I’m no great fan of webinars. The principle is fine, but most I’ve seen are either mind-numbingly boring, badly produced, scantily disguised advertising for whoever produces them, full of rubbish and miss-information or all of the above. However, that only means the good ones stand out. Last week I happened upon a rare gem that confirmed my belief that brand defines your customer experience.

I have to admit my expectations weren’t high, but The Path to Better Experiences, a webinar produced by Docusign really took me by surprise. For a start it had a panel of three great experts — Lambert Walsh, the inevitable Docusign representative, who did us all a big favour by resisting the temptation to ram Docusign down our throats and the even bigger favour of making some really useful contributions to the discussion. Shaun Smith from Smith and Co. was the British contingent and he introduced some very interesting thoughts and ideas. In fact Shaun was very much on the same page as John Abraham from Medalia and together these two built a really clear, consistent and powerful argument for Brand-Led Business. 

There can be no doubt in the minds of anyone who watched this webinar that “communities” are the key to productive customer experience. That will come as no news to those who have followed my articles and videos for the last few years. It’s my contention that these communities, which are known to us as brands, are the key to the success of any business and have direct influence on every decision or action every business takes. Hence my #BrandLedBusiness philosophy and the two programmes — #BrandDiscovery and #BrandLedBusinessTransformation — that have emerged from it.

Engaging employees

Early on in the discussion John explained the reason why businesses fail to deliver a consistent brand experience with the observation “Companies place emphasis on relationships with customers rather than employees”. Shaun underlined that thought with “The way employees see the brand influences how customers see it”.

In response to a comment about front-of-house and back-of-house employees Lambert elaborated with the statement “I can show every employee how what they do influences the customer experience:” And he is right. You should absolutely not only be able to do this, but actively pursue this aim.

If employees are going to fulfil their potential they have to believe they make a difference, yet I encounter many back-of-house people who can’t see it. It’s no wonder so many businesses struggle to achieve a consistent brand experience, fail to innovate and resist transformation. Basically, thay are failing to truly engage employees.

I’ve been promoting this thinking for decades. I used to show my clients how, by re-allocating 20% of their marketing communications investment from consumer-facing to internal marketing would deliver at least 50% improvement in business. That was before internal marketing was a thing. These days few business leaders need convincing of the principle and the conversation is more about how to build effective internal marketing campaigns.

Achieving consistency

Consistency is important. If you start out with the assumption that prospects are sceptical, you won’t go far wrong. They are often looking for a reason to disbelieve you and there’s nothing more likely to fuel their doubts than inconsistency. That means contradictions in both what you say in different places and between your words and actions. 

One thing digital technology has done is eliminate hiding places. Organisations can no longer say one thing and do something else. Nor can they get away with presenting themselves in one way to one person and a different way to another. The power of the web means anyone will very quickly spot any disparity. The outcome of that is a breakdown of trust and we choose the brands we do on the same basis that we choose our friends — because we believe we know and can trust them.

It’s also important to recognise that every organisation has six key stakeholder segments — investors, suppliers, distributors, partners, employees and customers and you need all of these on-side to stand a hope of success. Here again consistency is the key. Many businesses give a different message to each of these segments, but because they are not mutually exclusive and the same evidence is available in the public domain to all of them, it simply doesn’t work.

Providing focus with a “brand promise”

This is why I work so hard to establish my clients’ “Brand Promise”, the keystone to every brand and the basis upon which every brand community is built and managed. It was John who, in the webinar, pointed out that the brand promise enables employees to see how they contribute, but it applies equally to each of the other community segments. Successful businesses are focussed and your brand promise is the focus every business needs.

John also pointed out that small businesses have a distinct advantage in developing and leveraging their brand community because they are relatively small. For larger businesses with hundreds or thousands of employees, suppliers, partners and distributers, often scattered around the world, scaling the message is a challenge. That’s why it needs to be an organised campaign of brand creation and development such as that enshrined in my Brand-Led Business Transformation programme.

