The way we see brands is different to how we viewed them in the past.
Peter Druker once said the role of a business is to create value for its customers. That branding was something separate and extrinsic to the business and lives in the mind of customers.
Business academics are now starting to realise it’s something more than that. It’s intrinsic and helps drive customer behaviour. The brand is actually a dynamic sequence of experiences, and the role of the business is to deliver these different experiences to the customers.
Disney is a great example of this. Former CEO, Michael Eisner once said; “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures”. Disney do this so well that words, like ‘magical’ will trigger people to think of Disney before any other brand.
And if I say “innovation”, you’ll probably think of Apple.
That’s because everything it does – from it’s design, customer service, product launches and retail experience fuel the customer experience. Its brand is not something that can simply be drawn up in an advert.
Strong branding is becoming more prevalent in today’s world of business; with commoditisation which is being driven by the internet, increasing consumer power and demands, ‘copy-cat’ products, and highly competitive pricing.
And because of this, it’s becoming increasingly important to every sector (insurance companies spring to mind), that customer experience is the new marketing.
So, what does this mean for organisations?
Well, if branding is the customer experience, then it needs to be part of a bigger thing. It requires deeper engagement with different departments – HR, IT, customer service etc, etc. and a wider understanding of the bigger picture.
This means ways of working is changing, ways of measuring brand health is changing and ways of measuring success is changing.
This is a metaphor for the role of management in an organisation – which is to align the business with the brand and customer behaviour across the organisation.
This hasn’t always worked out so easily in the past. So many projects fail and so many organisations fail because they’re too big to function. There’s simply too many people who are pulling in different directions. Each department has its own targets, own culture and own way of doing things. But this doesn’t make sense.
I’ve only ever worked in small agencies, but working with my clients, who are mostly large brands, has made me see just how difficult it is trying to work across silos to make anything happen.
In a small agency of course, you don’t have that problem. Everyone you need to help you is in that same room. Which is why, at small agencies, such a great deal of learning happens – because you’re able to share and collaborate with so many different people in a short space of time. And as a result, get things done quickly for the client which may have taken them months to years to achieve in house. I’d also argue that there’s more alignment which means a consistent customer experience – because you all have access to the same information.
So, we know collaboration is key. I’ve seen lots of different ways of attempting to tackle this problem; whether it’s using enterprise social networks and other technology, or the example from Google about making staff queue at lunchtimes to encourage collaboration. Some organisations have project steering groups which I think actually work quite well at times, but it still means having to round people up from across the organisation to get stuff done, which can be a big challenge. This has a massive effect on time and morale. But also innovation and customer experience can become damaged in the process.
Customer Hubs is a concept introduced by Martin Hill-Wilson. It tackles all of these problems with what is essentially a very simple solution – one I wish I’d thought of. In the most simplest form, it is a physical space where the best people from around the organisation can come together to learn together, work together and make decisions.
It builds on the idea of social command centers – where more real time knowledge about the customer can be accessed more than ever before.
The idea is that this group of people together can provide more value than the sum of its parts. If you get people from marketing, sales, IT, HR, brand, customer service etc. making decisions, it will behave like a catalyst for customer experience and innovation – and the brand.
Just like Newton’s Cradle, customer hubs is about alignment to get things moving. It’s about being able to move as fast as a smaller more agile organisation but having the advantage of staying big.
You can read more from Martin about customer hubs here.