Activation: Structuring brands for the speed of life

Daniel Binns and Stephan Gans

In the Age of You, customers are jumping from touchpoint to touchpoint expecting brands to be right behind them. Global brands are navigating more channels than ever before, each with a unique set of parameters, while dealing with the need to appear consistently across divergent geographies. This unprecedented level of fragmentation makes delivering a cohesive brand experience a core challenge.

The problem of fragmentation is threefold: fragmented customer touchpoints, fragmented organizations, and fragmentation amongst external communications partners. Siloed divisions, functions, and regions within the organization exacerbate that challenge, which is further amplified when outside agencies are hired without a central client-side liaison to direct their efforts.

Strength can only be built on a solid core, so the role of the brand as integrator is more crucial than ever. As more responsibilities fall on marketers to meet customers where they are (i.e., everywhere), they’ll be the ones called upon to deliver a meaningful brand experience that’s embedded at the core of an organization.

Coherence = Consistency + Relevance

Consistency is important in establishing a strong brand, but as touchpoints proliferate and markets diversify, coherence becomes a greater priority. Coherence is based on a core ethos and shared strategy: it allows the brand to flex based on the context in which someone is interacting with it while remaining true to a core set of principles. Today’s brands need to be adaptable to proliferating channels—one’s Twitter presence, for example, may not (and probably shouldn’t) be identical to its press persona, but they should be consistent in voice. The way a brand behaves in Nigeria may be different from how it behaves in the U.S., but it still needs to share a common essence.

Coherence is consistency evolved for the Age of You: it involves a higher level of thinking and more holistic brand vision that radiates from the center of the organization through departments, regional divisions, and communication partners to enhance the customer experience. A coherent brand is not just recognizable, its fully understood by all internal constituents and relevant to customers at every touchpoint.

Establishing the role of Chief Integration Officer

The importance of the brand to the business is not new news, but the biggest companies in the world suffer from a common problem: brand leaders often don’t have complete authority over the entirety of the customer experience. Marketers therefore become the glue connecting individual touchpoints and the coordinators of internal divisions that influence the customer experience (Sales, Customer Service, Product Development, etc.). Today’s CMOs are also increasingly stepping into the role of tech buyers, tasked with sourcing marketing technologies to help unify their organizations. Content management systems, social media management tools, email marketing software, CRM tools, and more all fall under marketers’ dominion. They’re the ones breaking down silos by working cross-functionally to leverage these technologies and deliver the data that can inform company-wide strategies and prove ROI on new tools.

Thus, the CMO’s role is increasingly becoming one of “Chief Integration Officer,” responsible for wrangling internal divisions and external agencies around a unified vision for the brand—whether it’s working upstream to ensure the product development pipeline reflects the ambitions of the brand, or downstream to align all communications across regions and product categories. Finding ways to ensure every element of the organization with an impact on the customer experience sings of the same sheet is a tough task—but someone with central authority and a holistic brand vision has got to do it. 

Setting priorities straight

The role of integration is to align teams around a cohesive strategy, which means defining common KPIs that will focus the organization around a set of brand-building priorities. A comprehensive analysis of the brand’s strength can help companies lay out these priorities. Awareness of the brand’s current performance allows leaders to identify dimensions that are most pressing to improve upon, based on the brand’s position relative to internal benchmarks or market competitors.

A lack of clearly stated priorities precludes performance: without shared goals to rally around, divisions are likely to set their own and then wheel off in divergent directions. Common priorities keep the entire organization in sync so it can move forward at the speed of life.

Wrangling outside resources

Efficiencies within the organization are reflected in the brand’s ability to meet customers where they are. One of the biggest roadblocks to a cohesive experience, beyond internal fragmentation, is the lack of alignment amongst outside agencies. Organizations need someone making sure that each agency partner dealing with different channels—Digital, PR, Comms, Experiential, etc.—accurately represents the brand and is rallied around common priorities.

This is where the role of the Integration Officer once again wields power, helping to bring together these outside teams. There was a time when a single agency could be a one-stop shop for all communication needs, but as channels fragmented and proliferated, specialization became king. Managing multiple agency partners requires a strong set of brand principles, clear roles and responsibilities, and a strong client-side management team. Too often, strategy and ideas are re-created in communications silos, wasting valuable time and resources and diminishing brand coherence. Complex global clients are once again looking for a single entity to address these issues and demanding that marketing services holding companies seamlessly deliver integrated solutions across their myriad agencies. 

Integrating at the Speed of Life

In the Age of You, brands must move quickly to respond to consumers in real time—and a brand divided is a brand most likely to falter. Clarity on what your brand stands for, how it behaves, and how it communicates the attitudes it displays must be engrained within the organization and passed on to the partners that help disseminate it. There is no time for complex approval processes. In our dynamic social world, things move too fast and responses are required instantaneously. If your teams are not equipped to respond each time in a way that stays true to the brand’s core, a coherent customer experience will always elude you. The question is, are you growing a backbone or buying a harness in order to achieve this? Ideally both. A strong organizational brand structure is key to moving fast on goals and keeping up with customer expectations. But as companies grow and cast their nets wider, aligning outside resources becomes crucial to keeping the brand aloft.

More than establishing governance, integration builds agile organizations to support brands that operate at the accelerating speed of peoples’ lives. Though fragmentation is rampant, brands in the Age of You have more power than ever to truly and authentically relate to consumers. Self-knowledge and a clear roadmap to a strong brand lays the foundation for long-lasting and mutually rewarding relationships.

Managing Director of New York and Toronto
Chief Strategy Officer, North America