Experience Matters

These days, it’s becoming an accepted truth that people value experiences more than just ‘things’. Authentic experiences are emerging as a new common social currency: talked about, shared, and bonded over.

We believe that if you understand the experiences people have, you begin to understand why they behave as they do.

Jeremy Bullmore, the advertising guru who brought knowledge about TV advertising from the USA back to the UK in the 1950’s, famously said “People build brands like birds build nests, from scraps and straws they chance upon.” Each “scrap and straw” is an experience, whether this is a discussion on social media, a TV ad, an in store display, phoning the call center or consuming the product.

Every day brands and businesses create millions of experiences for people, whether by design or accident.  Increasingly these experiences unfold as two way conversations between brands and people, making it important to understand how each touchpoint layers up to create an implicit dialogue.

And whether good, bad, or indifferent, experiences create an emotional response.

Emotion is a powerful driver of behaviour and opinions.  Ultimately, it is the driver. Capturing the emotional response to an experience is essential to understand what emotional experiences we wish to create for our customers.  This could be a new idea about how to inspire people about how to mix cocktails for a party or an emotive TV ad which reinforces their love of the brand. It could be the UX of your website or app. It could be a negative or positive news piece. It could be anything at all – and that’s the point.

Dr Andy Wells, a psychologist at the London School of Economics, puts it this way: “Because emotions are transient and rapidly changing, the acquisition of accurate data about them is almost completely beyond the scope of retrospective methods.”

You may remember that you’ve seen a poster or an ad, but you won’t be able to remember how you felt about this at the time, and certainly won’t be able to unpick the difference once you have seen it multiple times.

Or maybe you read an article on social media, and it triggered annoyance or frustration about the brand. Two weeks later, you may not remember it at all: but the feeling about that brand may still remain.

Perhaps a friend you trust had great things to say about a product. It was just a quick conversation over a drink – but perhaps more important to you than anything coming out of a multimillion-dollar campaign.

Many experiences are quickly forgotten (although they linger subconsciously), so it is important to capture these and the emotions they evoke ‘in the moment’.

Yet at the same time, there are other deep-rooted experiences that shape the people we become.  Our behaviour is predominately driven by our relationships with others.  If your mother always gave you Pepsi as a treat, this will impact on your perception of Pepsi as an adult.  If your friends love something, you’re more likely to want to give it a try. To put the experiences people have with brands in context, we believe it is important to understand their relationship with others, which may go back generations and certainly stretch across our social networks.

Brands are now cottoning on to the importance of all kinds of experiences, to the point where we can begin to perceive a marketing future centred not on traditional call and response models, but on what we might term Experience-Based Marketing. That is, a holistic view of all the ways people experience your brand – whether you control them or not.

So that includes all the traditional top-down paid for and owned channels, but it also includes the bottom-up flow of earned experience. And ultimately, we believe it is earned experiences – the things that you can’t control, that cost nothing but mean everything – that lie at the heart of a brand’s cultural identity and emotional resonance.

It’s now the job of marketers and consultants to help clients identify the best ways of investing resource to create not just great ads, but truly positive experiences for people on a wider canvas than ‘just’ communications.

Commercially, it’s about finding, creating, and measuring experiences that drive demonstrable KPI metrics such as sales or brand advocacy. Equally, it is peoples’ experience of a business or brand – whether direct or indirect – that plays out into that company’s reputation in the market. This is equally important externally (your customers and wider ecosystem within society) and internally (your business culture, and the reality of working there).

But conceptually, it’s about so much more – taken to its natural conclusion, it’s an entirely different way of looking at modern marketing and modern management.

Fiona Blades