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What Does Your Company Look Like From the Outside?

Do you know how a client, prospect, potential hire, or member of the media really experiences your company? You need to find out now.
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Have you ever walked in your customer's shoes? Have you really experienced your organization in every way a potential audience member might? Or, do you rely on quantitative market research, competitive intelligence, and your gut instinct to tell you what course to chart and what brand promises to make?

If you're like three-quarters of the 75 Inc. 500 chief marketing officers I recently surveyed, you've never experienced your brand from the outside in. You’ve never gone online to check how easy (or difficult) it is to find relevant information and make a decision. You've never ventured into a retailer that offers your wares and asked a sales representative to show you washer-dryer combinations for less than $800. And, I guarantee you've never gone to the chat rooms occupied by college students thinking about a career in your industry and listened to what they had to say about your firm in particular.

You’ve also probably never asked a close friend or confidant to play-act the role of prospective customer or employee and either show up in the reception area unannounced and ask to meet with an account manager, or to leave a voice mail saying that they were in the final stages of selecting a new vendor and needed a return call within 24 hours.

I have to come clean. Until I'd read Emily Yellin’s book about customer service entitled, Your Call Is (not that) Important To Us, I hadn't done any of those external checks either. But the book hit me like a ton of bricks.

Aside from the annual client report cards we distribute, how do I know what our experience is really like? I decided I needed to find out. And, I needed to find out ASAP. So, I teamed up with one or two of my peers and we identified no fewer than 24 different online and offline ways in which a client, prospect, employee, potential hire, member of the media, or someone in the public at large might experience Peppercom. We tested each and every one, and found five of the 24 touch-points sadly lacking in quality, responsiveness, or just plain information.

Having experienced my experience, I became born again. I began evangelizing on the subject. I made a point of meeting Emily Yellin and striking a partnership with her. We now have a service offering called Audience Experience. And, it has not only generated revenue, it has changed the entire mindset of my entire organization. We no longer take client market research for granted. Instead, we ask permission to experience their brand on our own. Often, we find subtle, but very real, differences between what a brand promises in its marketing messages and what the end user actually experiences.

You don't have to hire my firm, but I do urge you to abandon the executive tower and experience your organization from the outside in. I absolutely guarantee you’ll change at least one fundamental way in which you currently communicate with your various audiences. And, I'll bet your brand promise will be much more closely aligned with the actual end user experience as well.

Last updated: Jan 10, 2012

STEVE CODY | Columnist

I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. scody@peppercomm.com

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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