Brand led business transformation

Without doubt the driving force behind business transformation over the past decade has been digital. Creating new digital businesses and bringing the power of data and digital services to established organisations.

Digital business transformation (DBT) has dramatically improved the way that businesses serve their customers. Exceptional customer experiences have transformed entire categories, built new businesses and given legacy businesses new momentum.

But digitally led business transformation has its limitations. While, on the supply side, it has saved vast sums of money DBT has been poor at delivering sustained competitive advantage. Once best practice has been established, popularised and adopted every customer experience first mover is recommodified. The advantage is lost.

For a while McDonalds were the only Quick Service Restaurant to provide self-ordering screens, now everyone does. At one time Monzo had the best direct banking customer experience, now every bank is there or thereabouts.

We need to recognise that DBT has run its course, not as a powerful means of delivering new digital experiences and services. But as the driving force in business transformation.

It is time to usher in a new era of brand-led business transformation.

Brands, well-built and surgically focused offer the necessary vision and direction to build sustained advantage for organisations. That can then be delivered by every customer experience, digital or otherwise.

If this seems a bit curious, if you are confused by how something seemingly so ephemeral as a brand can perform this task, you need to question the role that your brand is playing in your business. And you probably should be wondering about the value of your Chief Marketing Officer.

We are not talking about brands as ornamental baubles that sit on the periphery of the business to lure people to a customer experience that fails to deliver. But as instrumental powerhouses that articulate with clarity the distinctive way a business will serve its customers and help it to deliver against this through every experience, every service and every journey.

If outstanding customer experiences are the goal of many businesses today, brand is the instruction manual for the nature of those experiences.

Where once brand meaning was fashioned to frame and reframe the products and services an organisation delivered to the market. Today an organisation’s products and services must be created to serve the brand and the role it is playing in people’s lives.

The rebirth of EE as the lead consumer brand for BT group is the posterchild for this new approach. Of brand led business transformation.

While the new EE offering combines the engineering and expertise of BT with the innovation and customer service of EE, it is more than a merger of two brands.

New EE has come to market with a far bigger ambition to BT and EE.

For one thing, it doesn’t exist to fight tooth and nail for market share in premium connectivity. It exists to serve more of people’s lives than its predecessors ever could.

The new EE brand exists to harness the power of technology to make the everyday better for people, regardless of traditional business vertical.

It’s this red thread to the future, through current and adjacent categories, current and growth audiences and all customer journeys that is at the heart of brand led business transformation. Rather than iterating to an unknown future it is about manifestly taking control of the destiny of the business.

Where DBT was ‘customer centric’, meaning that it has intuitive user experiences that match real purchase journeys. Brand led Business transformation is customer first meaning it always asks ‘how can we help’ before is asks ‘how can we sell’.

And while conventional brand thinking is focused on building affinity with customers, often through shared values, brand led business transformation is about establishing relevance in people’s lives through an understanding of what they need and how the brand can act on this desire.

But most importantly brand led business transformation is about imagination. It’s about the ability of the organisation to imagine a new future for itself. Freed from category orthodoxy, best practice and the tyranny of tried and tested.

There is real joy in this process. To literally free an organisation from legacy and from the settled will of the market and to give it agency and control. To enable rebirth and not simply reappraisal.

But if you are to use your brand to transform a business you need the right partners. People that can help imagine that new future. People that know that analytical thinking can only iterate not transform. People that can harness imagination and put it to work.

Sadly, our corporate business culture is not good at this. Whether that is because of the tyranny of quarterly reporting, whether it’s because of the dead hand of best practice or whether it’s MBA syllabuses that decline to value imagination, it’s in short supply in many organisations and consultancies.

Far too few businesses and business strategists can imagine their way out of a paper bag, so schooled are they in orthodoxy and category behaviours. That’s why they are far more comfortable making products and thinking about how to sell them than imagining a new future for a business and then figuring out how to honour that promise.

All this matters because of the need to find growth in low growth markets.

Fighting for a share of established markets is all too often like a land war in stalemate, with each side scrabbling for every inch, often at great expense. Looking to serve a bigger share of your customer’s lives using the power of your brand to open new audiences, new categories and new services, while repackaging existing offerings in a different light, offers the opportunity to deliver fresh growth.

And that is the power of brand led business transformation.

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