Towards Customer-Focused Leadership

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In this article Andy Bird, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Brand Learning, argues that too much time is spent discussing whether marketers play their role as customer-focused business leaders well enough. Instead, he provides some specific guidance about how they can actually perform this role successfully in practice.

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Towards Customer-Focused Leadership

  1. 1. Towards Customer-Focused Leadership In this article Andy Bird, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Brand Learning, argues that too much time is spent discussing whether marketers play their role as customer-focused business leaders well enough. Instead, he provides some specific guidance about how they can actually perform this role successfully in practice. In the role of CMO I believe you have one central challenge. Ultimately the only way for Marketing as a function to succeed is to make sure the whole company works as a marketing organisation. You therefore have to shape the whole organisation so that it focuses on the consumer and you have to ensure that the commercial business model is integrated with the way you are building and developing your brands. i Phil Chapman, SVP Marketing The insight described here by Phil Chapman highlights a dilemma for Marketers. No matter how good a job they do in technical marketing terms, the results of their performance will ultimately be determined by the actions of their colleagues in the rest of the business. Generating insights, crafting brand positionings, developing innovation propositions, creating communication campaigns – all of these activities will be undermined if the organisation as a whole is not aligned in delivering product and service experiences that create the value customers are looking for in practice. In fact, one only has to look at the recent problems facing the banking sector to know that in the transparent new era of social media, customer expectations now extend even further to include the integrity and responsibility of corporate behaviour in more general terms. We live in a world where people have power over organisations and institutions like never before. And in a world like this, the only businesses that will thrive and flourish in the longer term are those that perform best in genuinely serving people’s interests and living up to their values and principles. Which is where Marketing comes in. The core role of the Marketing function is to help drive profitable, sustainable growth by building brands and innovative propositions that create better value for customers. Look at the fantastic work done recently at Nike with the Nike+ proposition, at McDonalds with its customer experience innovation and at Unilever in championing the cause of social and environmental sustainability. In each case, the Marketing teams identified exciting market opportunities and created insightful, innovative propositions in response. But success of this sort is not dependent solely on outstanding technical marketing. It also requires the whole company to be aligned behind these customer-focused opportunities. And so for Marketers to deliver the goods, they have to establish their capabilities and performance at two different levels: - Functional Marketing Excellence: carrying out the key technical aspects of Marketing’s role, from the generation of customer insight and the strategic activities of portfolio strategy, brand positioning and innovation, through to the execution of brand communication and customer experience delivery - Customer-Focused Leadership: providing a customer-focused agenda for the business as a whole and engaging the whole organisation cross-functionally in its delivery The Brand Learning Partners Ltd (part of The Brand Learning Group), Burgoine Quay, 8 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4ER UK Registered No: 4033876 / VAT No: 125496111
  2. 2. These two roles are mutually dependent – it is not possible to do one well without the other. But in our view, too much time is spent debating the extent to which Marketing plays its customer-focused leadership role well enough, and not enough on defining clearly what needs to be done to actually play this role in practice. The purpose of this article is to try and do just that. Driving Functional Marketing Performance Before Marketing can earn the right to lead the business, it has to ensure its own functional performance is at an excellent level. The building blocks for establishing the technical capabilities needed to enable this performance are summarised in Figure 1. The starting point is to ‘set the direction’ for capability building by undertaking an assessment of marketing capability needs and creating a strategy and plan to address them. Figure 1: Brand Learning Capability Development © Brand Learning 2013 The functional organisation must be built by establishing common ways of working and linking them to an effective organisation structure, with clear roles and responsibilities. Within this framework, the right profile of team must also be assembled and supported with the necessary skill development to enable people to deliver outstanding results in practice. It is critical, if we are to