deal with the challenges this will bring.
The CMO will need board-level support. For brand management to take ownership of the whole customer experience, the various departments that currently own parts of the customer journey will need to relinquish some of the control to the CMO.
The CMO will need closer cooperation with each department, guiding the detail of how each department works to support the unified customer experience. This requires a deeper understanding of the pressures and practicalities each department faces than CMOs are accustomed to. They will also need to balance pragmatism, diplomacy and vision to get different teams to change their processes and behaviors.
The CMO will also need a better understanding of the broader technical landscape for corporate governance, including internal IT roadmaps, emerging legislation around privacy, and how customers will react to that.
CMOs will need partners to help them navigate through the increasing complexities of customer expectations. So there is an excellent opportunity for the next generation of agencies that have brand and creativity at their core, and that provide the required depth of expertise, understanding and systems to thrive in the new world of digital and real-world experiences.
For those agencies that are able to adapt, this is an exciting new chapter in bringing brands to life. For their clients, customer experience driven by brand management will lead to a sustainable competitive advantage.