Brand experience: why marketing is no longer about advertising
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Marketing is no longer about advertising – it’s about the whole brand experience

The days of ‘stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ are over. Brands who want real cut-through need to think carefully about the brand experience they deliver to their customers.

  • Consumers care about their brand experience – they don’t separate out marketing
  • American retailer Best Buy had to change everything when threatened by Amazon
  • Chief marketing officers now have to work very closely with the tech department to make brand experiences easy for people

When someone buys something from a company online, sees an ad for one of its services on Instagram or talks to a sales rep on the phone, do they separate those three interactions into e-commerce, marketing and customer service? Unlikely. They just want to get a job done and get on with the rest of their lives. The overall brand experience is absolutely key.

When the American electrical retailer Best Buy’s existence was threatened by Amazon (people were using Best Buy’s stores as ‘showrooms’), it knew it had to turn everything about its brand experience upside down to survive. In 2012, it started a programme called Renew Blue, matched Amazon’s prices, redid its website, invested in search marketing and started shipping products for free.

It started to think of itself as having a purpose beyond ‘making money’ according to its outgoing chief executive Hubert Joly, speaking at Adobe’s Summit conference in Las Vegas in March (Joly will become Best Buy’s executive chair in June). Instead, its reason for being is now “to enrich lives through technology by addressing key human needs,” Joly said.

Of course, it still runs plenty of advertising, but the focus is really on the experience someone has with the brand. Best Buy now has in-home advisers to help people to choose what to buy, and an after sales service for all the electrical devices in someone’s home, priced at $200 a year. As Joly said, with great services comes greater complexity – if Netflix is not working, is it because of Netflix, the internet supplier or the TV itself?

Best Buy has also introduced a monitoring service for elderly people at home, using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect if they have fallen over, for example. “This is truly far from just selling a TV and then moving on,” Joly said.

Of course, digital techniques and using data have been key elements in Best Buy’s brand experience reinvention. In 2012, the company was essentially ‘mass and analogue,’ according to Joly. Now it is all about a digital transformation, connecting information to provide a single view of customers, and all of the company’s home advisers and in-store ‘blue shirt’ staff will have access to that person’s data and can better serve them.

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Incoming chief executive Corie Barry will need to keep that digital emphasis and work out how much to focus on its almost 1,000 physical stores. Joly described the shops as an ‘asset,’ especially since customers often visit them to pick up online orders – and may end up spending more in the process.

For Susan Johnson, chief marketing officer (CMO) of SunTrust, a large US retail bank, the focus for marketers has to be on how marketing and technology intersect so the bank can concentrate on what customers want rather than how to simply sell them existing products.

Speaking at Adobe’s conference, she explained how the bank is looking at people’s experiences when buying products such as mortgages, traditionally a long-winded process. With the SunTrust app, people can see the status of their mortgage application, receive a notification that it has been approved, and sign documents within the app.

Making these digital brand experiences appear seamless is hard work for brands, because it means the marketing and tech teams must work closely together and break down silos between departments. But customers don’t know or care about how a business is run, they simply want their experience with a brand to be easy. And arguably the easier it becomes, the more they might spend.

Making someone’s experience of a brand seamless requires a complete focus on customers, so much so that Joly at Best Buy said there is an ‘existential threat’ if a company does not. It means that the CMO and chief information officer (CIO) need to work more closely together, and as Adobe’s president and chief executive Shantanu Narayen said: “This needs to be a mandate for all companies.”

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