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Nick Manning 

Don't underestimate brand experience - it's the way of the future

Don't underestimate brand experience - it's the way of the future

‘Brand experience’ currently sits in a silo and is often articulated through tactical means - when really it should drive all aspects of consumer influence, writes Nick Manning

Our industry can be pretty tribal at times. Agencies that are mostly funded by paid advertising will promote their most profitable lines of business, while operators in the ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ market (to use now out-dated terms) will naturally favour their specialisation.

Maybe one of the failings of our industry has been the inability to really join up the dots, to produce the ‘matching luggage’ of advertising and other forms of brand support that look, sound and feel fully integrated. Examples are rare.

The major ad-led groups have the depth and breadth of resources to deliver a joined-up experience, but they don’t seem to have every fully cracked the combination. Maybe Wunderman/Y&R and other mergers will do this, but we shouldn’t hold our breath. There have been false dawns.

And it has got harder to integrate as the number of channels has increased, making seamless content and channel alignment a constant, daily challenge. This is undoubtedly why some brands are taking control by bringing key channels in-house.

We should recognise that good brand experience works short-term too"

While the now-legendary Binet/Field work favours a 60/40 split between brand and activation, it can be argued that their work perpetuates the old ‘above-the-line’ and ‘below-the-line’ way of thinking that seems outmoded in the ‘always on’ era of multi-channel marketing. It’s all brand, really.

And while we debate the long-term versus short-term challenge, we should recognise that good brand experience works short-term too. People’s experience of a brand can have an immediate effect, as evidenced by every write-up on the web, with the network effect multiplying the good and the bad. People are now used to reacting to poor customer experience by brands, and enjoy having the means to express it.

The solution is to start thinking about communications with consumers as being all about the brand experience, however it is delivered.

Currently what is known as ‘brand experience’ sits in a silo and is often articulated through tactical means, when really it should drive all aspects of consumer influence, physically and in brand communications.

This is where the opportunity for the big ad groups resides."

Industry commentators and awards shows still treat brand experience as separate from other disciplines (and it leads to more awards categories).  The artificial split between brand communications and brand experience is highlighted in this month’s Admap, where Paul Feldwick re-opens the ‘paid, earned and owned’ definitions. It really is all about the many influences on people’s perceptions of a brand, so planning for the full brand experience must surely be the answer.

But it’s not just about brand communications. The physical side is important too. Waiting twenty minutes for a contact centre to respond is now a major turn-off, but can be rescued through call-backs and chat bots. EE is one brand who do this well.

A poor retail experience can quickly damage a brand, as anyone visiting a Debenhams when Mike Ashley was a key shareholder can confirm.

Those of us unlucky to receive a call from ‘Virgin Media’ and being cut off abruptly when we use certain words in response may not realise it’s a scam call, but can affect our view of Virgin Media if we don’t realise it’s not them.

And advertising for brands that we already feel negative towards is going to be less effective.

So, good brand experience planning should embrace the all-round brand experience and how it is managed. This is a task for brand managers that they will instantly recognise, but may find it hard to identify outside parties to take an overall view. The agency scene is still fragmented by discipline.

I would argue that this is where the opportunity for the big ad groups resides. They are specialists in connecting brands with audiences, and with the right resources could provide a much wider perspective on the whole brand experience and execute accordingly.

They will have to reshuffle resources and buy in some specialist expertise (for example in customer experience management), but I would suggest that the demand for service providers who can manage the spectrum is real.

Brand experience should be at the heart of the move to customer-centricity, and the businesses that can improve brand performance on a true ‘omnichannel’ basis will emerge from the pack.

Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and was CSO at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry. He writes for Mediatel each month.

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