From brand strategy to customer experience:the challenge for marketing leaders.

 I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a meeting of the London region of the CIM, sharing the platform with Anthony Thomson, chairman of Metro Bank.

My theme for the evening was marketing’s readiness to lead change and develop powerful customer experiences. After 8 years as CMO of Hilton International, striving to transform that great brand’s customer experience on a global basis, I had a few ideas I was keen to share.

The challenge facing just about any business today is leading and managing change in order to improve competitive performance.  Managing change is a complex and costly field.  It’s fraught with pitfalls and success generally requires specialist knowledge and experience.

Yet despite this, how many businesses hire specialist managers or external support with a proven track record of delivering successful change programmes? In my experience very few, which is perhaps why so many change initiatives falter. The pattern of “launch it – neglect it – re-launch it” is a familiar one yet CEOs, COOs and CMOs continue to make the same mistakes.

When it comes to brand and customer experience, marketing should surely be the catalyst for major internal change…change that transforms what customers receive…change powerful enough to influence customer buying decisions. Marketing should be the glue that holds everything together, harnessing the energy and talent of all key functions to achieve the desired outcome.

The question is, are marketing departments and CMOs, sufficiently equipped and influential to lead the change that’s required….to secure the necessary investment…to persuade and unify senior colleagues and inspire people behind a shared vision?

A recent CIM survey suggests that in far too many cases the answer is NO, a conclusion reinforced by continuing debate about the lack of robust financial, operational and broad-based commercial skills that are essential for anyone wishing to influence business strategy and shape customer experience.

In my experience of leading and managing change across organisations like Hilton, Stakis Group and ScotRail and with clients at ABCG, the most common barriers to successful change continue to be:

  • Failing to identify all costs and plan adequate investment  2-3 years ahead
  • Failing  to anticipate & plan for the operational complexity of change and resources required
  • Failure to deliver sustained programmes of engagement and communicate over time
  • Failure to identify & remove the infrastructure that stifles change & rewards ‘old’ behaviour.

These prickly issues are at the heart of managing change and shaping competitive strategy.  In my view, these are issues with which CMOs and aspiring marketing leaders must be conversant if we’re to play the leadership role our chosen discipline demands.  So may I humbly suggest that it’s time to dig into the nuts & bolts of what really makes out businesses run, to build our experience and with it our credibility and demand to be heard at the most senior levels.  We owe it to our customers.

A copy of this blog recently appeared on the CIM London website

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