The 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Annual Global CEO Survey showed that 63 percent of chief executives believed that rallying their organizations around the customer was a top three investment priority. According to PWC, these corporate leaders felt that “excellence in marketing, sales, service and operations can deliver differentiated, brand-defining customer experience that grows the bottom line.”
At the same time, however, studies show that most executives still feel the strength of their brand relies on marketing – rather than on all parts of the business that touch the customer. This belief can create a situation where marketing is making a brand promise that is not being fully delivered by the rest of the organization. Just think of any company that publicly boasts about having “the best customer service in the industry” while sending paying customers through a voicemail labyrinth for support.
This is why any company that is serious about building its brand needs to address the full spectrum of experiences the customer has with it, not just the award-winning ad campaign. The authors of Building The Brand-Driven Business summarize the challenge this way: “Every time someone internally or externally touches your brand, there is an opportunity to reinforce the brand’s promise or denigrate it.”
Brand building is the responsibility of the entire organization
Each business function of a company owns a set of “touchpoints” where the customer comes into contact with the brand. It is their job to know what those touchpoints are and make the most of each customer interaction.
From the customer’s perspective, the process of connecting to a brand might start with the advertising, digital campaigns and website touchpoints that are handled by marketing. But as prospective customers move through the decision-making process, they encounter touchpoints that are owned by many other organizations within the company. All of those interactions combine to create their brand experience.
For example, in a business-to-business purchase, a prospect might express interest through a form on the website then get contacted by a sales representative to discuss their needs and make the purchase. He might work out the contract details, pricing and terms with the finance organization. And then get assigned to a customer service team that will provide support during the usage of the product or service.
Every interaction that prospect has with the company contributes to their understanding, trust and loyalty to the brand – or detracts from it. So it is important for the company to consider how all the business functions impact that experience and make sure they are all aligned to the overall brand strategy.
Here is a quick look at how a few business functions (some obvious, some not-so-obvious) play a role. We’ll start with the obvious:
Marketing is the presumed steward of the brand in most organizations – and for good reason. It has the unique ability to create a connection between the company and the customer before the two even do business together.
The creative capabilities of the marketing team help it identify customer needs, deliver the products and services to fill them, and help people emotionally connect to the underlying brand promise. This group also owns an ever-growing number of touchpoints that help build brand awareness, generate demand, and facilitate the purchasing process. The role of marketing is undeniable, but it would be a mistake to stop there.
A best practices study by Prophet showed companies rank their sales force as their most effective brand building tool. In a complex B2B sale involving multiple decision makers, a salesperson’s contact with a prospect can last years and involve hundreds of touches. In a multi-brand retail environment, the ability of the sales person to represent a brand has a huge influence over the customer’s decision at the point-of-sale.
In both cases, the sales organization is responsible for a large number of touchpoints including phone calls, presentations, customer contact centers, branded and third-party facilities, online systems, and distribution partners. Delivering a great brand experience through all of these touchpoints improves win rates, average sales prices, revenue, and every other conceivable sales metric.
Once a sale is made, the customer service organization is there to make sure the customer has a good experience using the product or service. If the level of support is consistent with the brand promise, customers will build confidence, trust and loyalty that will lead to repeat business.
The post-purchase touchpoints owned by customer service can involve answering questions, resolving issues, getting feedback, handling returns or exchanges, providing online systems, and creating loyalty programs. Whether these are handled personally by a company representative or by a call center in India, the brand needs to be present in every interaction or the company will hear about it through social media.
Now on to the not-so-obvious…
Employees in the IT organization may never personally interact with customers, but the work they do plays a critical role in the brand experience. The technology infrastructure enables every organization in the company to deliver the brand through the website, marketing and sales automation, CRM, billing, field service management and other systems. And, in many cases, IT is delivering systems that customers interact with directly to manage accounts, place orders, request service, and communicate with the company.
Each one of these systems contributes to the brand experience that customers have. So it is important for the IT organization to understand the brand and ensure its strategy and projects are designed to deliver on the promise, either directly or in partnership with another business function.
Every brand is delivered by people, which means the HR organization is responsible for ensuring the behavior of those people supports the brand promise. It starts with being knowledgeable about the company brand and defining what employee behaviors are needed to support it.
The organization then must align its recruiting, hiring, training, performance management, compensation and other practices to the brand strategy to promote those brand behaviors internally. Finally, HR needs to take the lead creating a culture that values and promotes the brand so it becomes part of the DNA of the company.
Finally, the finance organization. Building a brand is a process of allocating company resources in the right places to support the brand strategy. The finance organization plays both a leadership and operational role in making this happen.
The leadership role requires the CFO to help the company prioritize spending where it will be the most effective in delivering the brand and business strategies. Operationally, the finance organization must also create its own strategies for managing touchpoints in areas such as billing, collections, contracts and financing where they may be handling sensitive issues with the customer.
There are other business functions, of course, that contribute to the brand experience (e.g. legal). Some are out in front of the customer and others play a supportive role. But they all play a role.