Cannes Part 1: Why brands must put human interactions at the heart of their business

Nickie Scriven

Nickie Scriven is the CEO of Zenith. Scriven joined Zenith in 2014 as Melbourne Managing Director, and was previously head of marketing and brand at Australian Super. A marketer with more than 18 years’ experience, Scriven has worked with Budding Enterprises Australia, National Australia Bank and News in senior marketing, sales and strategy roles. She has also established her own marketing consultancy business working with many small and medium sized businesses.


As a Media Juror at this year’s Cannes Lions, I was fortunate enough to attend the world’s most influential festival of creativity and listen to thought-leading marketers from around the globe.

Those really striking a chord were the ones who reinforced everything we were looking for in the work we were judging on the jury – strongly grounded purpose and culture, real human and actionable insights, excellence in creating engaging consumer experiences, and results that delivered real business outcomes.

It was refreshing to hear from exceptional marketers who clearly have a seat at the table within their organisations. They were the ones who prioritised putting consumers and human interactions at the heart of their business. It was even more heartening to hear from organisations which truly understand the value of marketing in building powerful brands that don’t rely solely on discounting to drive sales.

Driving brand loyalty and delivering business results

One such example was a keynote by Marriott International vice-president of buzz marketing and partnerships, Jennifer Utz Ilecki, who provided insightful advice and examples of how the company is putting exceptional customer experience at the heart of everything it does; driving brand loyalty and strong business results.

Ilecki advised marketers to ensure sponsorships and partnerships align to brand purpose and provide opportunities to create memorable brand experiences for customers. She reinforced the importance of attaching yourself to things that are authentic to your brand purpose and heritage, rather than latching on to “things of the moment”.  

Leveraging your customer data

Another focus was on encouraging marketers to leverage customer data to find trends, opportunities and problems to solve – not just within their business, but within the lives of their current and prospective customers. Ilecki highlighted the opportunity this provides to create meaningful brand experiences that delight and surprise customers, and drive long-term brand loyalty.

For Marriott International, this is conceived through four key areas: Entertainment, Sport, Lifestyle and Culinary – with loyalty as the connective thread across all brands and everything it does as a business. Ilecki backed this up with some brilliant examples demonstrating how Marriott has delivered to this vision; leveraging its existing partnerships and sponsorships, and by creating new ones.   

Ilecki reiterated the need to break down both organisational and agency silos to facilitate greater collaboration. This ensures every partner and every department works together to create amazing customer experiences; bringing them to life across every touchpoint.  

This rang true as I reflected on our discussions in the jury room as we evaluated the cases before us. The cases we awarded Lions to had the same thing in common – evidence of collaboration that brought the content to life, where each channel and touchpoint had a role to play to amplify the content and drive brand engagement.

But equally, we saw so many missed opportunities and silos in play, where great pieces of content were merely placed in spots and opportunities for brand engagement were lost.

When agency partners collaborate and ideate together the work comes to life; and when organisations rally around a purpose and put consumers at the heart of everything they do, brand engagement, customer loyalty and business results are delivered.  

A business priority, not just a marketing one

However, significant challenges exist for many marketers who perhaps don’t have the remit in their organisations to connect all the dots and silos to deliver this.

In reality, marketers can conceive and lobby this approach among stakeholders, but it needs to be a business priority, not just a marketing one. It also needs to be a directive of the CEO with a scorecard KPI at board level to ensure it is embraced and ‘lived’ organisation-wide.

This is quite the challenge when the majority of today’s CEOs come from finance backgrounds and while many boards lack marketing representation among their directors.

The impact of poor customer experience

Ilecki also focused on the impact that negative customer experiences have on shaping brand perceptions. This is a timely reminder when we reflect on the frequent cost cutting of marketing budgets.

Advertising is an investment if consumers have positive brand experiences that lead to favourable brand perceptions, sales, retention and loyalty; but it is absolutely a ‘cost’ if the customer experience is poor and reinforces negative perceptions every time people experience the brand.

It is ultimately a value exchange. If the experience is poor, people will only purchase when they have an immediate need or when incentivised by discounts. But when the experience is positive, consumers return to preferred destinations and brands, and are less price sensitive.

Ultimately, the customer service experience is the moment of truth for how seriously the c-suite recognise the role human interaction plays in achieving trust, loyalty, profitability and the sustainability of brands.

So will marketers and their organisations be brave enough to invest in human experience ahead of short-termism? I believe those that do will develop sustainable meaningful brands for consumers, and those that don’t may not be around in the not too distant future.

 

 

Tags: CMO role, marketing strategy, Cannes Lion, marketing leadership

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