Chief customer officers are a fast track to homogeneity, says Thinkerbell’s Adam Ferrier

Thinkerbell co-founder Adam Ferrier has called for the end of the chief customer officer, claiming that the role is “a fast track to homogeneity with your customers”.

Speaking at his session at Mumbrella360, Ferrier told the audience that “a lot of CMOs are changing their titles to chief customer officer, which feels both disingenuous and silly”.

Ferrier on stage at Mumbrella360

If we do listen to the consumer, Ferrier explained, we start to create a seamless, frictionless customer experience. While this might seem a good thing on the face of it, it actually creates homogenous brands.

“If we listen to the consumer, we’ll make things super easy, we’ll make it so they don’t have to think about the experience at all – come in, get out, and go about their day again.”

He pointed to the front pages of Coles and Woolworths’ online stores, both of which promise an easy, seamless user experience. Or as Ferrier put it: “Get in, get out, don’t worry about our brand.”

This idea of a “Teflon brand” – one which doesn’t stick – is the very opposite of what we want to do if we want to create brands, he said.

“The role of a brand is to be in your face at the time you need that product or service.”

Ferrier believes customer experience and customer journey experts are to blame for this shift away from brand and towards consumer.

“You try to get insights about what the customer wants, and you try to follow their customer journey, and then you try to deliver on their needs,” he said.

“On the face of it, it seems like a good idea, but the consumer doesn’t need you. They don’t need any of your brands. Every single one of your brands is competing with three, four, five, six, 10 other brands in your category. What they want is your category.”

According to Ferrier, the trigger to buy something is not at a brand level, it’s at a category level.

“The consumer journey is often at a category level, and not a brand level, and so the insights you often get and deliver on are normally category generic, and helping you become more and more, theoretically, like the category,” he said.

Using the example of Twitter’s recent shift from a 140 to 280 character limit, he explained how the implementation of a better customer experience made the Twitter brand more generic by taking away its unique selling point.

“There’s a bee’s dick difference between your brand and your competitors,” Ferrier warned. “It’s really important to understand what the difference and magnify that, not regress towards the mean.”

The audience were told to replace customer experience with brand intelligence, which is “being able to understand and prioritise what your brand delivers, above everything else.”

Ferrier also suggested brands “try not to have a marketing department”.

“If you have a marketing department internally, then you believe marketing is the job of one person or one little team within the organisation, as opposed to the whole entire business being marketing.

“I have a friend who’s an investor and he won’t invest in a business that has a marketing department, because if they have a marketing department they just don’t get that the whole thing is marketing.”


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