Recently, we outlined our presentation at Future Branches where financial brands defined their innovation proposition and created their North Star to guide them through a disrupted landscape. So powerful were the insights, we’re taking a closer look at what it means for brands to define their North Star and live by its guiding principles every day. This presentation, while specific for elevating above disruption in banking, outlined a roadmap that applies to any brand finding the rapid pace of change a challenge. In short, it’s for every brand. Instead of merely trying to catch up only to be left behind again, developing your brand’s own North Star will result in resilience and flexibility in the face of change.
Our own Adrenaline’s president Sean Keathley says, “In the many years I’ve worked with financial services brands, I’ve seen people talking about their ‘store of the future’ plan. Most talk about this concept in context to a specific initiative that has a beginning, middle and an end. What we know from our practice of experience design is that such an idea is a flawed proposition from the outset, because the store of the future never actually arrives.” What that means is that as soon as the store of the future is here, it’s immediately outdated, and the process starts all over again, because they’re treating it as an initiative. In reality, the innovation cycle for brands is a journey, not a destination.
At Adrenaline, we know the brands that are committed to creating a framework for monitoring, integrating and adapting to change are ultimately the most successful, innovative companies in their industries. Sean expands on the concept of future-forward environments. He says, “The store of the future is a constantly evolving target that you will never achieve. So, if you think it's an initiative that just begins and ends, you're really missing the whole point. What we know is that the world is constantly changing around us, so we need some sort of methodology by which we can usher in new change. Defining your North Star is part of that process and that evolution.”
The forces challenging organizations don’t always come from technology, nor do they all exist outside your organization. To develop a sustainable process, every brand must be aware of all of the forces of change challenging them, externally and internally. These can include outside forces like new technologies and digital disruption, evolving consumer expectations, and a changing competitive environment. But the forces are just as likely to come from within, including market expansion, mergers or acquisition, and network renovation and key upgrades. To be holistic, your North Star must be in constant evolution to keep up with all of the forces of change.
These forces also don’t operate in a silo. Sean describes disruption in banking to show how interconnected internal and external forces can be. He says, “Innovation and technology are the things really driving almost every industry to change. There are two primary forces of change – technology and culture – and there is an inherent relationship between the two. What we see in banking is that technology is actually changing culture; it drives cultural expectations, setting up new technologies to be developed.” It’s a virtual chicken-or-egg scenario because it’s changing so quickly with new tech serving as a foundation for the next advance and consumer demand being fed and created simultaneously.
What the North Star represents in the financial industry is a journey to create the “ideal embodiment” of the branch experience. For all industries, creating a North Star means that a brand is committed to living out its brand promise, culture and vision for the future at any given time. Sean says, “Innovation is driving change for how brands are delivering their business – by creating better alignments with core functions across different delivery channels. These alignments are both better for streamlining that business and providing customer benefits at the same time.” Whether it’s mobile banking, Uber or Amazon, companies with a North Star create entirely new categories of consumer experiences.
A striking example of the North Star in action is Eastern Bank. The regional bank responded to changing market needs by instituting a process for “right-sizing” its branches. In our Eastern Bank case study, we outlined the organizational challenges facing the financial institution and how they addressed them through a North Star vision – reducing branch size while keeping an eye squarely focused on customer experience and operational efficiency. Far from a one-size-fits-all approach, each of four customized prototypes would be deployed based on specific market and customer-service requirements. Whether the branch would be cashless, self-serve, micro or reduced-full-service, Eastern Bank developed a North Star process that would strategically deliver one holistic branded experience in each setting.
Brands that have a North Star are both visionaries and practitioners. By proactively managing change, they understand where they’re going and work to develop an ideal current and future-state for their customers. Sean describes it this way, “What I find fascinating and exciting is a North Star framework really allows people to be completely creative to reinvent their version of how their business is delivered to consumers, based on new opportunities. This allows any company to completely disrupt and reinvent their service category. That is the opportunity that every brand has, if they choose to leverage it.”
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