Brett Wachter leads the Chicago Lab for IBM Interactive Experience
Global and diversified brands have a significant challenge in their ability to maintain authenticity and meaning across customer touchpoints. The complex nature of a brand’s relationship with its customers often drives chaos when a brand seeks to execute marketing communications, commerce, and relationship marketing within digital channels and through additional touch points with their enterprise. This is often due to the fractured nature of their organizational model and divisional responsibilities for executing their customer experience. All too often, in these cases, brand becomes a term for visual consistency in communications rather than the ethos and tenets by which an enterprise differentiates itself in the customer experience.
In a cohesive digital ecosystem, brand drives much of the relationship and interactions across media and throughout the sales funnel. As a customer interacts with a company through his or her touchpoints with the brand, the minimum ask is consistency in styling, nature, and tone of interactions. The consistency component needs to meet customer’s needs to anticipate and recognize the brand and feel comfortable that they are doing business with one entity. This is the table-stakes type of communication and consistency that is often difficult to maintain in a global enterprise with multiple business lines contributing content and creating aspects of the customer experience.
More importantly, specific moments of customer interaction that further solidify the brand’s promise must be conceptualized and enabled through the features and functionality in the experience. These moments are the point at which a brand’s strength goes beyond table-stakes. Recognizing across the enterprise that brand does not drive only visual styles and content creation, but also features functionality and wholly interactive aspects of the customer experience that are in alignment with the brand’s promise is key to fostering customer activated enterprise with a rich system of engagement.
To create engagement impact on this scale, strong organizational governance and customer centric frameworks are important for the brand to drive creation of key elements of the organization’s interactions with customers. As this must occur in any aspect of customer experience planning and execution, often brands seek external help from their digital agency of record relationships to ensure digital media such as online advertising, mobile and on-site experiences and Rich Internet Applications, all power and further the brand relationship. Today’s most advanced agencies, with strength in organizational design and operations, are now furthering that penetration into not only more traditional marketing channels, but also call center, fulfillment and other touchpoints that wield influence over the brand promise.
Some examples of brands realizing their full strength in their customer relationships above and beyond their visual styling include Zappos and Sallie Mae.
Zappos as a brand is based on being easy to deal with as a company . As an online retailer of products (shoes) that can be a challenge to ensure the right fit and feel, they must have an entire system of engagement in place that is driven by that brand promise. If a shoe doesn’t fit or is not right for the customer for any reason whatsoever, the customer must have the most simple and unimpeded experience in returns, exchanges, etc – regardless of channel they engage through. The entirety of this experience at the core of Zappos brand promise is often facilitated without a customer extensively being exposed to the visual styling of the brand. In fact, the real heavy lifting is in Zappos’ order management and fulfillment processes.
Another example case is Sallie Mae. In 2010, Sallie Mae suffered from both customer and regulatory scrutiny of its lending practices and shifted its customer engagement model to one of collaboration with student lenders, rather than relying on students without the wherewithal or desire to ensure they had the right portfolio of education financing to pursue their college education. One key aspect of this shift to collaboration was for Sallie Mae to create the “Education Investment Planner”. The Education Investment Planner is a relationship marketing model based on rich internet applications that help students and parents model their education financing expectations and needs. It served as the foundation of a longitudinal marketing program designed to build business relationships with students and parents around the concept of a plan for education financing. By providing a common understanding of the customer’s plan for education, the right products and services could be aligned to support the planned objectives and ensure that the customer’s education financing is done in as responsible a manner as possible. This effort from Sallie Mae was highlighted during Forrester’s customer experience forum as a leading means of engaging customers through experiences.
These two examples demonstrate that operations and functionality can and do drive an enterprise’s brand, above and beyond the look, feel, logos, and content styles. This principle that brand engagement is built on interactions is often lost on less mature brands. It is a fundamental aspect of a brand’s customer experience that brands must strive to get right and drive action across their large, distributed enterprises.