Brands as operating systems

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Brands as operating systemsIn this post, Nigel Hollis explores a fundamental misalignment. Brand owners tend to view customer experiences in isolation, by channel, whereas customers of course view and grade their experiences cumulatively.

Tom Asacker captures why customers think this way. A brand, he says, is “one, interdependent system of behavior”. The problem is that in too many organisations the “system” has many masters and each wants independent control of their domain. CMOs, who might be expected to have responsibility for the overall experience as of right, do not. That’s because large chunks of the interface with customers, and the factors that influence that interface, remain for the most part outside of their control. They do not fit neatly into the “normal” org chart definition of what constitutes marketing.

And when multi-lateral ownership makes contact with a unilateral expectation, just as at Penn Station, the scene is set for disappointment. As a result, there is significant potential for the system to jeopardise itself at any time, at any weak point – through bad training, bad coding, bad quality, bad service, bad news, in fact bad a-lot-of-things.

In seeking to remedy this, marketers have confused the questions. They have asked “What must I own?” and judged it as synonymous with “What must I run?”, then involved themselves in a struggle for control of data in order to have access to better insights. From an internal point of view that seems to make sense – but again, viewed from an external perspective, the misalignment is obvious. Customers don’t judge a brand on what it knows. (In fact, as Brian Solis has rightly pointed out, they often don’t know what marketers know about them.) Instead customers simply judge a brand on how it succeeds for them.

Therefore, what marketers really need to have ownership of is their customers’ sense of success. And when organisations stop thinking of channels as communication points and/or functions and start assessing their effectiveness as brand proof points, regardless of where they are and who runs them currently, they will start co-ordinating their brands in the same way as customers judge them: systemically.

In looking for ways to improve things, here’s the real question that everyone, not just marketers, should be focused on: “What do each and every one of our experiences prove about the whole of us?”

Photo “System is normal” taken by Scott (skpy), sourced from Flickr

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