Why Your Customer Journey is Going Astray: Driving Brand Through Culture

Why Your Customer Journey Is Going Astray – Part 6 of a 6 Part Series

In the Age of Experience, customer journeys are a helpful tool for marketers to understand how customers interact with their brands across every possible touchpoint, culminating in a data- and insight-rich map. Yet many brands struggle to convert these insights into a unique experience that resonates with consumers. You have the tools in place to develop a differentiated, compelling, and branded customer journey, but it takes one more piece. Up next: Creating a Customer-Centric Culture


You don’t have a brand; you have a brand experience. Consumers today define a brand by the sum total of their interactions across all channels along their customer journey — not only advertising but product, social, in-store, service interactions, online — and the list grows longer every day. Right now, dozens of start-ups are dreaming up new ways for your customers to interact with your brand.

Customers experience brands in a multitude of ways, across channels and types of interactions that extend far beyond a company’s external marketing programs. While advertising once had the power to define a brand and its intended experience, today’s media proliferation means that truly integrated marketing communications are the cost of entry. The new brand experience now requires other aspects of a company’s behavior — culture, sales, operations, and products and services — to be synchronized along with its marketing communications.

This simple model illustrates how all of these operational disciplines must be informed – and driven – by a singular brand positioning or brand idea. In this way, all of a brand’s constituents (including customers, prospects, partners, influencers, etc.) will experience the brand in an intuitive and consistent manner, no matter their point of interaction along their journey.

Trader Joe’s Brand Positioning

For a closer look at the different parts of a brand experience, consider a brand we all know: Trader Joe’s.

  • Neighborhood value-based grocery store
  • Only has grocery stores: No online or bulk sales
  • Quality: No Trader Joe’s branded products have high-fructose corn syrup or GMOs
  • Value: Buys direct from suppliers to pass on savings to customer
  • Decentralized: Allows each store manager to run the store in a way that’s best for that store (also makes it feel more local)
  • “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast focuses on quality foods, company values, and culture
  • Invented own language: “Captains” (store managers), “Crew Members” (employees), etc.
  • Providing food samples is company’s largest marketing expense
  • Only other “advertising” is Fearless Flyer (newsletter/catalog) and an email newsletter; reinforces company’s focus on increasing value in other places
  • Quirky, eclectic, casual, fun

However, aligning these touchpoints is no small task. It requires identifying, mapping, and optimizing all possible interactions. It means learning how each constituency reacts to these current brand touchpoints and then removing, fixing, adding, or creating entirely new ones.

The single biggest reason more companies don’t adopt a brand-experience model is that it’s so damn hard. The customer journey must be mapped along a continuum that realistically reflects the dynamics of today’s consumer interactions with brands. Customer journey mapping is a tool that helps us understand and assign specific team initiatives. Even more difficult is adopting a brand-experience culture, which must be a source of inspiration and embedded into organizational divisions from top to bottom. It cannot be forced.

The Roles and Responsibilities of the CMO

Most organizations are one of two fundamental types today: traditional organizations that work in silos and more visionary organizations that understand the importance of delivering a consistent brand.

Either way, the chief marketing officer typically owns the brand in terms of internal and external marketing communications. However, today’s marketing chiefs need the support of their peers to create and implement a holistic brand experience. The chief marketing officer no longer “owns” the brand but rather is an ambassador who needs to gain buy-in and alignment across the entire C-Suite.

For this new, broader definition of the brand experience to be operationalized, it must be championed by the CEO and stewarded by the CMO. While many CEOs will pay lip service to the importance of “living the brand,” the key performance metrics they assign are generally linked to the core functional areas of their direct reports.

So how can a marketing, experience, or brand chief hold the organization accountable for the brand experience? One thing’s for sure, it can’t be dictated or forced, and he or she will need some real help to get it done. It is the CMO’s role to gain buy-in that the brand experience is a shared responsibility as well as to define and steward the processes to successful implementation throughout the organization.

This process, and the brand idea itself, must be born from and woven into the culture of the organization. A good brand will contain a healthy dose of the organization’s DNA, which makes aligning the culture and behaviors easier than trying to force a foreign brand through a company.

Implementation of the brand idea also requires cooperation and public support from the senior-most management in the organization. The implementation process must be top-down and inside-out: it starts inside, at the top, and flows down through the organization before it goes out into the marketplace.

Brand and Cultural Alignment – The Process Starts Inside

One of the areas that many companies tend to neglect is that of their own people. These folks are the lifeblood of the organization who touch customers every single day, either directly or indirectly.

When they understand the brand and culture alignment how it applies to their area of responsibility, and when they are given the freedom to bring it to life in their own way, magical things start to happen. They connect with customers in more meaningful ways, create products or services that are more aligned with the brand’s purpose, and deliver the service in a less mechanical manner.

The only way for the chief marketer to hold the organization accountable is to get senior-level buy-in and agreement that this is a process that requires consistent and persistent pressure. This cannot be done by email. We have seen too many proud chief executives hold their brands high above their heads and send out a long and inspiring email. Unfortunately, most people don’t read all of their emails…even those from the CEO. Instead, some actionable steps chief marketers can take include:

  • Ensuring that senior management has a thorough understanding of its company’s brand(s) and the materials to share with its own teams.
  • Making brand training part of the new-hire process…and not just for marketing staff, for everyone, top to bottom.
  • Participating in nonmarketing meetings as new products, programs, and services are developed to ensure brand and culture alignment.
  • Keeping tabs on competitors to ensure the brand is differentiated.
  • Running internal brand campaigns to align, inform, and inspire internal teams – they’re not just for external consumers!

Aligning a culture around a brand is a process as cultural change has several stages, including the change of attitudes, the embrace of new beliefs, and, ultimately, the adoption of new behaviors. Remember, humans generally resist change. We like our routines. So this process is not one that should be taken lightly.

Your culture and its manifestation across the customer journey is the one thing your competitors can’t steal. Yes, they can create a better ad campaign, spend more money, or launch a new website. But they can’t steal your soul.


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