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The emperor's new clothes?

Leigh Thomas
Director of Global Client Partnerships
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Leigh enables clients and their agencies to engage effectively with the Facebook platform in pursuit of making the world more open and connected.

Brands that let customers be in charge offer the best customer experiences

As marketers, we’ve always worked hard to make customers central to everything we do. I remember well sitting in meetings with the inimitable Cilla Snowball of AMV BBDO, who always made sure to bring people to the heart of the strategic conversation. I remember the incredible Richard Storey in the early 00s, Chief Strategy Officer of M&C Saatchi, being very clear we were talking about ‘people’, not anodyne marketing definitions of customer or consumers, and that we needed to get out of our ‘Ivory Towers’ and ‘London Bubbles’ to make sure we knew who they were and what they needed.

Not much has really changed.

Yet we’ve all read the research and seen the dramatic shift in conversation towards ‘customer experience’.

What actually is this? If we’re stripping back the jargon, is this not the same job to be done as always?

In my 20 years in marketing, I’m privileged to have lived through this seismic redefinition of marketing. And, in summary, the shift was born at the moment mobile phones became smartphones.

Once upon a time, we’d define our brand, tone of voice and visual identity over many months and years of thought and forensic mapping. We then used media to plot a nice, neat vertical funnel consisting of consideration, evaluation, purchase, and then possibly advocacy/loyalty. Some of it was ‘above the line’. Most of it was ‘below the line’.

But when smartphones came into play a very simple dynamic changed. The entire funnel was turned upside down. Digital technology means there is no line. Brand building became servant to the customer experience.


The person with the mobile phone is now in charge of how they want to experience brands


We can simply scroll down, or fast forward past that beautiful, emotional and probably expensive broadcast message.

In a matter of seconds.

Without blinking.

For the first time in marketing the customer, consumer, user or, indeed, person with that mobile phone is now totally and utterly in charge of how they want to experience brands.

Only the people who understand this, and deliver the best customer experience, win in this environment.

So, for a lot of marketers, this is emotional. For years we’ve been able to be like that infamous emperor, believing that people really are watching our 90” cut downs on TV. But now we find ourselves to be somewhat naked. As the data we now all have shows… people just don’t want to watch content that’s anything other than really good. Or really fast.

Welcome to the new customer experience economy. At Davos in 2016, this was tabled as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.


The new supermarket shelf is actually the internet


The full extent of the customer experience reality goes way beyond advertising or communications. The new supermarket shelf is actually the internet. The new business is often an interface to a series of competitive services. Legacy tech infrastructure built on iteratively, often costing billions of dollars a year to simply maintain, is suddenly irrelevant in the mobile economy. And the C-suite configuration, neatly arranged around individual products and services, is challenged by the agility and dominance of this unreasonable consumer.

So, what does this mean for us as marketers?

I see some of my friends in marketing doing a really great job at managing this revolution.

The famous acquisition of disruptor Dollar Shave Club shows Unilever’s understanding of this new customer experience-led economy. The Shave Club was able to steal share from Gillette through better understanding the consumer experience; the insight that ‘guys don’t need the very best super-duper ramped-blade technology – they’re happy to pay for something that works and gets the job done at a price they’re willing to pay’. Good enough stuff is, indeed, good enough.

‘Oh, and we’ll run the business as a subscription service so you don’t have to even remember to buy blades at the store – they come straight to your door!’

We talk a lot about experience loops or customer journeys these days. Modern brand builders such as KLM, British Airways and Southwest Airlines understand that their brands are a sum of the experiences their customers enjoy. And whilst neither linear nor a funnel, that experience includes everything from discovery, to research, to purchasing, to customer support. The wonderful work KLM did last year with Facebook Messenger played out beautifully. Once I’ve booked my ticket with them, I can get through the airport experience, flight delays, baggage and seating questions, all with the help of a messenger-based personal assistant.

The Absolut brand builders drive samples of delicious cocktails through redemption codes from local participating bars and clubs. Find the nearest bar, pick a cocktail, get a free drink, and even a ride home from Lyft. All of this at scale, facilitated by mobile.

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