Most businesses narrowly focus on delivering customer value. That’s a good thing. It’s the shortest route to achieve sales and profit success. The problem with that focus, though, is that your customer is increasingly adopting a broader view of brand value – how you treat your employees, your suppliers’ business practices, the role of your business in the community and in society, and, most importantly, your role in sustaining the planet…or not.
Broadening your focus to include delivering value to your internal and external stakeholders can seem like you are taking your eye off the ball. But you won’t be, not if you approach it with a brand-centric focus of delivering stakeholder value that is aligned with the brand value you provide to your customers. Businesses are finally waking up to the fact that sustainable growth in sales and profits can best be achieved by creating sustainable growth for all stakeholders. That’s the very definition of sustainability.
You need to start with the endpoint – the place where you ultimately want to get to with your brand and/or business. Define your success. Start with where you ultimately want to be, and then look back from that endpoint to establish the critical gaps between there and where you are today. I’m not talking about a destination that looks like a mission statement you hang on the wall, but rather a clear model of what real success would look like if you could only make it so.
In marketing-driven stakeholder management, you should start with what you know best – building and sustaining a customer relationship. The long-term success of your business is, and always will be, centered on how well you deliver customer value. Consequently, the destination planning endpoint is about that customer relationship. How do you want the customer to think and feel about your brand? What functional benefits does your brand deliver that links to an emotional experience? Remember, human beings buy for emotional reasons and then look for a rational reason to support that emotional decision. You’re a marketer so you get that fundamental link. That’s good because you’re going to need that understanding when you broaden your scope to include adding value to multiple stakeholders to your destination planning of building and sustaining customer value.
What does your brand stand for with customers? As a marketer, you know that. It is the basis of your brand’s positioning. What makes your brand different, better, and special from all available alternatives? Now extend that brand value to your stakeholders. What does your brand offer to them?
Identifying Problems and Opportunities
One by one, think about each stakeholder and put yourself in their shoes. Where do they want their destination to be? How does a local politician or a community leader want to improve the lives of their customer – the voter? How does your supplier want to become indispensable to their customers? Also, how do your retailers and distributors want to become indispensable to their shoppers? Call them voters, customers, consumers, or whatever you like, we all have constituents we must deliver value to, to sustain our viability. As Bob Dylan so famously sang, ‘you’re gonna have to serve somebody.’ Think about all the problems and opportunities in your common world that you must address over the coming years and map them.
You can involve your company in all sorts of community and social programs that make the world a better place, and your desire to do that is admirable. However, the key to success as you broaden your scope from brand management to stakeholder management is picking your shots. Aim carefully at those issues and activities, problems or opportunities, in the communities and societies in which your business operates that is related to what your brand stands for.
Having a Straight-Line Focus
As you choose what problems and issues you want to address within your community, society, or even your value chain (suppliers, distributors, retailers), don’t distract yourself from your primary goal of delivering customer value. You can walk and chew gum at the same time. In the world you share with your stakeholders, identify and focus on those problems and opportunities that you can address that are on the way to where you want to be with your most important stakeholder – your customer. Specifically address only those problems and opportunities that exist in your broader perspective of a shared ecosystem with a straight-line focus.
There are certainly other issues that need to be addressed in your shared ecosystem, but be strategic rather than tactical and offer sustainable value over the long term rather than fluctuate from one cause to the next because of what your current brand manager, marketing director, or even CEO may feel personally motivated to address. Remember, these people will come and go; your company/brand will remain. Be strategic. Be sustainable regarding what you choose to do and with what you want to align your brand with over the long term. Focus on those issues that ultimately get you to where you want to be with your customers. Your business structure and capabilities can be expanded to help your stakeholders achieve their goals and objectives with their customers and key constituencies, too.
Stakeholder Success Dashboard
Destination planning is a process of looking into the future and then integrating some basic forecasting and planning elements that will produce a clear, concise model of where you want to be, and what it takes to get there – a success dashboard.
With a one-look dashboard, you can establish the relationship between customer value and the key strategies and business objectives for each of your stakeholders that will lead to your ultimate goal of providing customer value – all on a single page. The important thing is how effectively you can integrate all the needs of different stakeholders to define success. Each element is necessarily interrelated, which gets us to the fundamental point – unless you are looking at customer value and integrating it into your key strategies and activities to drive your business objectives, you’re going to find it much more difficult to achieve your own customer objectives.
What the CEO and the CFO will like about this destination planning model is that it gets the marketing guys to focus on measurable broader business objectives, something they think the marketing guys should have been focusing on all along. Coming from another perspective, the marketing department that will see this as an effective process to get the rest of the organization to focus on driving customer value, something they think everyone should have been focusing on all along. The reality is that both perspectives are correct and serve to emphasize why customer value (as the key driver of business growth) needs to be understood and integrated into the relationship you establish and sustain with each stakeholder. That will be a welcome discussion with stakeholders because it includes their needs while you align their needs with yours.
How does it work in practice?
At Coca-Cola, we wanted to build a greenfield production facility in Hungary in 1994, just four years after major political changes that unfortunately resulted in a wave of corruption in eastern European countries as local governments suddenly had control over what had previously been central government assets, such as the land where we wanted to build our plant. Realizing this huge risk of corruption, we had a value discussion with local political leaders to address their needs in delivering value to their new voters who could keep them in office or eject them.
We made working with Coca-Cola an opportunity for the local politician to improve the lives of their key constituents, and in doing so, we offered them a unique proposition linked to our brand value: quality water as an essential ingredient in the production of our products. We extended our water purification and waste disposal capabilities to include the entire local Hungarian community of Dunaharaszti in Hungary, just south of Budapest at the intersection of important transportation links we needed. In extending this core competency of the Coca-Cola Company into the local community we secured a detailed agreement on our building plans including all the permits we required when we needed them without opening the door to a wide range of potential bribe requests from local officials that other western companies were being swamped with as they moved east into emerging markets.
Procter and Gamble in Poland went to the retailer Tesco and developed a program that combined the brand value objectives of their diaper brand Pampers (dry and happy babies) with the brand objectives of Tesco (every little bit helps) by building and supplying free changing rooms in all Tesco stores.
Start With Destination Planning
The opportunities to engage with your stakeholder to help them achieve their objectives while achieving your brand objectives are endless. As marketers, we are experts at aligning our brand with customer needs. Moving from the narrow focus of brand management to the broader focus of stakeholder management is about utilizing those same insight-driven brand development skills to determine the needs of stakeholders and then aligning them strategically with what you want to achieve with your brand.
The place to start is destination planning. Starting tomorrow, have a discussion with each of your stakeholders to see where they want to be. It will then be a much easier task to align your brand with a shared destination that creates value to grow and sustain their business, the community, and society. Most of all, you can and absolutely should align with all your stakeholders to sustain the most essential entity of all – the planet we all share.