In this new era of branding - where customers read businesses like a book, responding to what they do and not just what they say - the branding agency sector finds itself stuck in somewhat of a rut.
We all know the importance of the holistic approach when communicating brands through the multitude of channels available to us. We also know how important powerful logos are to ensuring that our brands stand out when they are in front of customers - whatever channel that customer chooses to interact from.
The drive towards digital transformation is helping branding agencies develop new avenues for their strategies, design and communication skills. But never the less, they are still struggling to break out of the silos they find themselves in. And they have not managed to move themselves out of the marketing or digital arena into the boardroom.
I think there is a pretty simple answer to this conundrum they face…
Breaking silos and moving into the boardroom
In order to deliver brands in the new era and help businesses transform themselves from the ‘transmit mode’ to the ‘engage and deliver mode’ that customers expect, we need to look at the issue from a whole business perspective. We need to speak the language of all of the business, not just parts of it.
You can design and digitise away to your heart’s content, but the real proof of a customer orientated business is what happens when the customer touches each and every part of it...
You can be as beautiful as you can be, express your brand and its proposition and values superbly, and digitise the whole thing - but when it comes to the physical delivery of the experience, it can quickly fall over. And then all that time and money has been wasted.
The branding agencies may think they talk business – numbers and money – but they don’t talk operations and delivery. They avoid getting in amongst the cogs and wheels, and ignore the people of the business who deliver the brand (or destroy it) day in and day out. They don’t have the skills and capabilities to do so.
If I had a pound for every meeting I’ve had with board members who have shown me a beautiful brand guidelines document, communication plan or even a brand experience programme, and then asked me ‘what do we do to actually deliver this’, I would be on a beach somewhere nice.
This is not a situation I relish. In fact, I find it very frustrating; valuable resources have been spent developing something the business cannot use because it has been developed in isolation of the way in which the totality of the organisation works.
All the semiotic or neural research you like can’t change a process that prevents the people of the business delivering the brand promise.
The state of branding agencies...
...They haven’t done themselves any favours. They’re failing to see - or allow themselves to see - that they are part of the fluffy world, not the harder edged operational world that powers most businesses.
They should probably consider reviewing their own customer experience and how it delivers against the needs of their clients and what they need to do in order to deliver what business really needs.
CEOs are sick and tired of being told that they need to become more customer-centric (hate that word but it is the one everyone uses!). Instead, they want and need help in how to do it...
How to deliver this across their business. How to create new models that engage and inspire their whole team - from the board to the front of house - and drag their people out of the legacy silos they have inherited.
What branding agencies are failing to deliver is the holistic view of how the brand can help transform the business.
After all, I don’t think it’s too simplistic to consider a brand as a pure business tool for engaging customers and creating emotional and rational bonds through which the business promises and delivers. It is just as important as great logistics, slick processes, amazingly recruited and inspired people, effective procurement... you name it, they are all parts of building great businesses.
I know it’s not something that sounds particularly sexy, or will even appeal to the branding agencies, but it’s true: you can’t transform a business by getting the decorators in and papering over the cracks, no matter how amazing the design and texture of the wallpaper!
The truth of transforming businesses using the customer experience is amongst the muck and bullets of the business…
Friction free customer experiences
At a conference I hosted late last year, one of the speakers from a very large financial services business said that they had identified 80% of customer friction and complaints were generated by 20% of the people of the business...
...And none of those people felt that they were customer facing or influencing. No branding work could ever deliver what is needed to be done to transform those brand destroyers into brand builders.
They are spending all of their time looking at why they think like they do, instead of focusing on the processes they have to work with and the measurement tools that are used to create behaviours.
Dedicating time and effort to work on processes and measurement tools would not only help people deliver an improved, friction free experience, but also increase efficiency to give both time and money back to the business. This allows these valuable resources to be applied elsewhere to maintain the momentum of transformation.
In a recent exercise looking at the cogs and wheels of a client, our delivery teams helped the brand transform the support functions to such a degree that all the brand NPS scores increased, at the same time that they gave £2.3m and 92,000 people hours back to the the business. And employee engagement and satisfaction scores went through the roof.
These are the kind of stat sets that we should be looking at to ensure that brands thrive in the new era.
Opening up new avenues for transformation
With another client we found that the measures of performance were developed without being aligned to the brand and the promises it was making. It was the teams at the sharp end, directly in contact with the customers, who understood the brand and found ways of breaking company protocol to actually deliver the customer experience the company had promised!
This activity was disguised because the satisfaction scores were good, purely because the teams had found ways of working around the process. Once this was identified and the processes re-engineered to align to the brand, NPS went even further up and two things happened with the front of house teams...
Firstly, they were more engaged because they had been heard; secondly, they continued to help improve the new system through a number of agile approaches... and without a brand agency in sight!
So, matching the performance data of the operational teams to that of the brand opens up whole new avenues for the concept of transformation. And using the brand as the lens through which to drive this not only helps deliver its promise, but also helps people understand why they are doing what they do and the value of their contribution.
This thinking applies to everyone from digital designers, operations teams, board members and even branding agencies, because they too are an important part of a much bigger business building piece alongside all the other teams in procurement, logistic, HR etc.
In the new era of branding, taking a whole business perspective is far more likely to deliver improved business performance than trying to change it from within a silo that has many legacy issues it has built for itself.
Just ask an operations director for his views on this and be ready for the brutal truth!