July 4, 2017
by Carla Johnson
There’s an unequivocal connection between brand stories and customer experiences. Companies that don’t have a solid narrative in place are the ones guilty of creating ad hoc, schizophrenic experiences. The kinds that leave people hanging, wanting to take the next step, but there’s no path to follow.
We’ve seen great companies make the transition from traditional marketing into content and bring it to life through stellar storytelling. That’s still comfortably within the realm of expectations for marketing’s responsibilities. But it’s the lazy marketer who stops there.
Marketers have to take our deep understanding of customers and use it to create the experiences that ultimately create revenue. To do this, we have to embrace the entire customer experience. From awareness to customer retention, from sales to service – the experience that customers have with our brand is a prime consideration in every marketing channel. Reviews of a company’s performance trump marketing and sales claims. It’s the customer experience that creates brand value, not reach and awareness.
Just because B2B executives are starting to realize that customer experience is the top differentiator, doesn’t mean they know what to do. A report from Accenture highlights the declining confidence that executives have in their ability to deliver a differentiated customer experience.
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When it comes down to it, orchestrating the customer experience isn’t easy, but it’s certainly doable. Companies that move beyond content marketing and storytelling do so by starting with the following process:
1. Work from the outside in
Most brands start from the inside and work their way out. What’s the branding platform for our company and then how do I get that message out to as many people as possible. This is backwards. Before you can create a great experience, you have to put the customer first. That means you have to work from the outside in – start with what matters most to your customers and reverse engineer that into the product or service you deliver. Instead of forcing what you sell onto your audience, start with what matters most to your customers – efficiency, minimized risk, business growth, etc. – and work backward into how to solve these problems. Along the way, you may find brilliant ways to tweak what you sell and differentiate your company from everyone else in the marketplace.
2. Second that emotion
Start with the experience you want to create — put yourself in the customer’s shoes — and what emotion are you trying to counter? If they’re feeling angst and fear, then your experience must deliver confidence and peace of mind. Keep empathy for your customers front and center as you work backwards.
3. Collaborate across departments
Marketing may be driving the customer experience, but the best insights and perspectives come from across the organization. You wouldn’t develop and launch a product without involvement from research and development, finance, IT and so forth. Don’t do it with an experience, either.
4. Let function trump form
Look at the purpose of the path. Let go of the temptation to let your product or service drive the story, and instead examine and evaluate the needs of the customer first. This should dictate the content and not the other way around.
5. Be agile
Smart marketing in this day and age requires a release-and-adjust approach. Customers and markets change, and not everything you try will resonate. Those who are willing to pivot will win the day.
6. Listen up
To truly dial in your approach, get feedback. Your sales team may be your best eyes and ears on the ground, and of course, the voice of the customer is the one that matters most. Social media can be a great tool here, as can face-to-face meetings during which listening, not talking or defending, is front and center.
7. Measure what matters
Looking at metrics, especially over an extended period of time, will be detrimental to your success with customer experience. Data has no friends and no bias. Meaningful experiences will reveal themselves as such, and you will learn a lot about trends, release cycles, hotspots and what to do next.
From evolution to revolution
Modern marketing is all about creating contextually relevant customer experiences. Customers move at different speeds and across different devices. Buyers are smarter and better informed. They have greater expectations for tailored solutions and how their suppliers serve them.
Companies that get customer experience right rally advocates and evangelists to their brand. They convert loyal customers and let the voice of the customer influence everything from how the company sells to what it sells. Learning how to evolve from traditional marketing to content marketing to brand storytelling to customer experience has never been more critical to the livelihood of a brand.