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Good marketing and memorable advertising still play a part, but it’s the overall consumer experience that can make or break a brand. It’s no longer enough for a brand to say the right things. It now has to do the right things, too.
The factors that make up this experience, though, are pretty complex. They span every part of an organization, every interaction with every consumer – and, importantly, what consumers say to one another.
Understanding what works in the consumer experience (and, crucially, what needs changing) is a huge challenge.What information the business has internally is often stored in silos and so difficult to view as a whole, and there are far too many consumer-to-consumer conversations to be monitored without effective tools.
Someone needs to be completely connected to the consumer experience, while still able to effect changes.
Communications at the center
The only team able to handle this effectively is the Communications team. That gives the Chief Communications (or Marketing) Officer a crucial role: Brand Guardian.
No other team can ensure that all information about consumer experience – both external and internal – is gathered efficiently and analyzed. It’s the only way to work out what to keep doing, and what needs to change.
Why Communications? Consider how a customer interacts with any brand: The actual product or service comes from R&D or manufacturing; The purchase experience, both on- and off-line, falls to sales; When there’s a problem, people turn to Customer Service. Very rarely do all of these departments share with each other what they learn about their customers.
Customers also take notice of how the company behaves; they see how the company treats other customers; responds to a crisis; what its employees and suppliers think; and how it interacts with the communities where it operates. Every decision a company makes can have an impact on the consumer experience.
Crucially, customers talk, often via social media. So, even if a company provides a superb experience in some of these interactions, or ticks all of the boxes some of the time, that’s not enough; consumers will focus on where it falls short. The experience has to be consistent.
Managing the Task
To do the job effectively, from one central, over-arching point, takes three things: the right team, the right tools, and strong relationships with their peers in the C-suite.
To understand what customers are saying, the communications team needs people who are as good at listening as they are at telling a story. They also need to be able to use online tools to monitor and analyze every aspect of the customer experience. The right team will be a mix of experienced hands and those young enough to have grown up with social media. Don’t forget employee engagement, either – make everyone in the company an influencer and an advocate.
Technology is vital to this effort. Even the best team will fail without the correct listening tools and sophisticated analysis capability. These tools can also identify the influencers in these micro-communities – not just the mainstream media that covers the company.
All this insight, analytics and knowledge is useless if it isn’t acted upon. Communications can only do so much to repair reputation problems: Companies need to change what they do. They also need to respond rapidly; reputation suffers during long review cycles. So change needs to be a top priority for everyone. CCOs will have to develop good, trusting relationships with their peers in order to get them to listen and act.
Companies that recognize the importance of these factors and the central role of communications will be in the best position to preserve and protect their brand.