John Harris
Aug 27, 2020

Marketers need to move up from CX to HX

The future is brighter for brands that prioritise serving humans over targeting customers.

KFC showed an appreciation for HX when it shared recipes, rather than pushing for orders, during India's lockdown.
KFC showed an appreciation for HX when it shared recipes, rather than pushing for orders, during India's lockdown.

When China’s stores were closed during COVID-19 lockdowns, Estee Lauder live-streamed skincare product demonstrations by sales representatives. Similarly, Nike live-streamed the launch of the Air Max 2090 to more than 2.7 million viewers via Alibaba’s Taobao Live.

More than simply creative responses to a moment, these moves signal a movement that will reshape marketing. Instead of using technology to replace human processes and target customers for instant, automated transactions, more brands like these will use technology to create and expand genuine human connections. In other words, brands will trade customer experience (CX) for human experience (HX).

HX generates deeper human connection, whereas CX is designed to create a more efficient, expedient transaction. HX triggers empathy and effectiveness where CX settles for efficiency and transparency. HX considers why and appeals to emotion, while CX only registers what’s happening behaviorally.

CX theory holds that by integrating disciplines and data with CRM technology, marketers can lead people to purchase, prove outcomes and perpetuate brand relationships. This approach increasingly leaves people cold because it fails to make a continuous, meaningful difference in their lives. HX recognises that true brand power comes from using technology to produce a more human interaction, not simply a faster funnel and more seamless transaction.

In March, Worldwide Partners and GlobalWebIndex surveyed 3,600 Internet users across China, Brazil, Germany, the US and the UK. We found widening tech angst, as two-thirds of people are constantly connected online yet 55% are confused by new technology, 61% fear the Internet erodes their personal privacy, and 35% now want to remain anonymous online.

By contrast, consumer advocacy based on a one-to-one relationship has grown by more than 30% in the past five years, while more people will pay a premium for real-time, human interaction—someone who will explain how a product is made and best used. We found that 38% of global Internet users will buy a product or service just to be part of the community around it. And 23% of senior executives, particularly at large organizations, will advocate for a business service because of a personal, one-on-one relationship.

HX marketers will use technology to support rather than transcend human experiences. For example, when COVID-19 closed its restaurants in India, KFC opted against the conventional CX approach of pushing app orders and fulfillment. Realising that many people were suddenly without domestic help and therefore cooking for the first time, agency Blink Digital made the app a source of ideas for creative meals with KFC ingredients. Posting users’ creations has expanded and intensified the community around the brand.

HX marketers will also take a local approach to personal marketing. People’s values are different by demography, geography, interest group, and myriad other ways they self-classify. For example, our research found that in the CPG space, craft brands can carry a premium in mature markets but people in emerging markets will bypass them for more established brands.

And we found that the instinct to unplug on vacation differs dramatically by region. Asian travelers want to document and share their experiences, whereas Westerners are more likely to unplug.

Finally, HX will give people the opportunity to live out their own stories. For top jeweler Chow Tai Fook, WE Marketing in China launched a campaign encouraging people to draw their own pieces and then get connected with reps to produce personalised jewelry at affordable prices. And Grab’s Delivery Doodles app lets kids draw the food they want to eat so an AI engine can help them order it. Such initiatives represent the zenith of personal marketing.

HX is the new premium. More than all its features and benefits combined, a brand’s HX will determine its ultimate value. Brand futures depend on how deeply we understand individual desires and how authentically we give people access to them, not how tightly we coordinate an attack on commercial targets.


John Harris is CEO of Worldwide Partners, a global network of independent agencies.

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