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Get Your Brand Promise and Customer Experience in Alignment

By Ginger Conlon | 10.19.18

Marketer craft and communicate the brand promise, but lack control over many areas of the customer experience related to it. The brand promise may, for instance, set customers’ expectations for service levels, product quality, even clarity with contracts and invoicing—areas control by other teams. 


That doesn’t mean marketers can’t influence and improve the customer experience (CX) in those areas so they better align with the brand promise. Mike Varner, VP of brand strategy for MedStar Health, knows firsthand that with the right approach brand and CX can align beautifully. At EnergizeGrowth’s CMOs Leading Innovation Conference 2018 (CLIC ’18),Varner shared his five success secrets for aligning brand and CX.


Think like a bootstrapper

You don’t have to have an abundance of resources to get started. Varner pointed out that at Medstar he started with resources from other teams and roles on projects that would lead to a shared win. Another approach was simply to be creative with his budget. He wanted to show the connection between reimbursements and CX and the need for consistency. “We had been making decisions based on each entity’s leadership, their own gut. Nothing was looking alike. I needed a quick win,” he said. “I found money through having an open position and used about $1,500 to fund a study that showed what we needed to do to create a consistent environment.”


Align stakeholders, faster

When selecting a CX project, choosing the right one helps with alignment. “We had a lot of activity, but not an exact plan,” Varner said. “The trick was to find a business partner who wanted to home in on a specific plan and do it—and who has a lot of credibility, because if it goes well that person will be your biggest cheerleader in the organization, which could help you get more budget the following year.”


Varner also recommends tracking, measuring, and managing stakeholder engagement. “In an organization with more than 50 senior managers and 30,000 associates, the number of stakeholders for us could be overwhelming,” he said, “It’s about 50 people.” So, he uses a 4x4 to guide his stakeholder engagement efforts.

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Design the right success metrics and KPIs

There’s an abundance of ways to measure your brand/CX alignment efforts. “You need to find the one most important measure,” said Varner, who spent years in the hospitality industry. “In hospitality, we used likelihood to recommend. For us, it was the metric most closely correlated to revenue. Of course, there were other metrics. We used regression to see what closely correlated to likelihood to recommend. But, by being focused on likelihood to recommend, it rallied everyone around a common goal.”


Build bridges between brand and CX

“This, to me, has been the hardest for people to grasp,” Varner said. “You can do lots of ‘good’ things in terms of CX, but how do you something that’s ‘brand good’—that’s unique to the brand?” For EcoLodge, he said, a “brand good” experience was simplifying the purchase agreement for franchisees. EcoLodge hotels are often built from previous hotels with limited life left. Franchisees interested in an EcoLodge want simplicity. “’Brand good’ for that brand meant taking an agreement that was 20 pages and making it one page to make it easy to understand and become a franchisee,” Varner said. “‘Brand good’ also was simplifying what was a convoluted billing statement to improve the ongoing franchisee experience.”


Address external customer and competitive dynamics on the fly

The environment changes; you can die or look to adapt, Varner asserted. “You have to get used to constant change,” he said. “What’s important is how you address it. You have to be fanatical about being out in the market and looking at your competition.” Varner is a big believer in shopping your competition. “It sounds basic, but not enough people do it,” he added. “How much do you look at what people say about your competition? About what they’re doing well?”


Don’t choose a big, aggressive project out of the gate

When you’re choosing projects, think about what’s most important to customers and to the business. Then select one project, focus on that, and measure it. Don’t make significant other changes when you’re trying to measure that one initiative. “You need some level of stability when trying and measuring one new change,” Varner said, adding that “not measuring is setting yourself up for failure. Build an infrastructure for insights.”


His final advice: Don’t wait. “Tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,’” Varner said. “The same applies to CX. There’s no time like the present to get started.” 

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.