Christian Birk

Senior Vice President for Digital and Customer Experience at B&O

At the age of 14, Christian started
coding and developing websites. Later,
he joined a mobile startup, which was
acquired by Vodafone where he moved
into managing app development before
transitioning into the digital agency
industry. Now in his early thirties,
Christian has worked with a range of
digital disciplines across numerous
global companies and industries.

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An innovative survivor

“There are quite a lot of brands that are loved and quite a lot of brands that are respected, but very few manage to be both. B&O is one of these, in my opinion. For 93 years, B&O has been pioneering innovation and always installed an element of magic in the customer experience.” For the digital mastermind Christian Birk, joining B&O a year ago meant becoming part of a legacy resting on the great efforts of thousands of dedicated people before him. And the brand, in the eyes of Christian, truly deserved a very prosperous future after having been through high tides during the last decade. In a time where former market leaders with an extensive historic heritage are a dying breed (no names mentioned), and the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company is down to 15 years, the ability to constantly adjust and innovate in order to stay relevant in the market and to consumers is key to survival. Throughout the years, B&O has managed to stay on top of the game, relentlessly pioneering innovation and customer experience. In order to keep up the pace, they now find themselves in a process of deep diving into the waters of digital opportunities, with a data-driven approach to improve the customer experience.

“Digital is not a ‘thing’ that lives in some corner of the company, but rather something we all need to embrace.”

Nobody puts baby in a corner

The small business that once saw the light of day in the attic of a family home in Jutland, Denmark, has proved to carry an appeal that translates into all corners of the world. Most recently, B&O has embarked on an ambitious digital journey as one of several key enablers to bringing the heritage of the B&O brand into the future. Christian has his hands on the digital steering wheel and according to him, the blueprint lies in moving closer to customers, listening closely to their feedback, onboarding the right competencies and leveraging data to improve the customer experience and optimize the business. What, then, is on the top of the agenda of a newly appointed SVP? “First of all, it’s making sure that everyone knows that digital is not a ‘thing’ that lives in some corner of the company, but rather something we all need to embrace. There are great tactics and tools that can amplify all functions of a company,” Christian explains and elaborates: “The company [B&O] knew exactly what it wanted to do in the short term and it needed someone to come in and execute on that roadmap, which was a task I gladly took on. The other component was obviously to set a vision and direction to guide our future journey.” And since joining B&O, Christian has found that the organization is booming with courage and entrepreneurial drive: “We are a bit like a 93-year-old startup who wakes up in the morning and is convinced that it can conquer the world,” he says.

The big data dilemma

Many brands today end up in what Christian refers to as the “big data dilemma”. Basically, they have vast amounts of data and spend time and resources trying to make value out of that data inside the organization, often without a clear objective in mind. To Christian, a particularly intriguing aspect of B&O is that in this organization, the big data dilemma is in many ways reversed. “We know exactly what data we need, we just don’t have all of it. We know what we want to use it for, which contrasts to some of the companies I have worked with in the past”, he says. “We are looking at applications where we up until now have lacked the data to optimize the experience for customers. We need to capture this data, and that is part of the journey we are on.” Capturing more relevant data and moving closer to customers are the two intertwined parts of B&O’s digital journey, and Christian is convinced that the combined results of this endeavor will present many new opportunities for the company. “We are going to be able to open new doors simply by providing a better and more informed logic into B&O, so we can make better and faster decisions and ultimately conquer new markets,” he explains. In fact, B&O’s journey into new and exciting markets is already well under way. In the past couple of years, B&O has built teams and offices in China and the U.S. This has given Christian and the team hands-on experience on how to navigate – and expand – in an increasingly digital world. What is still lacking, according to Christian, is for the B&O team to gain an even better understanding of the consumers’ lives and how they ultimately use B&O products differently across markets.

Pick up when your customers call

Besides having breakfast with his family of four, Christian’s daily morning ritual includes reading the latest B&O customer reviews and calling up B&O-exclusive dealers to check the temperature on current activities. The same goes for his colleagues. Moreover, a tailored customer experience team helps deepen the insights of how customers experience and interact with current B&O products. Throughout B&O’s digital journey, one particular saying has permeated all decision-making and helped pave the way forward. “I am a strong believer in the good old saying that there really are two sources of competitive advantage in this world,” says Christian. “One is learning more about your customers than the competition, and this is obviously incredibly important if you want to be a customer-centric company in the luxury and lifestyle industry. The second one is turning these insights into tangible actions faster than the competition. And it sounds incredibly simple, but in all the companies I have either worked in or worked for, it’s a hard thing to operationalize,” he explains. “We need to make sure that regardless of whether it’s in the online world or the physical world, we pick up the phone when our customers call.” For B&O, moving closer to the customers and improving and fueling digital solutions are the two main focus areas in the current digital strategy.

The next note

When envisioning the future, Christian sees a range of opportunities for B&O. “This brand is strong because B&O employees have had high standards for 93 years, constantly fighting to unlock what seemed impossible. Now, the world is moving significantly faster, talent flows freely across the globe, knowledge is publicly available, and cloud computing and AI processing power are being democratized. These new opportunities have a profound impact on our ability to take this company to new heights. Everyone here at B&O wakes up every morning to ensure we do exactly that. These are exciting times.”

The B&O story started in Jutland, Denmark, in 1925 when the two engineers Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen designed a radio to work with alternating current – quite a breakthrough in a time where most radios were battery-operated. Over the years, the engineer duo launched a number of successful products, ranging from roof-mounted loudspeakers for circuses, electric razors and a sound recording system for the film industry. Towards the end of World War II, the company suffered a huge setback as its factory in Jutland was burnt down as a punishment for the management refusing to cooperate with the Nazis. Bang and Olufsen, however, rebuilt the factory and tenaciously continued their business.

“We are going to be able to open new doors simply by providing a better and more informed logic into B&O.”