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Op-Ed: The Experience Is A Brand’s Most Important Product

Op-Ed: The Experience Is A Brand’s Most Important Product
Brand Development

In a time when companies like Apple and Tesla continuously raise the bar for consumer experience, Donny Makower of RED Interactive advocates looking at brands through the eyes of the customer

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 14 may 2018

Take a walk through any electronics store and have a look at the flat screen TVs. They’re uniformly thin with crisp pictures, decent sound, and theoretically priced in proportion to their size and quality. But there’s little to distinguish them from brand to brand—they’re actually all pretty good.

It’s not just TVs. We’re in an ultra-competitive business environment where most of the products we encounter are reasonably well made and priced to move. But there is a consequence to this. Living in a sea of sameness and faced with more choice than ever before, consumers have had to reevaluate their priorities when it comes to making purchases. And whether consumers realize it consciously or subconsciously, the primary brand differentiator is often the customer experience (CX).

In a time when companies like Amazon, Apple and Tesla continuously raise the bar for customer experience, they’re also setting the standard for what customers expect from any brand they touch. Consumers care about how easy or difficult it is to interact with a brand, what type of brand relationship they can have, how personalized their experience is, and how much overall value they receive. They want these companies to not only deliver a great product or service, but to make their lives better too. This is now the cost of entry for any brand that wants to sit at the big kids’ table.

While most businesses are thinking about their CX strategy (which is evidenced by the fact that a Gartner survey in 2014 revealed that around two-thirds of brands have a Customer Experience Officer or equivalent role), many still fail to compete on experience because they are looking at their CX strategy too narrowly. They are often blinded by their all-encompassing knowledge of their own brand, while overlooking what it’s really like for a consumer trying to navigate endless choices in the modern world.

In the 1990s, an experiment was conducted at Stanford University that asked subjects to separate into two groups. One group was assigned to be Tappers, tasked with using their hands to literally tap out songs from a list of universally recognized jingles, such as the “Happy Birthday” song. The other group formed the Listeners, who were asked to figure out which tunes the Tappers were “playing.” I’ve actually played this game with my kids—it’s fun. But it’s not easy. The Tappers, with the songs all being so famous and obvious in their minds, guessed that the Listeners would correctly identify the songs about 50% of the time. In reality, however, the Listeners were correct a mere 2.5% of the time. They were right about once every forty songs.

The Tappers were in a bubble, filled with their knowledge of the song list that was provided to them, and not truly understanding how much was missing from the Listeners’ experience. What seemed obvious to the Tappers sounded like a series of disconnected beats to the Listeners. Unfortunately, too many brands today, despite their good intentions, act much more like Tappers and fail to see the world through the eyes of their customers. They need a change in perspective and should try to view their brand like a Listener.

One place where a customer-first approach matters most is in marketing. Whether we’re talking about a full 360 campaign, social, content creation, or even games, these critical touchpoints are core to the customer experience and impact how consumers feel about a brand. This, in and of itself, is not a new concept, as we all understand the importance of marketing. The problem lies in the fact that most marketing talks at people. Brands should instead be dedicating much more of their time to creating marketing for people—I’m talking about the fans, customers and audiences we all care about.

Marketing done right is actually sought out by the people it’s created for. Look at Patagonia, for example. People love that brand. They make great products, stand for something important and meaningful, and they pump out lots of content. But so much of their content speaks to the passions of their customers. So even though the content is a form of marketing, people still want it. It’s marketing that speaks to people on a deeper level; it doesn’t simply aim to sell products. This approach can be applied to all levels of marketing, from daily social posts to larger campaigns and activations. And it all contributes to creating an ideal customer experience.

Another example is when we collaborated with our client Under Armour on the launch of its Curry 4 basketball shoes with the Drone Drop, an activation in which fans participated in a digital scavenger hunt on UA Basketball’s Instagram page to find drop zone pins on an interactive map. Those who unlocked a unique QR code from the map were sent to secret drop zones around the Bay Area, where autographed pairs of Curry 4s were delivered via drone. Did the fans know this was marketing? Of course they did. Did they mind it? Not at all. They actually loved it and benefitted from it. The value exchange was there, so the fans and the brand all walked away winners.

The average tenure of a company listed on the S&P 500 is now down to a mere 14 years, a precipitous drop of over 50% since the 1960s. In the next decade, it’s predicted that about half of the companies currently listed on the S&P will change over—they’ll be replaced. They’re simply not pivoting fast enough and not keeping up with the times. It’s not enough when brands add value to their products. People expect value at every brand touchpoint. That’s what customer experience is all about. It’s not always easy, but it’s the only way to stand out today and endure for the long haul.

Donny Makower is co-founder and president of RED Interactive. With over 16 years of digital experience, he’s had the pleasure of leading the success of client services, strategy, operations, new business efforts and RED’s vision. He lives at the intersection of strategy, digital, product and user experience, and his goal is to consistently move brands towards a better future.


Lead Image: Apple Store stock photo from Hadrian/Shutterstock

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