Our Head of Building Products & Construction recently sat down with Bristan Group's Strategic & Marketing Director, Adam Richold, to understand how big manufacturers in the building products industry implement a change in strategy.
Mark: Historically the building products industry has been seen as antiquated in its views and investment in innovation. How have you seen the role of the Marketing Director within the sector change over the last decade?
Adam: Marketing Directors need to think and act more strategically as construction markets and product categories become more competitive and price sensitive. As businesses strive for true differentiation, it is the Marketing Director who can best influence this; whether through creating strong and relevant brands, developing a pipeline of new products and services that better meet customer needs, promoting them with a clear value proposition, or re-evaluating the segments you play in and the insights that affect them. These are the sources of sustainable competitive advantage which today’s businesses are striving for and Marketing Directors should be leading this.
Mark: Much of your work within Bristan focuses on developing channel strategies. How do you first understand what the company's brand means across various markets?
Adam: The first step is to do some research – talk to actual customers in each channel to find out what they think of your brand – and quantify the results so you have a baseline to measure any changes against. You quickly find out how your brand compares with its main competitors and that your brand is probably not as distinctive or appealing as you first thought. There are a number of next steps including re-evaluating who your core target customer segments are, identifying what drives their purchase decision-making, and creating a new brand positioning that talks specifically and relevantly to them. It takes time, careful analysis and trial and error to complete this activity but it is vital to creating long-term sales growth.
Mark: Once you've devised individual market plans how do you filter them down so that various internal teams can integrate them effectively?
Adam: Each department or function in the business must know what role they play in delivering the brand experience so I make sure every part of the business is clearly briefed on the brand. I use the brand pillars, those mandatory features that define the brand proposition, as the filter to test whether the things departments do or the way they behave are on-brand or not.
Mark: What is your number one golden rule for getting large teams to adopt change?
Adam: Getting people to understand the reason for the change and articulating it with one voice, one clear message. You need to create that burning platform or motivation to change to energise everyone behind it. It can be a positive or negative message but it must be consistent and simple to understand.
Mark: Under your stewardship, the group's customer service rating increased quite dramatically - A UK customer service award in 2013. What measures did you adopt to identify issues in the service offering, and how did you overcome them?
Adam: The business had a reputation for delivering a very good customer service and in places it was market-leading. However, it wasn’t consistent. When I looked at what the experience was like across all the touchpoints of the customer journey, some of the transactional interactions like ordering and delivery service were very good, but others like aftersales help were poor. I introduced a measure of customer satisfaction in 2011 and we scored 76% that year, not bad but not great either. By focussing on the areas in need of greatest improvement, which happened to be the ease of access to our call centre and helpfulness of the call centre agent, by 2015 customer satisfaction had improved to 85%, a massive step up and in the top quartile of UK companies.
I instigated a fundamental reorganisation of the call centre, with a major investment in telephony and CRM systems, new recruitment and training processes targeted at building agent knowledge and empathy, and a commitment to spectacular recovery, ie going that extra mile to make the customer happy when things go wrong the first time. The end result was a call centre experience that changed from brand damaging to brand rewarding and had a major impact on customers’ overall brand perception and loyalty.
Mark: You've spearheaded merger and acquisition activity at Bristan; from a cultural fit and strategic alignment perspective, what are the main steps you have taken when integrating businesses?
Adam: The key to good integration is to do your due diligence up front and plan meticulously for the integration stage before the purchase has been completed. The strategic alignment comes from making sure that the target company plays in the right market segments, has a strong competitive position in those segments, and creates value for you once acquired e.g cost and sales synergies, ease of integration, the future investment needed for growth. As for cultural fit, you need to consider what sort of culture you want, how proactive you need to be in creating that culture, and what type of communication will support this. This can vary in complexity from simply keeping both existing cultures, allowing one to dominate over time or creating a new culture.