As originally featured in “Forbes” on October 10, 2018.
In college, I remember taking two separate courses: micro and macroeconomics. While neither of them sparked my desire to become a mathematician, they did demonstrate the collegiate version of interdependence between the micro (how much it would cost to buy a coveted pair of jeans) and the macro (why I likely couldn’t afford to go backpacking in certain countries wearing said jeans). It also reinforced in me, an inspiring marketer, that in order to affect changes already happening, you need to focus on the small as well as the big picture.
A recent study by Korn Ferry reported that the average tenure of CMOs is the lowest of any C-suite officer. This may be due just as much to the challenges of the position as it is to any personal or organizational failure. As a two-time CMO, I know that while my counterparts and I always want to participate in building strategy and taking a significant role in the direction of our companies, we also care — and yes, often obsess — about the micro: those smaller experiences and interactions that create a cumulative essence and comprise a brand. We are the ones who worry about that single negative tweet with the potential to go viral, as well as the company’s positioning on another continent.
The tough thing is that good marketing needs to focus on both the small elements as well as the large, on the individual customer experience and the decision to head into new markets. If done well, the chief marketing job is a challenging one. The good marketer needs to maintain vision through a microscope as well as a Hubble telescope.
One of those elements of brand that often falls to the bottom of the priorities list is the treatment of employees and recruits. I have been fortunate to have worked with organizations that embrace the importance of the human aspect of their brands. Still, with all of the focus we as marketers have on customers and clients, it’s easy for this to be pushed to the side in order of importance.
For example, both professional services and consumer product organizations may visit college campuses to interview candidates. The company will put their best face forward to recruit the best candidates, often creating cool social marketing and on-campus special events. This is in many ways the first step toward developing new customers. While a student may have visited the company’s website or read reports from publishers like Vault, this may be the first time an MBA student meets a real partner from ABC Accounting.
For good or bad, this primary experience creates an impression that will last for years. It is potentially the start of the customer lifecycle. While the student may go on to be hired and involved in the full brand experience of working at ABC Accounting, they also may not be hired for the job. How that interview process is handled and how the rejection is managed can have an enormous imprint on the individual’s opinion of the company. Embryonic accounting students can grow up to become fully grown CFOs. Big CFOs remember how they were treated (or traumatized) by ABC Accounting during their interview process for an entry-level position.
A brand is not simply created by the logo on a package, nor by a publicity event. If this were the case, our jobs would be much easier. It is made up of who walks out of the factory or firm each day. It’s the way those people are treated by their bosses, how they are compensated and the esprit de corps that exists, if at all, at the company. It’s the way they were recruited and the way they are taught to treat their vendors. It’s the way the customer feels when they open the product’s packaging or how a phone call is handled when a complaint line is dialed. The brand is bigger than the marketer’s selection of a beautiful package design or a business plan; a brand is the whole company.
Leonardo Inghilleri, an expert in the customer service area for hospitality and professional services, says employees are a big part of the equation. “Invest in your people. Identify the right attributes and talents and desired behavior for those jobs and hire accordingly,” Inghilleri said in an interview with TELUS International. “Train them well, equip them well, and then give them space to use their mind. Give them a mission to please the customer, rather than make a transaction.”
Marketing needs to be thought of both in terms of the big stuff, but also the small stuff, those smaller interactions and the relationships that have a cumulative impact and mean so much. It is comprised of those people who should be singing the company’s praises: the employees. That’s what creates a brand.