In my article How Startups Have Changed Marketing As We Know It, I talk about how marketing is no longer just what comes out of the marketing department, but rather the sum of all experiences people have with a company. When there is no Chief Experience Officer at a company, the job of connecting all these threads is often left to marketing.
I have done brand audits at startups where we went through all the interactions people have with them, and how we could create better experiences in those touchpoints. I thought I'd go into more detail here with some examples of companies who are thinking outside the marketing department when it comes to marketing:
Your product or service ideally has the biggest impact on what people think of your brand or company. In an ideal world, your product is amazing. And your great products are loved so much that people can't help but tell everyone how great you are. But we all know that it's more nuanced than that.
I put this area first because of it's importance but there are entire books, websites and a whole host of people who know more than me about how to create compelling products and services. All I will say here is that if product and marketing aren't happy bedfellows, they need to be. Our work is so intertwined.
Example: I worked at a company where we were trying to reduce customer churn. We did some Jobs to be Done interviews, and realized that people were switching to an alternative because they thought our product didn't do something that was highly valuable to them. Turns out this perception was simply due to the product feature being hard to find.
When we relayed this to the product team, they were able redesign one aspect of the interface to address this, a decision that lowered our churn, a metric that marketing was responsible for.
I've also touched upon this when it comes to designing great cancellation experiences. Depending on the company, this could fall under product or it could fall under marketing. Regardless, it affects the way people feel about your brand.
Customers are not the only people companies need to attract. Future employees matter too. For some, the first experience they have of a company is with their HR department. Everything from how a job description is written to what an interview process is like to how companies handle rejections or offers is now part of a company's brand.
This doesn't mean your communications have to be perky and playful. They should be whatever reflects the values and personality of your company. For example, when we created the Careers page at Normative, we wanted to reflect our purpose of coming together to solve tough problems, and our personality of being serious but not stuff. We chose imagery and language for our website Careers page accordingly.
At Audiobooks.com, our talented HR team designed a fun word-related exercise into the interview process for all levels of hiring. It was a good way to see how prospective employees interacted with other people, allowed them to express their personality in a less obvious way and gave the candidates a true taste of our culture.
And finally, the folks at First Round Capital have written an amazing reference of how portfolio company Percolate designs the new employee experience from offer to onboarding.
Have you ever seen those Twitter bios where people write "opinions are mine and not those of my employer." Guess what? That's not the way the world works. As research for this post I Googled "employees fired because of Twitter" I got many examples of how companies were connected to the opinions and actions of their employees, and when they were badly represented, those people got fired.
That's a negative example, but there are many other positive ones. Starbucks showed what kind of employer they are when a video of one of their baristas who has autism went viral. What's interesting to note about this one is that this was not created by Starbucks itself - a visitor took the video and uploaded it. This quote in the video description says it all:
"When he was offered a position to work at Starbucks Sam told his parents that for the first time in his life. That his life had real meaning...Sam never thought that he would be able to work behind the bar because of his sudden movements but his manager Chris believed in him and got Sam to channel his movements into dance."
A smaller personal example is when I visited Gail Goodman, CEO at email provider Constant Contact. The way we were greeted by the receptionist reinforced my impression of Constant Contact as a company that respected small business owners and was approachable.
Companies can help their employees represent them well by making their vision and purpose clear, by taking the time to hire the right people (and treat them according to their values), by giving them great swag and even by arming them with content using a tool like Post Beyond.
Customer support teams are not just on the frontlines of a brand, they are also increasingly considered a part of the product. This is about much more than being "nice" in an email or chat conversation (in fact, scripted empathy can have the opposite effect). It includes things like proactive versus reactive support, time of response and tone of response.
We've all heard stories of exceptional customer support. My favourite example comes from my husband. He is a regular customer of Porter Airlines, a small commuter airline that launched with a "business class experience" for all passengers.
One day he was traveling to Ottawa from Toronto and used his passport as identification. He landed in Ottawa, went to his meeting and returned to his hotel room a few hours later, around 10 pm. He noticed he had a voicemail from the airline:
“Hi Bill, this is Kevin from Porter Airlines. You left your passport on your flight. We checked and found that the plane is now in Halifax, and that you will be taking a Porter flight back to Toronto tomorrow. We’ll put the passport on a flight that is going through Ottawa, so when you board your flight tomorrow, all you need to do is ask the purser and he will have your passport in an envelope, ready for you.”
Let me repeat -- the airline:
- found his passport when the plane arrived in a destination a thousand miles away
- without any prompting, they checked when he'd be flying again
- they put his passport on a plane to his current destination and hand carried it to the flight he'd be on
- they did all this so quickly that he hadn't even notice he'd lost his passport
And so Bill arrived back in Toronto, passport safely intact in his briefcase, with no extra effort or stress. All thanks to Porter Airlines. I can promise you he has told that story a hundred times, and always chooses Porter when flying to destinations they service.
The one story carries a lot more weight than what their latest print ad says.
Finance and Operations
Quick question - would you attend a conference where they are negligible about paying their speakers? How do you feel about a company that paid its ex-CEO more money than it paid its entire workforce when it shut down operations?
These areas might not be the highest priorities for designing experiences and thinking about brand - and certainly not in marketing's control - but they are no longer invisible.
On a micro and more superficial level, injecting something as boring as an invoice with brand personality can set the right tone with your customers, suppliers and vendors.
What marketing can and can't control
You might be thinking - that's great, Amrita but this is not our responsibility as marketers. True.
So what is marketing's role in non-marketing marketing? (Sorry I couldn't resist getting silly...) Ideally, the CEO or founder is leading the charge in setting the vision and purpose of the company. But even they might not be thinking about all the ways this vision and purpose is manifested.
Speaking for cases where there is no experience design leader in the company, marketing can carry the touch of the customer. We can educate other teams on how they influence people's opinions about a company both inside and outside its walls. This can include both formal presentations with peers to informal relationship-building with colleagues.
We all know that the cat is out of the bag and companies can't control what customers say to reach other about brands - positive and negative. What marketing can do, just like designers creating products, is to have the right intent, and to design the areas they influence.
To get a better understanding of this, I've been spending a lot of time learning about design and UX, as the approaches used in those disciplines can help marketers enormously. Stay tuned for more on this topic in future.