Reconciling customer experience with advertising

Mark Cameron

Mark is a world renowned thought leader in digital innovation, customer experience, social media strategy and service design. He is the digital strategy and customer experience columnist for BRW and has had well over 400 articles published in industry publications. Mark is also a regular speaker on customer experience, social media and digital strategy. Currently he is CEO of Melbourne-based customer experience innovation consultancy, Working Three.

Life is not easy for a marketer. The media landscape continues to be reinvented and fragmented, affecting their ability to capture the attention of their target audience. Mass media’s power is also rapidly waning, and so attention is turning to digital innovation and data-driven direct communications.

But, as many brands have found out, relying too heavily on technology can turn your advertising campaigns into nothing more than smart spam – with an ever-decreasing return on investment.

To further complicate matters, research data shows word-of-mouth recommendations are now disproportionately influential in the purchase design-making process, especially those from friends and family. The Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messaging report published by Nielsen in late 2013 found 84 per cent of global respondents saw this source of information as the most trustworthy.

Put simply, consumers are becoming harder to reach, and gaining their trust is becoming much more difficult even if you do reach them.

To manage this challenge, organisations and marketers have been looking to better understand the entire customer journey to enhance the customer experience. But this approach comes with an inherent conflict best summed by the following question: “Do you want your customers talking about your products, or your advertising?”

It is true, advertising provides a direct line of communication to existing and prospective customers. A customer experience advocate, on the other hand, will ask: “Why not let the customer experience speak for itself?”

So how should brands think about this issue?

Selling experience

There is a lot to be said for taking a long hard look at your customers and your organisation to identify opportunities to greatly improve the customer experience. In today’s world, almost every consumer-facing company should be doing that in some way. Customers’ ability to be heard en masse is far too powerful not to.

And inevitability, when companies do seek to improve their customer experience, many of the outcomes become innovations and new digital communication channels.

But should these replace the need for advertising? Not at all. What they often do, however, is reframe the question: “What are we advertising?”. After all, if your company has invested heavily in creating a great customer experience, shouldn’t you tell the world?

Take Medibank, for example. The organisation sells health insurance, but its current advertising campaign is focused on raising awareness for its GymBetter mobile app. This app allows the user to pay to use a gym without having to pay regular membership fees. It’s not Medibank’s core business, but it is brand aligned and delivers great experience, and it gets even better if you happen to be a Medibank customer.

Market trends are maturing in a way that will start to impact how brands interact with their customers. The way consumers understand and use their own data is creating a whole generation with very different expectations about the way companies should interact with them. Social media is now reaching ubiquity, but there are still significant jumps in online communication that will be made in the next few years. Technologies like 3D printing will also dramatically alter traditional value chains.

These near-term trends will bring further rapid change and cannot be ignored. Nor can businesses advertise their way around them.

Creating a unique and fantastic customer experience is the way for businesses to stand out. But how the consumer interacts with the product or service - or how they discover that product or service for that matter - is part of the overall experience. Deeply integrating advertising into the way a customer experiences a brand is becoming an essential aspect of the overall marketing mix.

Do we want people talking about the product or the advertising? Neither. We want people talking about an outstanding customer experience, of which both are a part.

Tags: advertising, digital marketing

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