Start by defining your brand

However, even business that understand all of this still don’t seem able to turn their understanding into actions. One issue is that their failure to fully understand brands and how they work leads them to copy models adopted by other firms. The point of brands is their uniqueness. No two brands are the same. They are an amalgam of many different components and aspects of the business and the permutations are infinite. That’s why the brand models that I create for my clients adopt twelve co-ordinates to define the brand.

If you think you can get away without all of this you are mistaken. As Shaun pointed out “A customer cannot, not have an experience” and if you don’t start by defining it, it won’t be a good one.

My Brand Discovery programme is what it says on the tin. It helps an organisation “discover” their brand rather than create some fiction they want to be, or feel they should be. Of course, what it turns out to look like may not be what you need to succeed in today’s world, but over time, we can work to bring about the necessary changes and meanwhile make the most of what you have. Shaun commented that “It is important to create your own experience”, although he admitted there are elements that are table stakes. You can’t start by making the promise and seeking to deliver it later. You have to fix it first and then tell the world. If you get this the wrong way around you’ll seriously damage your chances of survival. Nothing is more damaging to a brand than an unfulfilled promise.

Honesty is the best policy

The uniqueness of your brand is the “differentiation” that everyone is also talking about these days It’s the uniqueness of your brand, it’s promise and therefore the experience that defines your community members. As I mentioned earlier, people choose to belong to your community because they feel they know and can trust you, but that is based on them feeling that you represent their values and beliefs better than alternative brands. 

Another topic that was inevitably mentioned in the webinar was that of authenticity. In part this goes back to the issue of “discovery” rather than “creation” of your brand, but it also raises the issue of management practice.

I’ve spoken at length about how traditional management practices are causing the demise of so many businesses in the digital paradigm. The most prominent of these is the “command-and-control” approach that is intrinsic to the old-style management so many senior executives were taught and have since lived by.

When traditional management practices get in the way

It may have worked in the past, but command-and-control is just not of this time. In fact, it is the antithesis of the facilitatory approach today’s most successful companies are run by.

Business is far too complicated these days and there are too many deeply specialised elements to any organisation for any one person to have sufficient grasp to be able to “instruct” employees what to do. Employees are experts in their field, or should be. They may represent a narrow discipline, but it involves stuff that no business leader is likely to understand and it’s probably best they don’t try.

Instead leaders should be devoting their time and effort to removing the barriers that prevent employees doing their job as they want to do it. Of course, this is dependent upon employees understanding what they are trying to achieve, which brings us back again to the brand promise.

Your brand promise provides the focus, your employees provide the skills and understanding and given the right environment a business leader can rely on employees to find the most efficient path to that objective. For many traditional business leaders, keeping their nose out of the day-to-day is their biggest challenge to survival in the digital paradigm.

In the webinar John said “The future depends on concentrating on employees”. He expressed the belief that the failure to engage employees is the biggest mistake most businesses make. Your brand is­ your employees and the five other community segments, but employees probably have the greatest direct impact on customer experience. Your customer experience is what they make it.

The question of authenticity also relates to how you get employees to deliver an experience that delights. Customers are delighted because their experience lives up to, or exceeds their expectation and that in turn is set by your brand promise. You’ll have heard the expression “under promise and over deliver” and it is true. Employ the right people (and there’s an entire article on this subject alone) and explain your brand promise to them properly and they will deliver it in their own way. Command and control leaders give instructions and even issue scripts to customer service people all of which destroys the authenticity of the brand. You can’t fool customers, they notice scripted interactions and believe, probably quite rightly, they are insincere. That, in turn, sows the seed of mistrust.

You’ll gather I liked this webinar and you’d be right. The speakers were knowledgeable and communicated their thoughts effectively. Most of all though, I guess I liked it because it underlined my own fundamental belief that brand defines your customer experience. 

Phil Darby
September 1, 2021

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