By Ross Popoff-Walker – Researcher, Customer Experience, Forrester

What does SpiderMan 3 have to do with customer-centricity?  A lot if you’re Sony Electronics CMO Michael Fasulo, who spoke today on the mainstage with Senior Analyst Brian Haven. That’s because Sony’s large, global family of diverse brands, from Vaio to Sony Pictures, presents an organizational hurdle towards customer centricity.

“The successful brands of this 21st century will be only those brands that can truly execute a customer centric model,” said Fasulo. And he isolated two curtail elements for achieving this success: 1) changing the company culture, first and foremost, and 2) leveraging the Total Brand.

One way Sony is focusing on the consumer is by creating new products which speak to customer’s deep wants and needs. To steal a competitive share of the HDTV flat-panel market, Sony created it’s Bravia TV, which leveraged key insights such as: 1) woman and men are equally involved in the purchase decision of a flat-panel, 2) the two most important considerations for a flat panel purchase are picture quality and style.

But creating a customer-centric sub-brand doesn’t solve Sony’s issues around how to make dozens of smaller brands feel like one connected experience to the consumer.

To get a better sense of the customer’s perception of Sony brands, Mike helped met with Current TV head Al Gore to launch a “How Do You View the Sony Brand” video contest. Check out the winning video for some amazing eye-candy.

Then, Mike focused efforts inward, connecting diverse divisions like sales, finance, corporate communications, and product marketing, under more functional headings like “Digital Imaging” rather branded ones like “CyberShot.”  Why? To reflect the way customers think of a digital camera — to them it’s a tool to capture a moment, not a product model name.

To tie sub-brands together externally, Mike showed how Sony integrated SpiderMan 3 assets into Sony Electronics product promotions. So a CyberShot print ad using the SpiderMan character might tie to a Spider Man 3 themed advergame on the Web, and then to in-store promotions for CyberShot products.

Mike and Brian’s session ended with a Q & A. Among the many great questions offered by the audience, one stood out: “What does it take to make a business case to the CMO for reinventing an organization?”  For Mike, “the cost of fragmentation and of creating silos in the organization is much higher than a focused, customer-centric approach.”