Building Brand Champions with Consumer Education

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As consumer relationship management (CRM) technologies have matured, it isn’t surprising that some competing/complementary systems have also gained traction. One among many such responses, CEM, focuses on consumer experience (or engagement depending on what you’re reading). The argument is that CRM is too IT-focused (how do we track, record, classify, rank, and tag the consumer?) whereas the correction of CEM promises to help us better understand and foster that which is foundational to consumer loyalty, a consumer’s actual experience. NPS, or Net Promoter Score—Satmetrix’s trademark metric—aims to become the standard indicator for CEM and several of Allen’s retail clients are either launching NPS programs in their organizations or using data from NPS measurement to reorient learning and development.

This shift matters because it is part of a Changing Brand Landscape with implications that go beyond the normal evolution of industry buzzwords. Let’s run quickly through a highly abbreviated series of related, overlapping shifts. Doing so will highlight the critical role that learning and consumer education can play in engaging consumers and in optimizing the consumer experience.


From CRM to CEM:

As noted above, this focus moves the emphasis from an enabling technology (CRM) to what should be the terminal, end objective (CEM). In our retail practice, we see this shift as a critical refocus where the same metrics that drive the business become the primary focus of management and associate training.  One of our clients uses NPS metrics as a feedback and scoring system to underscore the value of the metric, teach the terminology, and align individual efforts with company objectives.

From Product Management to Consumer Management:

In a much-cited article in the Harvard Business Review, Roland T. Rust, Christine Moorman, and Gaurav Bhalla reposition product management as more consumer-centric, consumer management. While the shift in focus may seem overly obvious, the rationale aligns with changes in relationship marketing, loyalty marketing, and (specifically to us here at Allen) in product training.

From Product Training to Consumer Education:

Product training has long been considered tangential to (or a subset of) a larger product marketing strategy. It becomes much more integral when consumer education becomes the focus. One of our clients sells a healthcare product that will become much more widely available through the Affordable Care Act. Product management would dictate topics on use, maintenance, and product features. A consumer-management strategy doesn’t ignore these topics but incorporates them in solutions on lifestyle, childcare, wellness, etc. The training isn’t separate from the social media strategy or the content marketing strategy—it’s central to it.

From Traditional Learning to Learner Experience:

What marketing has traditionally thought of as learning or training has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. With new technologies and approaches for social, mobile, video, etc., the options are more flexible and more easily integrated with other marketing strategies. For example, one of our clients has produced a series of YouTube videos that combine elements of safety training with public service messages, disaster response information, and practical how-to videos for home improvement projects.

From Communication to Change Management:

Often, when we speak of communication and change management, we’re talking about internal corporate initiatives and not consumer management. It isn’t surprising, however, that the change-management curve parallels the NPS model. It suggests how to take brand detractors and passives and make them champions. Below, I’ve taken Allen’s change management model and replaced the language to show some of the similarities between change management and CEM. (Click on each image to enlarge)


Change Impetus Consumer Experience


If we can support the consumer experience through the initial experience of delight–to validate the positive experience and to adopt the product or service “lifestyle”–that consumer becomes an advocate and brand champion. If we persist in defining training in the conventional sense, we don’t have many tools for supporting the consumer experience. By reconceptualizing it, the options are varied, flexible, and more easily targeted. Imagine a consumer experience portal that allows you to bring together your consumer education and content marketing strategies. We did just this for a client in the health insurance industry—the resulting portal shares health lifestyle stories around various products and services. It’s much more than a product guide—they are creating a collective narrative about wellness in the community.

Our challenge as leaders in performance is to highlight the relevancy of what we can do and what we can do, specifically, in supporting, delighting, and sustaining consumers, building them up as brand champions and guiding them in their advocacy. What projects are you working on that strengthen the consumer experience?

Reach out to us below and share your stories or talk with one of our learning directors about how to create brand champions for your organization.

