Stop with the startup envy, just build a customer focused culture for success

It seems the obsession with becoming ‘agile’ among Australian corporates is engrained in attempting to achieve the impossible: emulating hot startup culture.

But we all know it takes more than a ‘lab’, pool table and free coconut water to realign culture, so corporates should stop messing around at the edges and focus on the more meaningful changes they can make to re-launch themselves.

Corporates can help create startup cultures just by structuring their businesses in a way that puts them closer to the customer. In our recent Launch Marketing Council meeting, I heard about long established successful businesses that are doing four things:

i) elevating the status of customer service within the organisation;
ii) physically sitting marketing department folks within the customer service team;
iii) making customer service a marketing function with a reporting line into the CMO instead of the COO;
iv) changing the focus of customer service teams to customer experience so they become innovators not just reactors.

Whilst all of these things seem logical it can be tough for established companies to get around to them.

I’d argue that a new product launch is a good time to consider making these changes, because you only get one chance to do it right. Offering a highly responsive and attentive service to positively impact customer experience before, during and after a launch is the best way to establish a culture that drives success.

One of the concepts that interested me most during our recent roundtable were comments made by Maria Loyez, formerly of Society One. Whilst many people have become obsessed with the notion of Minimal Viable Product (MVP), Maria argued we need to be producing Minimal Loveable Products (MLP).

The idea of investing in a deliberately unsustainable initial level of service to support a new product is counter-intuitive to most of us. But by delighting customers way beyond their expectations whilst encouraging them to change behaviour – either with a new product, service or platform, is all about securing disruptive levels of advocacy amongst your target audience.

Being loveable could be the best investment in marketing new products, and being loveable through an over-investment in customer service may be the best way to deliver a successful launch.

I’m not sure you need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ‘digital transformation’ projects that take years to implement to achieve that.

Often we still don’t think about ‘brand’ beyond visual identity and marketing communications. The most powerful brands integrate their values into their day-to-day behaviours and interactions, employment policies and operations.

Often it’s the founder of the business who has to get this right from the outset, but in the case of established brands, there are many case studies of charismatic leaders having a dramatic impact on culture at all levels. As Xinja’s Camilla Cooke put it to our group, ‘Brand is Culture is Brand’.

Strong businesses of any size need the input of their leaders to form a culture that reflects their brand and creates customer value. After all, the very definition of a brand states it is “a name, term, design, symbol, or other feature that distinguishes an organisation or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer”.

So next time someone tries to evoke the mysticism of startup culture, remind them it’s just about adopting a customer view. And any business can learn to do that. Pass me a coconut water.

Matt Lawton