Chris Dobson
Jun 11, 2014

Rethinking 'experience' marketing

Could the term ‘experience’ be the most misused in the whole of the marketing industry?

Chris Dobson
Chris Dobson

For years 'experience' has been bent, stretched and flexed to help add a dose of sexiness or perceived value to everything from events to sales promotion and marketing stunts. All that remains is for someone to stage a flash mob and call it a ‘brand experience’ and then we are in real trouble… [We are quite certain this has already happened. -Ed.]

But when we cut away a lot of the crap and misappropriation, the need for brands to be able to think holistically about the experience they create around their brand has never been more important. The symptoms are so often discussed in the industry, and by the media at large, that they barely need repeating: socially connected customers sharing their views, the proliferation of media channels, increased competition, reduced loyalty, lower budgets, higher costs, etc.

But it feels like these combinations of factors are finally starting to change the way businesses are organised, managed and marketed—a far more profound and exciting approach to ‘integration’ than simply integration of message across media, the changes that we can see in leading businesses today are extensive, and permanent.

In the past the terms ‘brand’ could often just mean a veneer: a set of personalities and characteristics dreamt up after focus groups by the ad or brand agencies of the world. But those days are past. Today, completely the opposite is true, experiences are not things that are dreamt up and projected out, they need to start with the customer and work their way back to the organisation. If you read almost any research report, CEOs are not asking how they can make their advertising work harder, or why their latest print ad didn’t get the cutthrough they desired, they are asking how they can stage more customer-centric experiences, and as an industry it’s something we need to be more attuned and responsive to.

The fascinating research by Ty Montague that features in his book True Story and Storydoing shows us in vivid detail the benefits to companies that seek not to project a story, but to have a story and belief at their core that unites their business strategy, staff engagement and communication; resulting in increased profits, reduced media costs and increased advocacy. In other words, having an ‘experience-first’ mindset in the boardroom, as well as in the marketing department, is good business.

Creatively, the benefits of working with brands that have this sense of purpose at their core is liberating and leads to great work. You need just look at the volume and quality of work that has come out of Coke in the last year or two as evidence. This is my latest favourite, from Vietnam:

You could almost ask yourself ‘what is it?’ CSR, advertising, experiential? But really, who cares—it’s a brilliant idea that probably would have never come to life without the alignment of business and marketing behind a shared purpose.

Maybe this shows us a glimpse of the future. Do we need to think of integration in terms of channels or messages, or is it more important to first look at it as combining purpose with a passion for innovation, creativity and change?

Every measure, whether financial or creative that I’ve seen points to the latter, and that can only be a good thing. For once that starts to happen, brands will become smarter, better citizens and more creative. They will stop simply projecting messages and start creating experiences that entertain and educate. They will start to change people, and in turn help change the world.

Chris Dobson is head of strategy, Asia Pacific, with Imagination

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