Customer experience excellence requires closer ties with operations

Seamless collaboration between marketing and operations is helping brands deliver campaigns and experiences that really resonate with consumers.


Marketing and operations is a symbiotic relationship central to any brand’s ability to offer a seamless customer experience.

Close collaboration between the two functions marks the difference between activity that is operationally efficient and delivers on the marketer’s creative vision, compared to a high concept campaign that fails to stand up to scrutiny on a practical level.

The synergies between marketing and operations have helped Subway navigate a period of cultural and brand transformation over the past year.

Working with its 950 franchisees across the UK and Ireland to deliver a new brand look, logo and tone of voice required close collaboration between marketing and operations. It was simply not an option for marketing and operations to act independently from each other, explains Sacha Clark, country marketing director of Subway UK and Ireland.

“When operations or marketing disconnect from the other business unit it essentially means that the delivery is less effective, because from a franchise point of view, if marketing delivers something but it’s not operationally sound it’s never going to work.

“Likewise from an operations point of view if something is delivered, but hasn’t got the consideration of guest experience or amplification from a brand messaging or brand voice point of view, it’s not going to work or be as efficient as it could be. So bringing marketing and operations together is really key.”

So our marketing teams rely on our operational colleagues to tell us about the nuances of their store.

Sean McGinty, Debenhams

The role of operations in landing effective marketing cannot be overstated, agrees Subway country director for UK and Ireland, Peter Dowding who leads operations for the business.

“We need to be able to have a 100% solution that we know is going to be effective marketing, operationally sound and is not going to cost the franchisees additional business,” he explains.

“This is probably the best relationship I have had with a marketing person. In the past I have worked in an environment where I’ve been presented things from marketing and I’ve thought, ‘how on earth are we going to deliver that?’ and you never deliver a 100% solution.”

WATCH: Collaboration between marketing and operations is key to brand transformation says Subway

Starting as you mean to go on

A successful relationship between marketing and operations starts with open lines of communication and shared goals, which means getting both teams around the table at the beginning of the project.

Marketing director at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, Kerttu Inkeroinen, recalls how marketing and operations teamed up to orchestrate the company’s consumer facing rebrand 18 months ago. As part of the rebrand Union Coffee revamped its packaging, adding tasting notes and detail about the beans to help consumers learn more about their coffee.

READ MORE: How brands are benefitting from blurring day and night economies

“Instead of going to operations at the end of the design process and saying, ‘this is want I want on the shelf in two months’ time’, it is better to have them involved from the beginning to make sure everyone understands what you are doing and what is possible,” Inkeroinen explains.

Union Coffee
The roasting process at Union Coffee

This process of seamless communication is aided by the fact that the Union Coffee marketing team are based on the same site as the roastery, meaning they have the opportunity to learn from operations about the coffee production and gain an appreciation of the supply chain from sourcing to shelf.

“It’s about making sure you’re not sat in your ivory tower in marketing and coming up with creative ideas that are impossible to produce or commercially not viable,” she adds.

“As a marketer you always need to be commercial, think about the investment and feasibility of what are you trying to do. That applies to any business.”

Thai restaurant chain Busaba is another company enjoying the commercial benefits of fostering a close relationship between operations and marketing. Each campaign is created with input from teams on the ground, with new ideas often coming from the restaurant operators.

“Jason [Myers, Busaba CEO] has engrained the closeness between these teams into the culture of our business,” explains Busaba marketing manager, Stephanie Morfopoulos.

“For years we have just involved each other along the way when building campaigns, such as brainstorming sessions to create ideas for our marketing with venue managers present.”

The operations team take part in all Busaba’s food and drink innovation and tasting sessions, as the people working on the ground often represent the best source of information on what works for customers.

Busaba 2
Staff working on the ground at Busaba

“We utilise their key opinions and insight to create more powerful marketing together. Then, they own and drive the execution of those collaborative campaigns in our restaurants with total clarity because they helped inspire it,” explains Morfopoulos.