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  1. Camille Price

    I appreciate the emphasis here on the end user experience and allowing the context of what is bringing various users to the training drive the way the content is presented to the end user. It’s like the difference between a cafeteria and a grocery store; while the grocery store groups foods for the convenience of the store owner (perishable, refrigerated, frozen), the cafeteria presents them in an order that is logical and convenient for the consumer assembling a meal. A good cafeteria will even have different lines with both unique and duplicate products set up to accommodate different types of consumers. The cafeteria is more directive in their offerings based on the initial category choice of the consumer, where the grocery store layout is the same for all consumers and there is little duplication in arrangement of product offerings.

  2. Elizabeth Stincelli, DM

    This is a great post, Michael. Successful organizations are redefining relationships. These relationships cross structural, cultural, and product boundaries. By changing the focus from product management to consumer management, we are acknowledging the value of these relationships. When the value is placed on the consumer and what is important to them, we are in a better position to tailor our offerings to meet their needs on a continually changing basis. This post reminds us to focus our energies on the consumer and not the product.

  3. Christor Hanstrom

    I work for a major big box retailer & we took this exact approach with a training program for our vision centers a few years ago. We built a learning simulation for our vision center staff to help them improve how they interacted with the patients. Instead of focusing on trying to sell specific products, we focused on understanding the lifestyle needs of the patient & offering products/services that would satisfy those stated needs. Taking the time to build a relationship with the patient was the key to the program. To determine the success of the program, we measured several key metrics. One of those key metrics was an improvement in the vision center’s Net Promoter Score. It was a mindset change for our vision center staffs, but the vision centers that embraced the new approach saw a substantial business improvement because every patient was now a promoter of that vision center!

  4. Shauna Bona

    Very insightful and helpful blog post. It is also interesting for me to note the similarities between these models and O.C. Tanner’s approach to creating appreciation champions (who then help drive organizational change…). I think we are all beginning to understand that both internally and externally the goal is not simply productivity with a product or process, but loyalty and advocacy. For us, this means (in part) helping clients see how we help them achieve cultural and financial results. Thanks for sharing this. I can’t wait to hear more.

  5. Steve Baker

    I don’t believe that believe product focus and consumer focus are mutually exclusive goals, or at least they don’t have to be. On one hand you have Apple with their penchant for product development that thrills and delights their customers, but not a lot of consulting with customers as to what they want. On the other side, there is the lean start up approach of creating a minimally viable product that you launch and then let your customers inform you as to what to develop further. In both cases the relationship a company has with its customers is the critical element. I think the days of building a product without first having or creating a relationship with customers is rapidly coming to an end.

  6. I believe you are spot on with the change management and alignment of company goals to individual goals. On-boarding new hires into an organization does not happen by accident and neither does performance into a role. Selecting a strategic partner like Allen Communications is a good first start! I enjoyed the blog and look forward to future comments.

  7. Michael Atkinson

    Sounds suspiciously similar to student-centered learning doesn’t it? I think this is a really good overview of the CEM strategy, Michael, thanks for sharing! At TD Ameritrade one thing we do is try to tie “delighting” the customer (our investing student) to “surprise”. When our research nails the demographic and individual’s hot buttons we can exceed expectations when we energetically over-deliver on promises, learning becomes fun and BAM – on our way to sweet NPS.

    However in this framework it’s important for us to not let customers/students actually lead to blind-spots (being so customer-experience focused): we cannot manage or massage away shoddy product offerings or holes in our service promises simply because customers gush. A customer can rave about the delivery of our education or quality of content, but if there’s some crap stirred in there, it’ll eventually catch up with us, especially in a socially transparent and connected world 🙂

  8. Abby Hawkins, Ph.D.

    I totally agree, Michael. I see this shifting focus were I work in the financials sector. When we create learning experiences for our clients, we actively seek to engage and delight. (How exciting can bonds be?!) We know all to well, that if you build it, they won’t come. We don’t have the luxury of compliance forcing learners to muscle through gobs of content. Education for personal learning (e.g., non-credit bearing) requires instructional designers kill the boring, stilted instruction and delight, surprise, and challenge. We need to do more to marry relevant content with a compelling user experience, so that learners are hooked on our products and education.

