Lesley Bielby, Chief Strategy Officer, Hill Holliday
Some recently conducted Hill Holliday CMO research told us that from a client perspective, hiring “best in class” specialist agencies to work alongside their lead agency is a good thing. From an agency perspective, while collaboration is sometimes challenging, we are all learning to put our clients and their brand before our own needs. And we finally understand, after years of trial and error, that different brains and different perspectives do make brand expression better.
But the downside of the multiple agency model is the real potential for brand anarchy, with each specialist agency and their respective client partners (who are internally, typically vying for budget share) in danger of representing the brand in a scattered and inconsistent way, which can cause a huge amount of confusion among consumers.
How do we stop this from happening? Enter the Customer Journey: the perfect tool to maintain brand consistency from initial brand awareness through to brand advocacy — and everything in between.
Every agency is talking about these journeys, and many agencies (and consulting firms, who are turning these projects into big business) have a version of them. And frankly, lots of agencies talk about them but never actually create them.
And then there is the big question of who truly is best equipped to own the customer journey. From a client perspective, it is the CMO because it helps them reintegrate increasingly fragmented brand stewardship, not only saving time and money, but also creating an integrated and consistent brand experience for their consumers, who do not have the inclination to unpick brand messages. From an agency perspective — and this may not be a popular statement — it makes the most sense for the lead agency to do exactly that, to lead the charge.
Why? Because media-only agencies typically create journeys from a channel perspective. Digital agencies typically create journeys from a user-experience perspective. And although brand consulting firms do create journeys from a brand perspective, it is the lead agencies — which understand how to actually implement the opportunities that arise from the journey and who have strong knowledge of the mindset, attitudes, and behaviors of the customer more holistically — that truly know how people move across the journey from all perspectives.
And while the lead agency can steward the development of the journey with the CMO and their team, it is the close collaboration with our collective clients and all agency partners that will help create a customer journey that is more meaningful and more useful.
In theory, this is all great but this last part is also the trickiest. A year or so ago, I recall being uninvited to a client-funded brand consulting customer journey session because it was deemed “too proprietary” for my participation. For true collaboration to really happen, lead agencies have to let go of all sense of possessiveness. We have learned — through sometimes bitter experience — that it is more important to work together and risk sharing our tools and processes than it is to eliminate a valuable partner agency’s input for fear of our approach and methodology being stolen.
Will this mean that all agencies will pick up one another’s ideas and ultimately, end up using the same journey process? Possibly. But it took us decades to get to the point where we netted out at almost identical strategic development processes (circle diagram full of ‘c’s', anyone?). Does any of this matter? Not really. At the end of the day, it is the thinking and content that will win the day, not the format of the tool that helped us get there.
The key takeaway here is that the customer journey, when done well and when led by the lead agency in close collaboration with clients and agency partners, prevents brand anarchy by providing all partner agencies, and the whole brand team with a roadmap full of insight, opportunities, structure, consistency, and focus.