Holla chief: Customer experience is the new brand remit

Boutique agency's CEO and new author of a book on brand strategy, Alex Allwood, shares how to tackle customer experience as a marketing discipline

Alex Allwood
Alex Allwood

Customer experience is the new marketing agenda, and marketers must turn their attention to customer journeys, data and technology, and advocacy if they’re to survive in today’s experience economy.

That’s the view of The Holla Agency’s founder and CEO, Alex Allwood, who detailed the importance of an experience-led approach to marketing at an industry breakfast event in Sydney, which also marked the launch of her new book, Getting in the game: Customer experience is the brand.

The book focuses on the rise of the experience economy and its impact on business, as well as sets out seven pillars vital to achieving superior customer experience. These are brand purpose, organisational alignment, customer journey, keeping the promise, technology, co-creation with customers, and sustainable experience management. It also delves into ways of marketing based on experience, stretching from content and personalisation, through to the role of mobile, paid media and social.

Allwood pointed out customer relationships have historically been owned by sales and customer service functions. But thanks to the rise of the experience economy, brand leaders now have the responsibility to ensure every step in the customer journey adds value, she said.

She positioned customer experience today as “the perceptions customers hold, resulting from every digital and physical interaction”.

“Marketing has long been about the art of winning customers and increasing share through advertising, promotions and PR, but push marketing isn’t relevant anymore,” Allwood told attendees. “What’s also changed is the customer relationship. Traditionally, these have been built on transactional marketing practices such as discounting, promotions and merchandising. In the experience economy, however, these offers provide diminishing competitive advantage, and are easily replaced with a competitor’s offering, and deliver low advocacy.

At the heart of the experience economy is personalisation, authenticity and engagement, Allwood continued.

“Brands need to differentiate on a new foundation. Like no time before, customer experience is the brand,” she said.

Allwood said data and technology are vital in achieving new levels of customer engagement, and noted Disney’s new customer system using ‘MagicBands’ as an example of the “ultra-personalised” future brands will need to deliver to survive.

The MagicBands are a wearable technology used to collect a raft of customer data, such as activities a consumer participates in, their level of engagement with products, rides, food and beverages, the channels they interact in, and behaviours over time. The data is used to map the entire customer purchase journey and to personalise the experience at its theme parks accordingly.

“This is what the future of customer experience looks like – and it’s driven by analytics. It will be data and technology that enable marketers to humanise interactions and create more meaningful experiences and higher engagement to deliver higher and more emotional brand differentiator,” Allwood said.

She also stressed the importance of building customer advocacy, adding word-of-mouth is now the most credible and trustworthy source of brand intelligence for consumers and is used extensively by customers in their path to purchase and post-purchase. Industry research suggests people are four times more likely to purchase when referred by a friend, she said.

“Customer advocacy is the new marketing ROI, and online recommendations and reviews around extending the path to purchase,” Allwood said. “Advocacy helps determine the health of your brand.”

One way of building advocacy and tying customer closer to the brand experience is co-creation, Allwood said. Brands performing well in this space have also shifted from a product to customer-first approach, have whole-of-business approach and have embraced an always-on service model to support social interactions.

“Smart marketers are focused on empowering their customers and giving them different ways to share and connect,” she commented.

While marketers have always been good at positioning a great brand promise, it’s now time to keep them, Allwood concluded. According to a recent Bain and Co report, 80 per cent of companies believe they provide a superior service to customers, yet only 8 per cent of their customers hold the same view.

“The value of the promise needs to be delivered every time a customer interacts with your brand,” she said.

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