The brand and experience play driving Entertainment's digital transformation

Chief customer experience officer of the Australian entertainment offers book brand explains the transformative journey the business has been on to future proof

Future proofing by making the big transition from physical to digital proposition and engagement has seen Australia lifestyle offer business, Entertainment, embark on simultaneous digital and brand transformation.  

Entertainment is a 26-year-old Australian brand known for producing the iconic Entertainment book full of offers across a wide variety of merchant offerings. As well as its core consumer and merchant customers, the business partners with more than 15,000 fundraising institutions and gives 20 per cent of all book sales to charity. To date, this has resulted in $85 million being donated to charities across Australia, from the largest institutions to local schools and clubs.  

This week, Entertainment confirmed its appointment of brand consultancy, FutureBrand, to help reshape its brand and customer approach. It’s a partnership reflecting a wider effort to transform brand, customer and product proposition via a complete rethink of business strategy.  

Entertainment chief customer experience officer, Linda McDonald, told CMO the 26-year-old brand made the decision to retire its iconic physical book and shift to digital-only a little over a year ago. The significant impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on all three core customer cohorts – merchants, members and fundraisers – has only accelerated the need for the digital shift, she said.  

But it’s clearly a momentous change. “We made the decision to go from a book program and really a publishing approach, which people know and love in terms of the tangibility of the book, and where you’re ripping out those vouchers to hand over to the brands – to convert to the world of digital,” McDonald said.

“The decision was made for lots of reasons. Killing so many trees wasn’t viable anymore, for one. The old model also didn’t give us the flexibility in market we knew we could leverage if we’d had a fully digital offering and put our focus into that. When it comes to resourcing and capabilities in the business, being publishing focused versus digital and trying to mix the two is very difficult.  

“We needed to make the decision to make digital the way forward.”    

Entertainment wasn’t unaware of the importance of digital. The group has had an app in market for several years as well as website, and the latter has been critical in driving sales outside of the physical book. To date, about 50 per cent of consumers have purchased both the book and digital.  

But with an in-house production team publishing 23 issues every year, it required a very different structure to support a digital business.  

“As a result, the big focus over the past year has been setting ourselves up to be a truly digital business,” McDonald said. “COVID gave us more time to focus on doing all of that – we used the last year to focus on getting all our fundamentals in place.”  

Brand transformation  

Then there’s the FutureBrand partnership. “Having ‘book’ in your brand name when you don’t have a book anymore and transitioning 26 years of history into a new world of digital when the book was so fundamental to the brand, offer and everything around what it was, meant we needed to look at the brand holistically,” McDonald said.  

“We needed to think about how we were going to articulate ourselves in market and explain to people who we are when you take the book out of it. We started working with FutureBrand to do just that.”    

McDonald said it was important to line everything up. “I didn’t want to go out and start talking about our brand in a different way until we do deliver on what we say we’re going to deliver. It was intentional we did this in tandem,” she explained.    

“We have a clear strategy from a digital point of view in terms of where we are heading and we knew when we were going to reach certain points and have capability in place. I wanted to leverage go-to-market then with a new fresh look in every shape and form.  

“And it’s a journey – we are only at the start of the brand overhaul and looking at how we present ourselves in market and how we talk to our audiences.”    

The challenge facing Entertainment is to articulate the brand proposition and history of the brand while taking into account its three customer groups. “The key reasons they work with us or buy membership is different. It’s a mind puzzle and we have had some fun pushing through this,” McDonald said.  

According to FutureBrand CEO, Richard Curtis, the big clue highlighting the way forward was in McDonald’s title of chief customer experience officer. He noted the organisation’s cross-functional commitment to take a customer-first approach.  

“It’s working through that balance of what’s changing and not changing, what’s significant and what’s not, and what you want to take with you versus what you leave behind - but considering all of that in the context of experience,” he said. “Importantly, it’s understanding what role the brand plays within driving that experience.  

“There is clearly a significant transformation from book to app. The brand has a critical role to play in signalling that and telling people there is something new and exciting happening around Entertainment. But the logo is far from a be-all-end-all. That brand needs to set the context for the interface and how the experience works.  

“And how does the brand behave differently to those three cohorts, how does language play a role, how do we better understand their needs?”  