  9. Michael, You hit on some very salient points here. One marketing company I worked for built their whole business model around the concept that shoppers were on a Hero’s Journey. Their corporate vision was to, “Serve shoppers by reimagining and revolutionizing the landscape of retail marketing through the creation of phenomenal shopping experiences.”

    This client believed that the act of shopping contains all the elements of a great story – drama, emotion and action. Shopping has a beginning, middle and an end. In this story, the shopper is the hero, the retailer is the stage and the brand is the prize awaiting the shopper at the journey’s end.
    Much of our lives are spent living in a mosaic of messages from brands, products and other consumers. We filter out most of the noise, but in a moment of awakening, something breaks through the clutter and gets noticed. It is then that the shopper is ready to heed the “call” and embark upon their journey.

    Just think if we could tap into that emotional, psychological and spiritual vein from a learning pespective? It’s what we all strive for and its powerful stuff. JB

  10. Wade Murdock

    Thanks, Michael, for this very insightful, thought-provoking post. In my current field (IT product development and management), I’m noticing that one of the first indicators of our consumer-experience mindset is the language we use. Do we regard consumers simply as a “target audience,” an at-best two-dimensional surface that we just have to “hit” with the product? Are we herding infinitely unique individuals into a mass that will fit under the canopy of our own mass communications and mass marketing efforts? If that kind of thinking represents our input, the resulting output will be faceless numbers—numbers that will increasingly move in an undesirable direction. I’m intrigued by the x-axis of the consumer experience model that you included, with the terms “lost value” versus “consumer lifetime value.” Product or brand managers who inhabit a world of targets, numbers, and masses run the very real risk of “knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” (Oscar Wilde)

    In our company, while we still have ample room for improvement, we are continually looking for ways to tailor both our products and our training in such a way that consumers are invited to not only see themselves in a delightful and relevant narrative, but to also adopt and adapt that narrative. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Big” (1988, Tom Hanks), in which Josh, the boy-in-a-man’s-body-working-as-a-toy-company-executive, comes up with what was then a revolutionary idea in the decade that produced the greatest music in history. 🙂 As I recall, one of his ideas was an interactive storybook in which each child would decide the direction the story would go. (Apologies if this is actually a data mashup of the plots from “Princess Bride” and “Apocalypse Now.” Memory is a slippery polliwog in my hands.) Anyway, what you said about creating brand champions is so true, because the ideas or products we have had a hand in shaping truly capture and hold our attention. We try to nurture these brand champions for their own development and for help in marshaling key communicators who can reach consumers who are otherwise inaccessible to us. Thanks for a great read.

  11. Over the last year and a half my company has implemented a quarterly customer satisfaction survey where we measure and analyze our Net Promoter Score across both our product and customer segments. It really has served to return our product focus to delivering what makes our customers the most happy, and seems to be having a positive impact on our overall revenue growth. Great write-up.

  12. Brock

    As a consumer myself, I appreciate when I receive information that helps me make an informed decision. I am more likely to use online resources like CNET and Edmunds to get educated and purchase accordingly than I am to respond to a marketing message. Marketers create an awareness, consumer education changes behavior.

    Some awesome thoughts in here MIchael, thanks!!

  13. Great post, Mike! As a former Marketing student, I really appreciate how you’ve connected the dots from Consumer Behavior to Learner Behavior. I’ve found that there’s lots of opportunity for cross-over application of consumer psychology research and marketing best practices in all of the change management, talent management, OD, and ID work that I do. In the Marketing field, interviews, focus groups, and field testing with real-world consumers are standard practices, yet within the workplace education world, we rarely engage in a dialog with our learners about what they need and want. Even our front-end analysis practices tend to focus more on stakeholders and SMEs than on consumers. Shifting the focus towards consumers (learners) could make a big difference in terms of uptake, transfer, and organizational change. Oh, and by the way, one of my clients uses NPS to get quick feedback from participants forming learning/mentoring circles. Works great!



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