Aligning Brand with the Customer Experience

Brand promise is typically easy to articulate but hard to implement. In today’s large banking organizations, the task of aligning brand promise with the customer experience as it’s perceived on the front lines typically falls to the organization’s top marketing executives.

In the following interview, Paul Kadin, Citibank’s head of Marketing Operations and Strategy for North America, describes how the New York City-based company has combined within one department global responsibility for marketing, customer experience strategies and Internet and mobile operations. Such a combination, he says, enables Citibank to actionalize its brand promise on the front lines, where it counts.

“Bringing together customer experience leadership with marketing leadership makes it easier to align those two key areas because brand purpose is only real if the customer actually experiences what you want them to experience,” Kadin says.

Q: What role do bank marketers today perform in terms of helping align a bank’s brand promise with its various customer initiatives; what are some of the things that a chief bank marketing officer would be responsible for in terms of that effort?

Kadin: There’s been an evolution of the bank marketing role over the years. It varies at different institutions, but generally it’s moved from concentrating on communication to the marketplace to having a larger role at the table in influencing how the business is going to be run. It involves taking the idea of brand purpose and making it an integrated effort across the different functions of the organization so that you really grapple with what this institution is trying to become and articulating that in a way that everybody in the organization can understand.

Most importantly, you need to relate brand promise to what employees do and what customers experience day-to-day. Bank marketing heads are bringing new life to the idea of customer centricity. Many organizations, including ours, aspire to be customer-centric, but it’s of course very easy to say and very hard to do, particularly in large, complex organizations. The marketing heads in the best organizations have become the force driving the brand purpose and bringing that to life in their organizations.

Q: Does the head of marketing, then, become more involved with coordinating with other departments or lines of business than would probably have been the case in the past?

Kadin: It’s not usually the role of the marketing head to actively be in the middle of that coordination, but rather to set standards for it, to set the methods by which the heads of the other functions should think about creating this alignment of brand promise with ongoing initiatives. At Citi, for example, we’ve used the celebration of our 200th anniversary as a means of rallying the whole global organization around our brand aspirations. We have employee engagement programs around the world to get employees to think creatively about how they can do their part to reinforce the brand purpose. The marketing heads and branding heads can create these employee engagement programs as tools to be used by the leaders of the individual businesses. While the marketing head is not in the middle of every step of every business, they are creating mechanisms that the people who are running the businesses can use to encourage this alignment with brand purpose.

Q: What is Citi’s brand promise? How do you express that and what initiatives do you have underway to support that brand?

Kadin: An articulation of Citi’s brand promise centers around how we’ve been associated with progress throughout our 200 years and the ingenuity in the ways in which we’ve done it. It is the experience that our people and our businesses bring to various challenges – what we call a restless passion to figure out how to help people through those challenges, whether they are businesses or consumers.

Now, how do we bring that to life? One of the things that we’ve done a bit differently at Citi is the way in which we’ve organized the responsibilities of our chief marketing officer (CMO). We have a global CMO, Michelle Peluso, who has global responsibility for all of our marketing activities, as you would expect. But she also has leadership responsibility for our customer experience strategy and our customer experience initiatives, as well as global leadership responsibility for all of our Internet and mobile activity.

Organizationally, having those areas come together in one person, in one department, and using that as a mechanism to ensure alignment, has really worked very well. Based on some conversations I’ve had with people in other organizations, bringing together customer experience leadership with marketing leadership makes it easier to align those two key areas because brand purpose is only real if the customer actually experiences what you want them to experience. Having the leadership of both areas come together in one place is a very good alignment mechanism.

We’ve also used employee engagement approaches to get people to be clear on what the brand purpose is and what their role is. We have been rolling out something called “client excellence values” throughout the organization, which boils down the essential values we want our people to have when relating to clients. We have workshops around the country, and ultimately will have them around the world, on those core values with common exercises that all the employees are going through to internalize them.

Within our consumer banking organization, Global Consumer Banking CEO Manuel Medina-Mora has communicated four strategic pillars to the organization: we are a customer-centric franchise; we are focused on markets and segments where we have a competitive advantage; we are investing in organic growth; and we are leveraging our globality. We’ve then broken up those pillars into a series of initiatives with people clearly responsible for integrating them into our various businesses.

Q: What is your own personal role or sphere of activity in all of this?

Kadin: I’m leading up what we’re calling “marketing operations and strategy” for our North American marketing business. What that really means is: how does the marketing function actually run, how does it operate, how do we create processes that are streamlined and efficient and effective at connecting our businesses, our agencies and our marketing departments so that it all flows well? So, it’s really about ensuring the marketing function delivers that brand alignment role effectively.

Q: How have the “tools of the trade” that a top marketing officer uses evolved over the years? What technologies or metrics do you find most useful in carrying out your marketing activities at Citibank?

Kadin: First, I’ll mention certain metrics. One of the things that we want to ensure is that the customer experience is delivering what the brand purpose intends. A few years ago, measuring client satisfaction and customer experience at Citi was done in different ways by different businesses and many of those metrics are still valid. But it was very difficult to speak one language when you were talking about customer experience and brand.

So, we’ve made the choice to settle on one basic approach to the measurement of customer experience and customer satisfaction called the “net promoter score.” Over the last two years, this has become the standard by which all of our consumer businesses around the world measure their current state, and something they use to understand opportunities for improvement, set goals and track that progress. It has been quite effective in building that common language, but also allows the best practices across different parts of the organization to be shared. Putting a stake in the ground with a common metric has a great aligning effect.

We also use measures of brand health where we go to the marketplace on a regular basis and interview various segments of customers on their impressions about the brand and competitive brands. It’s a consistent survey that’s done on a monthly basis. Again, it becomes a language that’s common for both the marketing folks and the business lines. Brand health measures are instrumental in helping us differentiate ourselves from our competitors and another example of the use of a particular kind of metric to create alignment.

And there are other emerging metrics – and this is the part where things have changed in recent times. As you can imagine, with the proliferation of new digital channels and the changing behavior of our customers and prospects, we are spending a much greater proportion of our marketing investment in that space. The measurement of all of that is a new complex challenge for us, particularly because, in addition to just the traditional kind of broadcasting of our message and hoping to drive people to our channels, we now invest in compelling ways to build customer engagement and loyalty. So, the overall topic of metrics and measurement is getting more complicated as channels and media venues continue to proliferate.

Mr. Cline is managing editor of BAI Banking Strategies. He can be reached at [email protected].