continue to deliver results and win in our categories, that we build up stronger specialist marketing capabilities across the organisation. ii Mark Baynes, Global Chief Marketing Officer Leading a Customer-Focused Business So far, so good – many leading companies have now realised the importance of this first step and focus strategically on strengthening their functional marketing capabilities and performance over time. But in the new commercial environment that we all operate in, there is also an increasingly important leadership dimension that Marketers now need to embrace more directly. One of the most important roles that other functions see Marketers playing in their businesses is bringing the outside in. As an example, Jon Harding, Head of Organisation Development at Barclaycard, explains, “If I have a look at the really good Marketing people I have met over the years, they have an outward focus into the world and a genuine curiosity in what is going on and why. They then bring this back into the organisation and respond to it, finding ways to make money from what they see and learn.” Marketers have a vital role to play in generating insight into how their businesses can achieve commercial success by creating value for customers in responsible and principled ways. But to do so, they also need to bring the whole organisation with them so that the promises Marketers then go on to make through brand communication are fulfilled in reality. The Brand Learning Partners Ltd (part of The Brand Learning Group), Burgoine Quay, 8 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4ER UK Registered No: 4033876 / VAT No: 125496111
  3. 3. Based on Brand Learning’s experience working with clients in recent years, we see three particular ways in which this can be achieved (see Figure 2). 1. Business & Brand Purpose The first and most important step for Figure 2: Brand Learning Capability Development any leader is to define what it is they © Brand Learning 2013 want to lead for. Based on the things they care about and believe in, they need to clarify the role they want to play and what success will look like in the future. As part of the creation of this personal purpose, a Marketing leader needs to make a conscious decision to define his or her leadership in terms of the whole company, rather than at just a functional level. Only then will they have the right mindset to establish themselves as a genuine leader of cross-functional customer focus in the business. It will be essential to involve the rest of the Marketing leadership team in this thinking as early as possible so that a shared purpose is established for the functional role of Marketing within the organisation. As an example, when Phil Chapman was CMO at T-Mobile, his team defined the following vision for the role of Marketing: “to anticipate and create everyday customer communication behaviours, driving profitable cross-functional delivery of T-Mobile experiences to make T-Mobile the UK’s most considered network”. In other companies, we have seen leadership teams define a clear view on the way they want to approach marketing by creating a form of manifesto to underpin their marketing strategy. Unilever’s recent reinvention of its marketing philosophy under the banner of ‘Crafting Brands For Life’ is a good example. It is also extremely important to establish Marketing’s role in clear commercial terms to win understanding and support from senior colleagues in other functions. In the words of Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMCO, “if Finance counts where the money’s going, Marketing counts where it’s going to come from”. Marketing must define in simple terms the role customers play in the business model and, as a consequence, the role that Marketing can play in driving profitable business growth. But perhaps most importantly, in the spirit of leading for the whole rather than just for their function, Marketers need to lead the creation of a relevant and inspiring customer-focused purpose for the whole business. They are able to do this by building brands based on ideals or a higher purpose to improve the lives of customers in some unique way. Torvald Veale, International Brands Development Director at Alliance Boots, explains how this has happened in his company: “Boots has re-energised its retail business using the idea ‘Feel Good’. It’s about people feeling good about themselves, looking good and having confidence. The idea has captured that internal sense of ‘that’s what we stand for’. In an organisation with so many thousands of people who are themselves really passionate about the business, giving them a clear sense of purpose has been transforming.” The Brand Learning Partners Ltd (part of The Brand Learning Group), Burgoine Quay, 8 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4ER UK Registered No: 4033876 / VAT No: 125496111