What’s apparent is Entertainment’s customer base is not three discrete groups but instead an interconnected community. “Part of the member appeal is the fact there is a fundraising component; part of the merchant appeal is you’re going to draw members into your location. You can’t silo those elements – you need to think about the three sides of the triangle,” Curtis said.  

A bonus is the heritage, legacy and love for the brand, McDonald said. FutureBrand Index’s was used to measure customers’ perceptions of the brand and provide insights into future transformation. It showed Entertainment has a strong sense of mission and offers an enjoyable experience. It also revealed the opportunity for the brand to invest in its personality and storytelling to build a stronger emotional connection with all its stakeholders.  

“This brand has very engaged consumers and a strong average tenure across our membership. We have a unique community and relationship across our members, fundraisers and merchants, which is hard to replicate in the Australian marketplace given our numbers,” McDonald said.  

“The members win because they get to support a cause close to their heart, plus get a whole lot of savings usually paid back within two outings. Our merchants work with us because we drive traffic through their doors. Then we have fundraising partners: We offer a really simple way to fundraise.”  

Nevertheless, there are distinct jobs to be done. For merchants, it’s around how to build the proposition that enables them for the future.  

“Up until now, we’ve had a very static offer - you could use any offer any time of the year, it’s usually most days of the year except public holidays. That model has been in place a long time. We know if we were to give merchants more flexibility, they have such faith in us and loyalty – we are a free marketing service for them – there is more opportunity to help us,” McDonald said.  

For fundraising organisations, it’s again shifting thinking from a tangible product sold at their event to a digital play. Again, the challenges experienced during COVID and removal of core physical fundraising events has already seen digital’s position elevated in this group of customers.  

Overcoming a very loyal following for the book within a segment of its consumer base will be the other big hurdle for Entertainment. “Part of the brand transition is to take what they loved in the book and bring it to the digital world, then communicate it and help them understand they will be able to have just as many great experiences with the new offer without the physical book,” McDonald said.  

In particular, digital provides a far more dynamic brand and opportunity for greater personalisation. “It’s translating that emotion attached to the book to the digital experience,” Curtis said.  

“We all know there’s a fine line to walk between adding in emotion and removing friction when it comes to any experience. As much as the book was tangible, there were pain points associated as well – you could leave it at home. That dynamism and agility sets the stage for the brand going forward.”   

Personalisation play

To help, Entertainment is building a new martech stack to enable its personalisation and engagement ambitions.  

“We have a great database of engaged current members and past members we can talk to. The ability to segment and talk to them in a relevant way is going to be amplified ten-fold,” McDonald said. “We’re looking at where our customers redeem, how they use the membership and building that into the experience to make membership more relevant, salient and engaging so they understand the value in that will be a big business for us.”  

There’s also the internal cultural shift from publishing-oriented team to digitally led team that understands the world Entertainment is now playing in. McDonald said she’s had the luxury of bringing new capabilities into the business across various disciplines, from a new head of product, to new digital acquisition retention manager and a social media manager.  

“We have increased level of capability in the world of customer experience and digital product so we can show the business and members what is possible,” she said.    

The visual brand refresh including logo, look and language is set to launch in a couple of weeks’ time and coincides with the relaunch of Entertainment’s app and website.  

“That transitions us from the old to new world and you’ll see us very quickly enhance that as we move forward,” McDonald said. “The experiences you will see will be significantly different if you look at where the app is today versus in a couple of weeks.  

“The last few months have been about setting ourselves up to get into market with the new website, app and visual brand. We have a whole program of work to do from there and it’s everything, from tech stack to working with data.”  

COVID impact

Having spent the last 10 months navigating the hefty challenges COVID threw all three of its customer groups, McDonald and the Entertainment team have already had their trial by fire when it comes to working with customer base in a different way.  

“It’s been an interesting 10 months figuring out how to work with customer groups to ensure membership was still viable and strong, and that all three customer groups could continue to engage with us and help them with the role we play,” she said.    

“Short term, we’re firstly looking to get back to a really strong position from a membership point of view. Becoming relevant in the world again after the last 10 months is tough. Leveraging our member base to build that is key.  

“Long-term, it’s looking at the opportunities open to us as a digital business and knowing we are set up to enable ourselves to have flexibility and speed to bring these initiates to market and make changes quickly.”    

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