A positive customer experience is more important than brand story

20/07/2016

Agencies need to focus more on improving the customer experience rather than emotional storytelling at scale, says Andrew Hardeman, because - despite what we may think - most consumers don't care about having an emotional connection to brands.

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Kevin Costner said in his 1989 film Field Of Dreams, “Build it and they will come”. Great in theory; difficult in practice, right?

In 21st Century markets, there is now increased competition, less tangible differentiators amongst category players, and more control in the hands of consumers.

To extend the analogy, just ‘building it’ isn’t cutting it anymore. A lack of rational differentiation in products has meant companies have had to rely heavily on creating emotionally distinctive brands as a way of defining a unique market position.

Cue the current buzz around ‘emotional storytelling’ – the process of building a positive emotional connection between brands and consumers over time with an evolving message.

It makes sense; there is empirical evidence that supports the importance of emotions in influencing the consumer-purchase journey. But is an emotional connection with brands what consumers really want? Not really.

In a market becoming increasingly skeptical of brand motives, consumers are seeking out and connecting with brands that are ‘useful’, that provide real value, prove their worth and deliver a better customer experience across their entire purchase journey.

It’s actually a representation of the broader societal trend of people actively looking for ways to become more efficient and effective in everyday life.

While emotion may be seen as a point of differentiation now, a superior customer experience is competitive advantage for the future. And, it pays.

A recent study conducted by Avanade (the leading digital innovator on the Microsoft platform) found every dollar invested in improving customer experience generated three dollars in return. In addition, they expected to see an 11% increase in revenue over the next 12 months.

In what is now commonly described as ‘the age of the customer’, it is even more important for brands to understand that actions speak louder than words.

Why? In the minds of consumers, the customer experience is the brand. Now, for a few examples to highlight the point.

Airbnb and Uber have succeeded by satisfying an existing need with a better service.

Domino’s increased profitability in a society focused on health and declining traditional fast food consumption by developing innovative ways to provide customers with a better pizza experience.

ANZ claim its introduction of Apple Pay – a tangible point of value for its customers over other banks – is “prompting more customers to open accounts or start using credit cards that had been lying dormant”.

To give a broader societal example, Tinder has been successful because it has made the complex emotional rollercoaster of dating an easier, functional transaction. Whether this is a good or bad thing is your call.

Storytelling (‘the sizzle’) is important, but if it remains focused on emotion alone instead of ‘the steak’, the experience gap between perception and reality will increase and might actually hinder brands.

Moving forward, agencies and clients would benefit from re-defining their focus and considering an ‘experience storytelling’ approach: the process of first developing better, more innovative and tangible customer experiences that form the basis for storytelling at scale.

In essence, have something worth talking about before talking for the sake of being in market.

While the Field of Dreams concept of ‘build it and they will come’ may seem improbable in the current context, the time is now for brands and agencies to consider what they need to develop and communicate to attract consumers to their brand now and into the future.

Andrew Hardeman - Strategy Director at Carat Melbourne

This was originally published on Mumbrella - here 

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