Brand consultants battle for complete customer-experience package

Once limited to product, packaging or logo design, agencies are now eyeing all aspects of the customer experience.

Brand consultants battle for complete customer-experience package

How do you maximise on building experience? Brand Union has come up with a novel solution. The Experience Imprint is a conceptual clock face with twelve sub-headings, each showing the limitations and successes of aspects of client ‘experience’.  

“The idea is it shows how strong or weak a brand is in each dimension,” explains Andrew Harrison, Brand Union’s Asia-Pacific chief operating officer. “It’s a snapshot that we like to think of as a mirror to the present and a map to the future.”

The clock is divided into four key areas: impression, interaction, responsiveness, and future-proofing. 

“It points [clients] in the right direction. The idea is to get clear briefs to find good solutions rather than easy glib answers,” says Harrison.

Today, brand consultancies are moving away from pure redesign, package design and logo design to customer experiences. FutureBrand, Brand Union and Prophet are examples of companies shifting their models, elevating their positioning from that of brand consultancy to an end-to-end provider.

Positive consumer experiences have a direct correlation with their ongoing loyalty to a brand. In response, consultancies are recasting their role from purely presiding over a brand per se to helping to supervise and administer consumer experience of that same brand.

“Today’s marketplace demands a faster, fluid and more flexible approach to brand-building — essentially it means moving with agility to meet opportunity,” states Nick Foley, Landor’s president of Southeast Asia-Pacific and Japan.

For Landor, that means providing verbal branding, prototyping, digital and engagement to go alongside their more strategic offerings of naming, architecture, and experience mapping. Most crucial is that “agile brands know how to change and change quickly”.

That is true of brand consultancies, says Michael Lisboa, user-experience director at Havas Drive, a new Bangkok-based team which transforms experiential offerings across Asia. “So often the agency business is cannibalising itself from the inside out, falling into this master-slave relationship — it’s no longer dialogue, it’s just a blast of filling empty spaces [such as bus ads or billboards],” Lisboa says.

Brand Union’s Harrison says that technology has changed the process of brand-marketing dramatically.

“The days where you could just do a corporate logo, and another agency could do a TV ad and another a poster campaign are gone in a world of instant social media,” he says. “As marketing has got more sophisticated over the last decade or so, there is increasing recognition that it’s not just the logo, it’s the interactive experience when you ring the consumer helpline, it’s the tactile experience, it’s the packaging.”

In a 2014 Forrester report The Business Impact of Customer Experience, a high correlation was found between how consumers rate their experience and their willingness to buy from the same company again. To boot, consumer experience is connected to positive word-of-mouth, with a strong correlation between good experiences and recommending the brand to others. 

This is particularly important among younger audiences who, Lisboa says, “don’t care about brands — they care about experiences”. 

“When a brand creates an experience they can remember, something that impacts them, that is a brand they will want to follow and create a dialogue with,” he says.

Yet clients can be hesitant to make change. “It’s untested territory,” admits Lisboa. “At the end of every quarter [brands] have to report how many milk cartons or plane tickets they sell. [Focusing on consumer experience] is not instant for them.” 

If the need is accepted, implementing change is another matter. While a brand might want to provide a holistic experience for its customers, in practice different functions of the brand are often located in different geographical offices with different budgets. 

Challenges also arise from brand consultancies recognising that this might mean out-sourcing some roles. Harrison views a brand consultant like a ring master, stating:  “You may have got as far as you can go with the logo and packaging but the retail theatre and point of sale also needs to be completely aligned — it takes a bit of courage and imagination to say that’s not necessarily our expertise but here’s a sister company.” 

One example is airlines. In the past, brand consultancies might have stopped their work at the tail-fin — the big public statement. Today, however, to stay competitive consultancies must examine and orchestrate everything from the design of the boarding passes and the menus to the layout of the executive lounge, the inflight magazine, and the check-in process. 

Combining physical and digital brand experiences is also key. According to Forrester, one successful example is the agency SapientNitro, which performed work for a large retailer. In the shop, consumers were given an iPod Touch with an attached scanner. Customers created a digital list of products they liked both on the shelves and, via an app, to collections and offers not physically available in store. The result was a more bountiful basket. 

In the majority of cases, though, instant sales are second to building brand loyalty and taking a long-term view. As Harrison insists: “We’re right in the middle of a complete reinvention for the agency, where we have a sort of philosophy that what we’re about is brilliant design beautifully connected — a richer space and a broader offering.” 


BIG IDEAS New demands are re-shaping agencies

Tom McCann, senior analyst, Forrester Research

Over the past five years, the lines between the brand, marketing and customer-experience disciplines have blurred as customers have gained access to companies and products on their own terms. During this time, Forrester Research has kept close company with CMOs and brand agencies alike, to survey this changing landscape and identify the threats and opportunities it offers.

This research has shown consistently that a strong relationship exists between customers’ experiences with a brand and their loyalty to it. As this relationship crystallised, CMOs have started to move their focus from managing the brand to managing the customers’ experiences.

In order to meet the needs of today’s perpetually-connected customers, CMOs are looking to create brand experiences that connect across all physical and digital touchpoints, moving from on-off campaign-planning to always-on connected brand-planning.

Agencies will play a key role in helping CMOs craft and execute strategies to deliver a connected brand experience. But CMOs often struggle to understand which agencies to partner with. In the post-digital era, the term ‘digital’ no longer clearly explains an agency’s services or what it can do.

In response to new demands, smart agencies are redefining their core competencies. Forrester has seen successful agencies as those that concentrate in three areas of client demand:

  • Innovation agencies develop transformational new products, insights or experiences. They work best for clients attempting radical business or product development.
  • Integration agencies create cohesion across all points of customer interaction. This model fits with traditional marketers who aim to integrate messages across multiple channels.
  • Implementation agencies build or implement business technology, such as ecommerce systems, loyalty, and CRM platforms or marketing analytics applications.

No one agency will be able to meet all a marketer’s needs, but focusing on acquiring the skills to deliver in one of these three areas will go a long way to getting your agency on the CMO’s shortlist.


Our View: It is a step in the right direction as consumers now value experience more than fluffy  corporate brand messaging. 

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