  4. 4. 2. Customer-Focused Operating Model For Marketing to go beyond ideas and truly influence the company’s activities in practice, an operating model must be created that has customer considerations at its heart. The overall commercial structure of any business should be designed to support as best as possible the delivery of a seamlessly integrated customer experience. In today’s complex digital environment, where the touchpoints with customers have fragmented dramatically, significant and frequent corporate restructuring has become commonplace. However, no matter how carefully the organisation is constructed, at least as important is the task of clarifying the way interactions should take place between the people working in different parts of the structure. Collaborative working relationships and clear decision-making roles and responsibilities must be established so that activities can be joined up across different departments and functions. These arrangements can then be translated back in to the specific job specifications and accountabilities of people within the Marketing function so that the profile of their work is connected explicitly with those in other parts of the business. One litmus test of the extent to which Marketing has created a customer-focused operating model is where brand strategy sits within the organisation’s activity. If it is only influencing the functional activities of Marketing, limited mainly to the guidance of brand communication and activation, then there is a long way to go. The brand provides the interface between the entire company and its customers. In any genuinely customer-focused business, brand strategy is therefore inextricably linked with the overall business strategy and its influence should extend across all functions. O2’s application of its ‘Fresh Thinking, New Possibilities’ brand strategy is a good example, with all company activities now needing to sit within one of four key platform areas within the strategy. As Sally Cowdry explained iii at this year’s Marketing Leaders Programme , “Fresh Thinking, New Possibilities now pervades all of our teams. We’ve introduced a new mindset across O2”. 3. Engagement and Activation Once the organisation of the company is set up to serve the customer, the third step is to make sure the people working within it are motivated and empowered to do so in practice. As explained earlier, an inspiring brand purpose is a powerful foundation for emotional engagement. Not only is this increasingly important in today’s media landscape to generate interest and demand from customers for the company’s brand proposition, it also helps drive greater engagement and commitment from the people within the business itself to actually deliver the benefits that are promised. As demonstrated by brands such as Red Bull (energise the world), IBM (build a smarter planet) and Pampers (care for the happy, healthy development of babies), creating brands that are based on ideals means that everyone has more to buy into – customers and employees alike. However, internal brand engagement programmes too often begin and end with employee inspiration. More focus is needed on the support systems needed to ensure that good intentions are embedded in lasting behaviour change. At Aviva, their goal to be their customers’ “most recommended insurer” is being ‘operationalised’ by defining the key drivers of customer satisfaction and advocacy and building them into a globally aligned measurement system. The Brand Learning Partners Ltd (part of The Brand Learning Group), Burgoine Quay, 8 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4ER UK Registered No: 4033876 / VAT No: 125496111
  5. 5. Marketers need to get better at driving internal ‘customer focus’ change programmes by integrating traditional brand engagement with more practical and operational initiatives of this type. Collaboration with other functions is key, particularly with HR who can play an essential role in helping to embed brand values and behaviours in people systems and reward mechanisms throughout the company. Transforming Marketing Capabilities and Performance To draw these arguments together, if Marketers are to transform the effectiveness of their organisations in creating customer value and driving growth, they need to build their capabilities at two key levels. On the one hand, they must give as much attention as ever to strengthening their own functional marketing capabilities. But they must also step up to play a stronger customer-focused leadership role for the company as a whole. They are uniquely placed to play this role owing to their responsibility for generating customer insight and building the company’s brands. And organisations need them to play it too if they are to cope with the complex demands of the market environment within which they now operate. There’s never been a more challenging time to be a marketer, but neither has there been a more exciting Figure 3: Brand Learning Capability Development time - and this leadership opportunity is one of the © Brand Learning 2013 main reasons why. i The Growth Drivers’ by Andy Bird & Mhairi McEwan, Wiley, 2012 The Growth Drivers’ by Andy Bird & Mhairi McEwan, Wiley, 2012 iii The Marketing Society’s Marketing Leadership Programme is run annually in association with Brand Learning ii Copyright © BRAND LEARNING 2013 For further information: Brand Learning Burgoine Quay 8 Lower Teddington Road Kingston Upon Thames Surrey KT1 4ER UK Please contact us on +44(0) 20 8614 8150 or team@brandlearning.com Brand The Brand Learning Partners Ltd (part of The Brand Learning Group), Burgoine Quay, 8 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT1 4ER UK Registered No: 4033876 / VAT No: 125496111

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