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April 4, 2008

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE MANAGEMENT: How experiential is redefining marketing

Never has it been more important for companies to clearly differentiate themselves in the global marketplace. As international trade barriers come crashing down, competition is at an all-time high, while the global market is flooded with products and services serving similar purposes. It has also become harder to reach your target audience. Consumers, bombarded with more marketing messages than ever before, are not only becoming more adept at filtering out the ones that don’t interest them, but also are now armed with the means to do it, through digital TV and the internet.

In such an environment, building a strong brand is a company’s main weapon in staking a unique place in a crowded market. Communicating that brand to its target audience, marketers are increasingly turning to events, which, when organised appropriately, can not only appeal to customers by offering an enjoyable experience, but also immerse them in the core values of a brand – whether that of a company or a product.

A new discipline
In fact, so important is a customer’s perception of a brand that we could well see a new discipline emerging in marketing, according to a recent white paper by experience marketing agency George P Johnson (GPJ). We already have CRM (customer relationship management), and the authors of GPJ’s The Experience Marketing Imperative – senior executives Kim Myhre, David M Rich and Robert Albitz – are convinced that increasingly it will be CEM (customer experience management) that will prove to be vital in effectively engaging an audience.

"Individuals are expressing a need to form communities around brands," they write. "Companies face the absolute necessity to differentiate and connect deeply with audiences on a more sustained level at any cost. More competition has led to more messages, which are now less expensively transmitted in more diverse ways than ever before – while audiences are using new digital platforms to avoid and lock out those messages. Today, brand means values that emanate authentically from the core of an organisation, that get carefully translated into products and services, and by which individuals judge just how deeply they want to become affiliated with an organisation.

"To truly thrive, companies must deliver their brand to the marketplace in a holistic manner, meaning that it has to come through every dimension and touch point of the audience’s experience. This is the essence of customer experience management."

Greater insight
In comparison, CRM seems superficial, purely a method of controlling customers without necessarily providing anything in return, other than smoozing them into buying through the standard hospitality route. CEM, on the other hand, looks at how customers interact with a brand on a number of levels, naturally growing out of experiential marketing, which seeks to provide a six-senses experience to deliver the true essence of a brand. While CRM is about taking care of customers, making sure they are happy, almost nannying them, the realm of the account director rather than the marketer, CEM is about ensuring that every point at which your target audience is touched by your product or company is a valuable, positive experience that reflects your brand values and is far more marketing focused.

CEM is not about wooing and making customers feel special regardless of the brand values of the product or service they are buying into, it’s about giving customers greater insight into a product or service through the creation of an enjoyable psychological and physical experience. It treats customers with more respect, addressing them as intelligent, enquiring individuals, without patronising them in the way that CRM can sometimes appear to do.

Redefining marketing
So once again, it seems live marketing is redefining marketing, not only addressing a business need to better communicate with consumers and companies in a crowded, competitive global economy, but also answering a cry from the marketplace to be treated with more respect and intelligence, and hopefully giving something useful back for the attention it is demanding.

"Exceptional customer experience management makes a brand’s values and differentiation visible in a consistent way that reinforces the brand’s integrity, which in turn begets brand affinity and loyalty," continue the GPJ trio. "As a consequence, nearly every function within an organisation is moving towards a marketing mindset, ever mindful that all contributions to the development and delivery of products/services affect the customer experience.

"Today, people judge a brand based on its authenticity, its honesty – its worthiness of trust. Also, they increasingly look to connect to a brand based upon its alignment with their values, as well as its perceived ability to help them better negotiate the rugged terrain of life.

"Some in this new discipline have said that effective customer experience management (and consequently effective experience marketing) has to offer a return to the audience. This seems obvious. But what kind of return? An investment of time and or money for material exchange? That’s a momentary transaction. The brand that empowers audiences in ways that are deeply meaningful is the one that will command lasting affinity. It’s no longer enough to say something: the brand has to be that something too. And whatever that something is, it needs to hold the promise of deeply fundamental reward.

No wonder live marketing is growing in stature among marketers globally.

To end fittingly on a note from the GPJ white paper: "For those who get CEM right, the prizes are immense. But the fact is, no vigorous and viable brand can even contemplate getting it wrong."

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