Marketers and ‘the business’ are not Game of Thrones-style foes, but key partners that create total experience of brands
Most brands overlook the total experience, or TX, at their peril, Andrew Holt writes. In the quest for growth, there are four strategies effective brands use to unlock value.
Consumers don’t separate their experience of a business into a disconnected sum of parts, with a poor digital experience siloed from a funny TV ad or a great returns policy, but rather these are absorbed collectively to form an interconnected perception of the brand built through a total experience.
Old news is new news for brands seeking growth in 2021
We’re in the age of the experience economy. Customer experience (CX), user experience (UX), employee experience (EX) are the watch-words for any business wanting to grow their customer base – and with it, their bottom line. But in 2021 there’s another X to add to the marketing vernacular, total experience (TX).
Global research and advisory firm Gartner recently identified ‘total experience’ as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2021. As Brian Burke, its VP of research states: “…total experience (TX), is a strategy that connects multiexperience with customer, employee and user experience disciplines… and organisations that provide a TX will outperform competitors across key satisfaction metrics over the next three years.”
Gartner’s prediction reveals two significant and timely lessons for brands seeking growth.
It’s all brand to us
First, by drawing an explicit link between the human experience of a business and its commercial success, Gartner reminds us of a fundamental commercial truth – that we are all in the business of brand. Marketing departments and ‘the business’ are not competing entities jostling for supremacy like warring families in Game of Thrones, but foundational elements in the organisational value chain. To paraphrase legendary management consultant and author on business, Peter Drucker, beyond marketing and innovation everything else a business does is implementation.
Second, the ‘total experience’ concept also explains why this is true. That to everyone who experiences a business in any way, everything is brand. Consumers don’t separate their experience of a business into a disconnected sum of parts, with a poor digital experience siloed from a funny TV ad or a great returns policy, but rather these are absorbed collectively to form an interconnected perception of the brand built through a total experience.
Now this is not exactly new news.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
In 1974, when Stephen King – the head of advertising research at ad agency J. Walter Thomson – wrote his brief but revolutionary ‘Planning Guide’, which famously ‘invented’ the discipline of Brand Planning alongside the work of Stanley Pollitt at competing ad agency BMP, his central concept was that the ‘total impression’ of a brand in the mind of the consumer is built from an array of associations including price, product delivery, promotions, packing, distribution, name etc. Marketing, King argued, was the act of harnessing these diverse inputs into a coherent and compelling whole – the ability to see the four Ps in their pod, if you will.
So, if not new news, why is this still good news for brands looking for new growth in 2021?
The business of brand
It’s no coincidence that the world’s most valuable brands, as identified by Forbes each year, are those that understand the value of this totality of experience. The good news is we can discern four common strategies that these brands use which can help any brand unlock greater value:
- Adopt a clear positioning that is not only distinctive but conveys a sense of purpose strong enough to compel others to care about why your brand exists. Google and Amazon both have a famously elevated sense of their purpose in the world, which has helped stretch and redefine their business far beyond an initial competency in better search or book buying.
- Understand that, ultimately, your culture is your product. That with everything else replicable, it is people and ‘the way we do things around here’ that drives external perceptions. Crucially, this is not a case of internal behaviours aligning with a brand promise, but of the internal behaviours being the promise – that brand is what brand does. As anyone who has ever worked crew at Macca’s knows; Ray Kroc’s commitment to quality, service, cleanliness and value are not just words on a poster.
- Recognise that orders need to be continually remade, not simply taken. Each of the following brands has shown the fortitude to redesign their category when necessary, to secure future growth. Apple famously killed its own golden goose to ensure that it was the brand that combined music players and phones into one device, not one of its competitors. Toyota’s ‘Mobility as a service’ strategy is designed to win in a near future without private car ownership. Both examples demonstrate a willingness to face the reality that what got you here will not necessarily get you there.
- Accept that marketing is a zerosum game, and that growth requires clarity about where exactly business is going to come from or go to. For these brands ‘the competitive set’ is not a curiosity in a tracking study, but rather a gladiatorial arena in which living breathing foes must be challenged for supremacy. Samsung showed how this approach can turn even the arch predator into prey, by taking the gloves off with Apple to build its ‘ingenious’ Galaxy brand. More recently, Microsoft’s swift offer to replace Google with Bing in the event the former felt compelled to withdraw its search service from the Australian market, displayed a finely-honed poacher’s instinct.
Each of these strategies can help brands unlock the greater growth predicted by Gartner today and by Stephen King back in the day. Call it TX, CX, UX… or simply brand, but recognise that it’s the whole experience that matters most. Now that is old news that deserves to be new news.
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