Why brands need to move on from customer experiences

By 3rd April 2019blog
customer experience brand experience

In our latest blog post, we outline why CMO’s need to move beyond customer experience to embrace brand experiences because focusing on the customer is restrictive, value primarily lies in brand whilst brand experiences scale, are emotionally driven and strategic.

Competing through experiences is all the rage. This makes sense. Experiences drive performance, are valued by humans, provide almost infinite sources of competitive advantage and deliver more enduring happiness than possessions[i].

But the type of experiences CMOs focus their efforts on needs to change. CMOs need to move beyond a customer experience mindset and embrace brand experiences because focusing on the customer is restrictive, value primarily lies in brand whilst brand experiences scale, are emotionally driven and strategic. The post provides more detail.

Focusing on the customer is restrictive

Brands interact with a variety of stakeholders not just customers. Take Sime Darby as an example. Sime Darby is a diversified Malaysian multinational with a US $11.74 billion market capitalisation. The company employs around 123,000 people across 26 countries and spans sectors including plantations, industrial equipment, the automotive industry and property. Sure, customers are important but the organisation’s scale means it needs to identify, understand and engage with a broad range of stakeholders, as their 2016 annual report outlines (Table 1).

Sime Darby Brand ExperiencesTable 1: Sime Darby Stakeholders (Source: 2016 Annual Report)

Focusing on stakeholders isn’t just for big corporations. Start-ups and fledgeling brands need to be mindful of local communities, employees, their supply chain, strategic partners and more. Ironically, focusing on customer experience is myopic. Brands need to cast a much wider net to account for the complexities and challenges of today’s world. The importance of this point multiplies when you consider other organisations such as governments, charities or NGO’s who increasingly build experiences as a means of public service or stakeholder engagement.

The primary source of value lies in the brand not the experience

When customers board a flight it’s not how they experience the cabin design, music or seat where the real value resides. It’s the brand, mediated through the cabin design, music or seat selection where the value lies. Contrast Virgin Atlantic with British Airways to illustrate this point. Virgin is fun and in many ways flamboyant. BA follows a more decidedly British, conservative approach. The experience appeals to certain customers because of the brand that underpins and informs that experience. By concentrating your efforts on the customer experience you’re in danger of focusing on the veneer of value. There’s not much point in that.

Brand experiences scale

Once you’ve defined your brand you have a foundation for building consistent brand experiences – at scale. Without a clearly articulated and understood brand you have no guiding principle in place. It’s just like sailing a ship without a rudder. The experiences delivered lie in the lap of the gods. As sure as night follows day, things will soon go off-tack.

Think about a time when you’ve encountered customer experiences that feel disjointed. Maybe check-in for a flight felt smooth and premium, but in-flight service was far from that. This happens because a customer experience not brand experience mindset prevails. Brand and experience don’t connect. It’s like the left and the right hand don’t connect. This contrasts with brand experiences where the brand is hard-baked into every touchpoint with ruthless focus and consistency. Customer experiences don’t tend to operate in this way which makes it very difficult to deliver consistent customer experiences, at scale.

Brand experiences are emotionally driven

Human decision-making is primarily driven by the emotions we feel[ii]. This is down to the role the limbic system plays in human decision-making. An experience, per se, has no emotion. It’s the brand that informs the experience where emotion resides. Experiences that express the brand are powerful because they tune into an emotional channel the brain is receptive to.

Brand experiences are strategic

The C-suite is responsible for strategy. Brand is strategic so by definition brand experiences are strategic. They relate to the big picture and account for how a stakeholder engages with your brand from start to finish. This contrasts with customer experiences which take a deep and detailed dive into key moments within the context of your overall brand experience. For example, waiting to be served in a business-class lounge or the process of serving your meal are customer experiences that aggregate into the overall brand experience. Given their strategic scope, brand experiences should be one of the C-suite’s primary concerns.

Conclusion

When competing through experiences CMOs need to embrace brand experiences because focusing on the customer is restrictive, value primarily lies in brand whilst brand experiences scale, are emotionally driven and strategic. Isn’t it time your organisation started to think about experiences in this way?

>This extract from Building Brand Experiences by Darren Coleman is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd

>Download the first chapter of Building Brand Experiences for FREE here

>Learn more about our forthcoming Advanced Brand Experience Bootcamps here.

Photo by Martin Adams

References

[i] Coleman, D. (2018) Building Brand Experiences: A Practical Guide to Retaining Brand Relevance, Kogan Page, London

[ii] Damasio, A (1995) Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Avon, New York

Damasio, A (1999) Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Harcourt Brace Orlando, FL

Ariely, D (2009) Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, HarperCollins

Kahnem, D (2012) Thinking, Fast and Slow, Penguin

Magids, S, Zorfas, A & Leemon, D (2015) The New Science of Customer Emotions, A better way to drive growth and profitability; Harvard Business Review, November 2015

Heath, R., Brandt, D., & Narin, A. (2006) Brand Relationships: Strengthened by Emotion, Weakened by Attention, Journal of Advertising Research, December 2006, 46 (4), pp. 410–419

Pringle, H., & Field, P. (2008) Brand Immortality: How Brands Can Live Long and Prosper, Kogan Page

Brandt, D (2016) What’s Next: Emotions Give a Lift to Advertising, Nielsen. Downloaded from http://bit.ly/wavelength-nielsen

Leek, S., and Christodoulides, G. (2012) ‘A framework for generating brand value in B2B markets: The contributing role of functional and emotional components’ Industrial Marketing Management 41(1): 106–114

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