Blogs & Comment

Why experience matters

Yvonne Hoffzimmer is joint managing director, Middle East, Jack Morton Worldwide

“In today’s intensely competitive business climate, there’s huge pressure for brands to secure and maintain consumer loyalty. Yet this loyalty is far from certain. Gone are the days when a slick ad campaign was enough to secure that loyalty – the consumer can spot an empty brand promise and they expect brands to deliver. And, of course, the rise of social media channels (not least in the Middle East as witnessed by the surge in use over the Arab Spring) has radically amplified consumer capacity to spread the word about anything, including brand performance.

There is a growing recognition that advertising is not all-conquering, but whatever its limitations, it will always be an effective vehicle for awareness. That being so, how do marketers ensure that this awareness translates to resonance, action and ultimately consumer loyalty? It is widely accepted that if brands must walk the talk and actually deliver on their brand promises, then the consumer experience (or consumer interactions with a brand and its products or services) is more important than ever.  But exactly how important is it and what are the drivers that brands can optimise to provide a better experience?

In late 2011 new consumer research* was carried out (sponsored by Jack Morton Worldwide) to examine these questions and to understand how this varies across product categories and demographic groups. The research also examines the idea of whether any brand can be an ‘experience brand’, or a brand that invests in building and continually improving how people ex-perience and interact with it as a point of differentiation from competitors and a reason for consumers to become customers and advocates.

Apple is, of course, front of mind when we think of great brand experience and the research reflected this – consumers most frequently cited the brand as offering a unique experience.  But can the status achieved by Apple be achieved by other brands?  Is Apple not in a unique position that few could achieve or would need to achieve? In fact, the research suggests that being an experience brand is neither optional nor limited to certain kinds of brands. Consumers want and expect brands to provide a unique experience and it drives their purchase decisions.  Sixty per cent strongly agreed that overall experience with a brand is the single biggest factor in whether they decide to purchase a product or service and 62 per cent strongly agreed that previous unique experience is very important when deciding what specific brands they use in the future. Further to this, 44 per cent strongly agreed that they are willing to pay a premium price for a product or service if they know that they will have a unique experience with that brand in some way.

Despite this strong consumer demand for unique experiences, the research reveals that too few brands are meeting these requirements.  When asked to rate how unique their past brand experiences have been, just one in four (26 per cent) said their past brand experiences have been extremely or very unique. The chasm between the almost two thirds of consumers who say unique experience drives purchase, and the less than one third who say they’ve had a unique experience, suggests a tremendous opportunity for companies to dramatically elevate their brand experience.

But where should  brands start in creating a unique brand experience? What are the drivers of experience and how do they variously impact consumer perception and purchase?

Across all sectors, geographies and demographics, consumers are highly consistent in selecting both transparently functional, needs-driven factors and those with softer, more brand-driven associations as very important to them when experiencing a brand. For example, the number one driver across nearly all answer sets is as functional as it gets (‘Products and services that meet your needs’), followed closely by the softer ‘Understand my needs’. Interestingly, the third-ranked experience driver is a demand to be engaged and educated on an ongoing basis: consumers say it’s important that experience brands “Continue to serve and engage you after you’ve become a customer”.

It’s interesting to note how well these findings about experience drivers map onto what’s already evident about top experience brands such as Apple. They invest in innovation in their product experience even as they orchestrate and perfect their customer and shopping experiences. They’re dedicated to continuing to serve and engage consumers even after they’ve become customers. And they’re truly passionate about exceeding expectations.

And what of the demographics? What consumer profile is most likely to connect with experience brands?  Women are more likely than men to say that unique brand experience is very/somewhat important in determining brand choice (64 per cent vs 59 per cent among men), but they are a tougher audience and are less likely to say that they’ve been engaged in a unique experience in the past (24 per cent vs 28 per cent among men). They are, however, more likely to agree that they will pay a premium for experience (47 per cent vs 41 per cent among men) which is particularly interesting if it is true that women hold the household purse strings. Also more prepared to pay a premium are younger and middle-aged consumers.

There is little doubt that brand experience is a critical influence on the consumer relationship with brands and their decision making when it comes to purchase. Today, whilst what a brand says is important, how it behaves (through the consumer experience it provides) and effectively shores up these promises is even more so.  And once the drivers to experience are understood, any brand can alter its behaviour and be on the road to becoming an experience brand.”

* ‘Best Experience Brands’ is based on a survey sponsored by Jack Morton and conducted by KRC Research among 1,605 consumers between 22 August and 2 September 2, 2011. Respondents were aged 18 and older from the US, UK, Asia and Australia. All findings are statistically significant at a 90 per cent confidence level or higher.