Small can not only be beautiful, it can deliver big results and build powerful brands

Andrew S - 4 th July 2018

In his seminal book of the 1970s, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, EF Schumacher looked at a world where corporations were expanding and yet he observed that the real power lay in communities of people. How prophetic he was as we live in an era where no matter how big the company we, the consumer, hold the power over their brands.

The idea is that ‘big’ isn’t always the most engaging way forward and that the power of small is something we should reimagine in a slightly different context. We often hear from employees that they feel lost in huge organisations and yet they are given the responsibilities for delivering customer experiences that build brands and business. If we apply a little bit of the “Small is Beautiful” thinking we might go a long way towards doing something really special for those people, customers and the business. If we get the balance and focus of these three things right then it’s a pretty decent bet to suggest that we will be building a strong and sustainable brand in the process!

So often brand initiatives are big set piece events. The launch of a new website, a new campaign on social media, a new brand architecture, a new design, proposition or positioning. All too often they fall flat on their faces as the customers would prefer the brand to fix the basics for them and not the big things in the hope they will please the accountants.

The brand world is littered with examples where huge repositioning solutions have been held up as the nirvana answer to a brands problem only to see them disappear. In many industries such big set pieces are of a scale that budgets just can’t afford and so often they are done at half-cock.

The opportunity is to recognise the power of just getting the brand basics right, deliver an experience that solves customers problems easily and without friction and recognises the role of the people delivering the brand at the customer’s multiple interactions. After all, your people can be either brand builders or brand destroyers, depending on how well you inspire and engage them.

In his recent blog Shep Hykden (highly recommended) suggests that this is a total sum game and not an individual one. In said blog he quotes Brian Chaput from IBM who said “Your brand is defined by the sum of all your customer interactions”.  A few words that beautifully sum up the inspiration we had 20 years ago in setting up our way of working with clients to build irresistible customer experience that deliver business success. Thank you, Brian, for putting it all so succinctly!

To be able to deliver your brand at each and every interaction the business can’t just “sheep dip” the team in the brand, its vision and values, and then leave them to make it up as they go along. The answer is a relentless process that looks at the customer experience through the lens of the brand, powered by the insights that customers give the business delivered consistently iterating and improving it, delivering improved customer satisfaction and financial return. 

The customer interaction that Brian talks about are often, indeed in the majority of cases, happening out of sight from Senior Management, the Marketers and Brand teams. They are happening at the coal face of interaction with customers. Where teams are trying their very hardest to give the customers the best experience they can.

The issue for businesses is that not only is the brand not being consistently delivered, but the front of house teams are often having to work around processes that frankly just get in the way. Building in friction and cost for both the customer and employees alike. They are also fighting data that monitors what the business is prepared to deliver and not what the customer wants!

Sorting out this often invisible problem can deliver you a much greater return for your money than the huge fees you pay to your agencies to come up with another bland advertising campaign or invisible digital campaign. For us, it’s about thinking small to get big results, just in the same way Sir Dave Brailsford used the power of marginal gains when revolutionising British cycling.  The ultimate outcome of using this concept is the delivery of big results by removing friction, making it easier for your teams to deliver and your customers to consume. It’s what we call the brand treble - improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, improved business performance and a stronger more consistent brand, delivered at a cost that can be managed and afforded. Achieving this is every brands aspiration but to go back to Brian’s quote, “Your brand is defined by the sum of all your customer interactions”, you have to consider all the customer interactions and importantly the process that support the teams at each interaction and the data.

What we need here is an approach that balances customer, business and employee needs whilst understanding the cost to the business of any change. We also need a process that contains risk but can be tested in the real world using an agile and iterative methodology - building real world hypotheses that can drive pilot projects that deliver results quickly. These, if successful can be replicated across the business - driven by data but ALWAYS run through the lens of the brand.

Here is an approach that works for us and our clients across any sector and across B2B and B2C:

  1. Map customer experience with the customers. Don’t lock yourself in a room and make it up. Work with your various types of customers first and then apply data to build the brand and business case. We continuously find that a data first approach tends to remove the “feel” from the experience and can move it too quickly to the rational or “business” side of the brain.

  2. Quantify the impacts at each interaction with your customers using data from the customer and the business and apply the brand. Include your teams at this stage to proof read the journey from their experiences and the reality of the interactions.

  3. Map the actions that the brand needs to improve or change then prioritise these to get to your top four priorities. Too many priorities lead to these initiatives fading away under the pressure of the tyranny of the urgent. Save all the other amazing ideas as they are your continuous supply of customer experience improvements.

  4. Explore the top four priorities and build plans that identify where in the journey it will work, who will have responsibility for delivery, the timetable of that delivery and the metrics used to measure performance. These measures can often be in conflict with the current KPIs but as it is a pilot they must be allowed to take priority. A classic case is often the use of mystery shoppers would tend to measure what the business wants to do and not want the customer values!

  5. Launch the pilot and get going, building in regular and challenging update sessions with feedback up the line. Keeping the senior teams engaged is vital as it can really help get the flywheel turning and develop momentum into the project. Develop the solutions with the team and launch the pilot. The delivery team also has to be given space to make this their day job and not just more work to be done in an already stressed day.

  6. Set the review dates to look at the gains to the brand and business and if deserving of a roll out then get on with it, monitor and measure that, introduce the next priority and repeat the process.

What you will find you are delivering to the business will be marginal gains that can deliver big results. Proven through the pilots that they will add financial gain, better employee engagement and improve customer satisfaction – what’s there not to like about that?

In a project we supported a client on recently they calculated that one of their priority projects would deliver a 90p increase on an average expenditure of £18 - a marginal gain for sure. When rolled out across the business it would deliver somewhere in the region of £600k EBITDA. We are now testing this hypothesis in its pilot stage and looking to deliver the target as we also see increasing customer satisfaction.

Another client is seeing marginal gains in improved upsell opportunities of £2 in the pilot with little increase in opex costs. Another marginal gain but as they are a global operator the size of the prize is over £4m EBITDA.

This is a process built by the team who will deliver it, looking through the lens of the brand, delivering what is important to customers and all tested live at the coal face delivering improved brand and business results.

Think small to go big, you know it makes sense!

Andrew is the CEO and the other founding partner of Brand Vista. With over 30 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side, what gets him up every morning is a passion for helping clients grow through building genuinely differentiated brands that deliver a customer experience that becomes irresistible.
Find out more about Andrew S