Shoring up organisational brands with personal brands, to the buying of an entire agency…
When we think of disruption brands immediately mentioned include Uber, Air BnB, Tesla, Amazon and the like. But it’s also happening much closer to home in the agency, consulting and professional services context. In recent times, there has been communication in the media everywhere about professional services firms globally and in Australia acquiring strategic, digital, creative and advertising agencies, and hiring high profile ad agency-world notables, to build out their kudos and standing. Despite the size of their organisational brands – they’ve realised they don’t have the client and marketing understanding and therefore credibility in this space – it’s a classic brand stretch issue.
The most recent announcement last week was KPMG launching a specialist customer, brand and marketing service called KPMG Acquire, based on the acquisition of Acuity Research and Insights.1
This follows hot on the heels of Deloitte’s appointment of Andy Bateman from innovation consultancy Everyone as the new lead on Deloitte’s innovation strategy practice, and the appointment of former Channel Ten Head of Brand, Matt McGrath as Deloitte’s Chief Marketing Officer. In 2016, Deloitte acquired The Explainers, a digital communication studio that provides business storytelling though animation, infographics and other media.
Deloitte’s recent appointments further the growing trend signalled by PWC’s hiring of Russel Howcroft, formally Executive General Manager for Channel 10 in Melbourne, as well as a panel regular on the ABC’s The Gruen Transfer, into the newly created role of Chief Creative Officer. Over at Accenture Interactive, the organisation has acquired the creative agency, The Monkeys, with their internal design studio, Maud. This acquisition now positions Accenture Interactive (within Accenture Digital) as a consultancy also providing a creative offering through the customer experience strategy and delivery.
These acquisitions and hires confirm the substantial shift in direction for professional services firms in Australia.
So what are some of the implications for this shift? When independent, creative agencies are acquired, does this result in a flattening of strategic and creative output as it is now crafted within a corporate, professional services offer, and does this sharpen the strategic outputs for their clients? In Mumbrella, Jason Rose has described the challenge as “…how to successfully integrate science with art, the analytical with the creative”.2
As best stated by Accenture themselves, “The acquisition bolsters the full suite of digital customer transformation services Accenture Interactive provides to chief marketing officers and chief digital officers, from creative to technology, spanning experience design, marketing, content and commerce.” 3
The higher view here is towards professional services firms developing an end to end holistic provision of the customer experience (CX) for their clients. At the intersection of research, brand, digital platforms and tools, one-to-one service offerings, big data, creative and content marketing, it is customer experience that is now seen to be the key to competitive advantage. No longer a linear result from brand, fed through technology and then fed through marketing communications, CX is now believed to be the unifying interface through which organisations must interact with their audiences to build differentiation and competitive advantage.
As Mark Green, CEO of The Monkeys has stated, “We look forward to offering clients an unrivalled and holistic customer experience offering.”4
So the question as brand practitioners we’re now asking is, what’s the relationship between brand and customer experience – and which leads?
We’ve just spoken to 12 of Australia’s most senior marketing leaders and asked them this question (as one of many), within a qualitative research study we’ve recently completed. This report will be released across a series of chapters very soon, but one of the things we’ve learnt is most people can’t differentiate how they feel about a brand from how they feel about the experiences they have with that brand. So in many situations, the customer experience becomes the brand differentiator. Frequently it can be part of — or all of — the reason a customer chooses to engage with a company or its products.
But leading out of the research, we’ve formed the firm view that a well-formed brand informs, leads and delivers the optimal customer experience, not the other way around. From our perspective, it’s therefore interesting that there is such a preoccupation around customer experience, yet comparatively little conversation or mention of brand…
As a result of the research undertaken, we believe, at its best, a strong brand enables better customer experiences through:
There is a simple, clearly articulated description of the business and its intent and why to choose it which is easy to understand and transfer to employees, partners and customers. It allows expectations to be more easily managed, both internally and externally. The customer knows what to expect of the brand, employees understand how to behave. In short, brand delivers a clear behavioural and decision-making guidance across the entire organisation.
This means that the customer experience is easier to deliver consistently across the organisation, because everyone knows what the desired customer experience is and how to consistently deliver against this. If truly understood it becomes embedded in the culture and behaviours become unconsciously on-brand. Brand is effectively the guidance system to ensure consistency for all customers, throughout the entire experience.
Customers have confidence in the brand, because their expectations are consistently met and they consistently re-purchase because of this confidence in their expectations being met. And of course, employees, through their understanding of the brand and the desired customer experience, are more confident about their ability to deliver.
What this research has reminded us is just how human brands are, and how customer experiences are created or destroyed by individual employees’ actions and inactions, very much inside and out. Especially in services businesses. When brand and business strategies come together via these aligned actions it creates differentiation, focus, and consistency — both inside and outside your business.
And this employee experience has a direct translation to customer experience. Organisations where brand has fully permeated the company culture are the ones who are leading customer experience and living the brand. Those people work harder for their customers because they believe what they’re doing makes a real difference.
In summary, regardless of whether you’re in professional services, or in any other industry, or whether you’re a novice or a recognised expert, any conversation around customer experience is incomplete without a conversation on the causation ingredient, namely the brand.
You can learn and read much more about our research findings in forthcoming blogs and across other branded assets coming your way soon.