The voice of the consumer has never been so powerful. Social media and online reviewing have given customers and their experiences a phenomenal opinion platform, a value and status that cannot - and isn’t - being ignored.
As consumers we all put certain brands above others and in return expect them to deliver on their promises. That means consistent interaction at every touch point whether it’s on the shop floor, over the phone or online. But how can organisations ensure their employees - or brand representatives - are able to transfer the values of the brand to the customer clearly and confidently?
To understand what’s happening here, Brandworkz joined forces with CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) to conduct an in-depth study amongst 2,200 marketing leaders working within international organisations. Our brief was simple: to explore the challenges, opportunities and leading practices that connect brand promise and customer experience.
So what have we discovered?
Brand experience is promoted but not prioritized
81 per cent of our respondents believe customer experience is a better way to build brand performance than communications. However, the research also showed marketers are no more able, or empowered, to deliver leading brand experiences than leading marketing communications.
Aligning your staff behind your brand is crucial
Beyond the marketing department, within the organisation as a whole, there appears to be a fundamental disconnect between the internal brand culture and their customer-facing brand values. In fact, only 53 per cent of those we asked claimed an internal-external brand alignment in their workplace.
Around half of businesses are operating without a positive alignment with their brand and teams work in isolation to each another. If marketing is busy communicating high quality and sustainability, while the sales team is trying to reach the lowest possible price-point and HR is struggling to find and retain the right talent, it’s no wonder brand values - and customer experience - come unstuck.
Great customer experience is everyone’s responsibility
As customers increasingly dictate the agenda when it comes to their relationship with companies and products, the line between brand, marketing and customer experience has blurred. As these definitions have shifted so too has the question of responsibility.
The marketers we asked clearly support the assertion that delivering the brand promise consistently across the whole customer experience is a truly cross-functional undertaking - every department in the organisation needs to be accountable - not just marketing.
However, there’s a hitch. Over two thirds of marketers believe departments outside of marketing have limited understanding of their role in delivering the intended brand experience, let alone a clear directive for putting brand into practice. As troubling as this is, an organisation-wide stalemate isn’t that surprising when the problem can be traced right up to the top.
Many senior leaders don’t appreciate the power of brand
67 per cent of marketers feel that despite the perceived organisational commitment to brand, senior leaders don’t fully understand its strategic role, value, or potential. And when asked whether their leadership team, corporate communication and marketing departments speaks with one unified voice, less than half our respondents believed this to be true.
If a brand is poorly understood by its leaders, then right from the get go – what are the chances of empowering an entire workforce to deliver consistently flawless brand experiences on the front line? Values need to be infused from the top down to align, unite and motivate a workforce towards its common goal. The brand should be a binding force.
Represent the customer inside the company
Of the organisations that took part in the survey 68 per cent didn’t have an internal brand champion or ambassador program outside marketing. So how can the customer’s unique perspective of the brand, be better represented internally?
A new role emerging is that of the Customer Experience Executive. These are often people from a sales or marketing background with the power to exert significant influence over budgets and priorities. It is their responsibility to represent the customer in the boardroom and can be an invaluable link between the two.
Utilise technology to consolidate the brand
Our report suggests few organisations have moved beyond passive platforms such as intranet and email to engage and align employees with the brand. Yet business technology abounds and tools such as brand management software is available to promote the brand and educate otherwise disparate teams internally. Centralizing ideas, materials, guidelines and best practice encourages individuals to share and distribute content and best practice.
It’s about empowering your people as brand advocates. If you do, your brand can have the flexibility to grow with the business long term. And when you give people the tools they need to do their jobs faster and more effectively you draw people into the brand and help them live it day to day.
In the end, putting your brand promise, values and vision at the heart of your business is crucial. It’s from these that you educate and align your staff behind your brand to become your best brand ambassadors. Ultimately great brand experience is all about people. But getting it right consistently is more than just an internal communication challenge - it requires leadership, translation, training and effective tools. What our research with CIM has highlighted is how internal-external brand alignment not only holds the key to great customer experience and commercial gain, but protects the very spirit of the brand.
Anna Cotton is head of marketing at Brandworkz.