An example of this close collaboration is the creation of Busaba’s Thai style Saison beer. First the marketing team developed the “urban creative’’ look and feel for the beer, as well as the aromatic and tasting notes.

Next the food and drink team conducted months of research, including dozens of tasting and scoring sessions, taking feedback from both the marketing and venue teams. Finally a member of Busaba’s Hoxton restaurant team designed the label artwork for the Saison beer bottle.

The customer is king

When it comes to driving a seamless customer experience, close collaboration between marketing and operations is the glue that holds everything together.

“For me you can’t really separate operations from marketing, because it’s the heartbeat that makes everything happen for the customer and getting operations right is a crucial part of the customer experience,” says Inkeroinen.

“A customer won’t separate how your brand looks from whether it comes to them on time and how the product tastes. We prepare our orders by hand, so having all the back of house working seamlessly means we get the right products out on time, which is a major part of the customer experience.”

We know great ideas can come from anywhere, not just from someone who read a marketing book or did a class, and we use that to our benefit.

Stephanie Morfopoulos, Busaba

Debenhams head of marketing communications, Sean McGinty, explains that while marketing creates the communications plan and sets the customer agenda, the stores and website are by far the biggest, and most effective channels, to communicate it.   

“Therefore it is crucial for marketing and operations to have a strong relationship in order for these messages to land effectively. We know that customers research in store and online when making purchase decisions, therefore it is vital that they are both aligned and executed with excellence,” McGinty adds.

Debenhams has over 175 UK stores served by store managers and staff working shift patterns, meaning it is essential that the marketers are able to deliver clear activation packs the operational teams can implement with ease.

McGinty also recognises that marketing cannot take a one-size-fits all approach to retail: “Different store formats are arising and a one-size-fits all approach is neither effective or economical. So our marketing teams rely on our operational colleagues to tell us about the nuances of their store.”

READ MORE: M&S and Debenhams on why customer retention is the best way to boost market share

One area of success for Debenhams has been the collaboration between operations and marketing on its personal shopping service. The department store has worked on improving the customer booking process with its online stylists, supported by marketing and PR activity, which has driven a 25% increase in personal shopping sales.   

The customer insight delivered by the retail teams is Debenhams’ biggest asset says McGinty. “There are few successes that you can have on your own. Our brand is judged by our customers at every touch point.

“Whether that be through advertising or the service experienced in one of our stores, having all areas of the business working towards the same goals is vital to ensure a consistent brand experience.”

Becoming a better marketer

Learning to understand and appreciate the role played by operations can ultimately make you a better marketer says Union Coffee’s Inkeroinen.

She argues that engaging in conversations with operations often opens up a variety of new possibilities. Union Coffee, for example, sources its beans direct from long standing producers, meaning most of its coffee partnerships are made a year or more in advance in order to give the growers security.

As a result, the marketing team must work closely with operations to plan ahead and source new coffees, origins or processing methods that only operations may be aware of due to their close proximity to the supply chain.

Union Coffee
The roasting process at Union Coffee

“I think sometimes marketers can see operations as the naysayer, but actually when you have a great collaborative team it’s more about thinking of the final end goal, why we are doing it and then working together to find solutions,” Inkeroinen adds.

At Subway, having the freedom to work autonomously within the organisation means marketing and operations are not confined by a matrix or hierarchical system, which can muddy the relationship, says country marketing director Sacha Clark.

“In a franchise model you can’t have any muddy water between operations and marketing, because at the end of the day it’s a symbiotic relationship,” she adds.

Profits aside, close collaboration between marketing and operations helps create a great company culture that people want to work in, Morfopoulos adds.

“We know great ideas can come from anywhere, not just from someone who read a marketing book or did a class, and we use that to our benefit.

“We also believe our teams take more pride in our campaigns because they helped create them, so when we do a launch it’s ‘one team, one vision’ and we’re all pushing together which continues to deliver great results. Plus, we have a lot more fun doing it our way.”

Marketing Week interviewed Subway’s Sacha Clark and Peter Dowding for the third in a our our new series called A Marketer’s Best Friend. Watch the video here.