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Putting Brand at the Center of Customer Experience Transformation
By Kevin Perlmutter
It’s no surprise that Customer Experience has become critically important for brands. The evidence is mounting and has become almost cliché at this point. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, put it in the most basic terms: “Your brand is formed primarily not by what your company says about itself, but by what the company does.” With a net promoter score at 70 percent—among the highest of all companies according to Satmetrics, and an impressive 34 percent year-or-year brand value increase in the Interbrand Best Global Brands ranking, he has the ear of many industries.
The trouble is that so many companies are struggling to tackle this issue. According to Temkin Group Research (Q4 2010), 84 percent of customer experience professionals stated that customer experience is more important in 2011 than in 2010. However, 49 percent of respondents from the same group stated that their companies don’t have the needed skills and resources to achieve their goals, and 44 percent admitted that their companies don’t understand the relationship between customer experience and business results.
Simply put, many companies are not yet set up to deliver the best possible customer experience. Marketing and operations are not well connected, customer understanding is weak, and overall, no one person or department is held accountable for bringing it all together on behalf of the customer.
However, today’s great brands, including many of those that rose in brand value on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2011 ranking, have achieved success by overcoming organizational challenges and improving their customers’ experience. They have excelled in areas of brand strength that we believe are critical to developing experiences that create demand and desire for their offering.
Brand strategy drives clarity and commitment
With such a huge task at hand, there needs to be a starting point. We believe that brand strategy can anchor a company with a clear focus. Along with true commitment, it can be used to prioritize brand-strengthening activities.
CEOs often under leverage brand strategy. Historically, it has been seen as the purview of the marketing department. It defined brand identity standards, marketing programs, and communications. Today, the strongest brands and most effective customer experience leaders use brand strategy to clearly set the course for their entire company. It defines the vision for the experience that companies want to deliver to customers, and it is used to centrally align the factors necessary for success. A brand strategy that sits at the intersection of forward-looking company capabilities and emerging consumer demand is the key that unlocks a CEO's growth agenda.
Strong brands like IBM have an aligned company mission and brand meaning that is reinforced throughout all they say and do. And look closely at brands known for a successful, well-defined customer experience—Virgin Airlines, W Hotels, US Airways, BMW Mini, Whole Foods—and you’ll find a well-activated brand strategy as the foundation.
Key to this is activating employees to deliver the right experience. Caterpillar has seen success by bringing clarity to employees with ongoing programs that keep its workforce engaged and committed to delivering brand strategy to customers.
Customer understanding fuels relevance
If brand strategy is the catalyst for change, then customer understanding is the roadmap. According to the IBM CEO study, CEOs are making “getting connected” to customers their highest priority in order to better predict and provide customers with what they really want. Eighty percent of all CEOs surveyed picked getting closer to the customer as the most important dimension to realize their strategy in the next five years. What’s more, the study cited CEO frustration at not being able to transform available data into feasible action plans, let alone to detect emerging opportunities. The study also suggested that CEOs had a greater need to eliminate their blind spots.
Some companies have capitalized on having an intimate understanding of customers’ needs and the ability to anticipate desires. They have then used these insights to improve their customer connectedness with appealing products and services and involving marketing programs that engender loyalty.
Amazon, a top riser in the Best Global Brands ranking, is constantly innovating its offering and serving customers in new ways to stay relevant. In fact, it even goes so far as to experiment with customer offerings that some may fear as cannibalistic, like allowing other retailers to sell on Amazon.com. Its Kindle, which stimulates digital book sales that now exceed traditional book sales, and Amazon Prime, which offers free shipping and other benefits for members, have also suffered from this criticism. And yet, Amazon.com has learned that the more relevant it is, the bigger its loyal following becomes.
John Deere, a new entrant to the Best Global Brands ranking, has strengthened its relevance to customers by going beyond selling farm equipment to engaging customers with expertise about getting the most out of their land. They fuel this bond with a shared commitment to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.
Attraction comes from differentiation and authenticity
Some of today’s best brands are successful because they are authentic. Pure and simple, they stay true to who they are, and they are well differentiated as a result.
BMW is a classic example, as it consistently ensures that certain core assets of the brand, from the performance of the product to its design aesthetic, are reinforced. As a result, BMW has an intensely loyal following of drivers who understand and appreciate the nuances of the brand’s unique qualities.
Burberry, one of this year’s top risers in brand value, has made the authenticity of its brand a primary focus. Burberry believes that its innovative brand content is the most powerful means it has to connect with customers, and it has developed a new website that allows customers to connect with all aspects of the brand—from heritage, to music and video, to the full product offer. The content is created centrally and distributed globally, ensuring a consistent customer experience whenever, wherever, and however the interaction takes place.
Strengthening your brand with great experiences
Activating an effective customer experience transformation is no small feat for any company. But for those looking to make some headway, using brand strategy to set the course for orchestrating what’s needed, is a great place to start. Navigating with an understanding of customers can help with prioritizing focus areas and fine-tuning execution for the greatest impact. These days, standing out among your competitors is much more about the overall experience that you orchestrate and not about the promises you make in advertising. Let the combination of brand strategy and customer understanding be your guide.
ABOUT KEVIN PERLMUTTER
Kevin Perlmutter is a Senior Director of Brand Strategy for Interbrand in New York. He leads the office’s Customer Experience team and specializes in improving the quality of the relationship between brands and their key stakeholders. Kevin believes that customer experience is one of the most influential drivers of performance and brand loyalty.