Brand Experience: highlights from the 2011 Best Experience Brands Global Study

I have read the Best Experience Brands report published by Jack Morton Worldwide and want to share the highlights with you.  For the purposes of the report and this post a ‘Brand Experience” is defined as “any of the interactions (direct, indirect) you have with the specific company or its products and services”. The findings of the report are based on 1,603 consumers (USA, UK, Asia, Australia) completing an online survey during Aug/Sept 2011.

Which brands deliver unique experiences?

It is probably no surprise to you that Apple comes at the top of the list.  Who else is on the list?

  1. Apple
  2. Disney
  3. Google
  4. Microsoft
  5. Mercedes
  6. Coca-Cola
  7. Sony and IKEA
  8. BMW
  9. Amazon
  10. Louis Vuitton

I find it interesting that this list is made up of such a diverse range of companies: industries, business models, value propositions etc.

Three key insights emerge from the research

I doubt that the key findings are any surprise given that research study after study points towards the same direction:

  • The brand experience drives consumer purchasing decisions.  60% of consumers agreed with the statement “My overall experience with  a brand is the single biggest factor in whether I decide to purchase a product or service” – only 5% disagreed.
  • Consumers will pay more for unique experiences.  44% of consumers agreed with the statement “I am willing to pay a premium price for a product or service if I know that I will have a unique experience with that brand in some way”. Not surprisingly the consumers that have more money (are the least affected by the recession) are the ones that are more willing to pay this premium: 58% of consumers in Asia v 28% of consumers in the UK.
  • There’s a big gap between what matters to customers (in terms of the brand experience) and what brands provide in terms of unique experiences. Only 26% say that their past experiences have been unique; 62% are looking for that unique experience.

What are the top experience drivers?

Given that customers have jobs to do / get done (including elevating their status or looking cool) and that is the primary reason that they interact with companies it is not surprising that the product/service  should be the top experience driver.  What are the other experience drivers?  Here is the most important experience drivers:

  • Products and services that meet your needs
  • Understands your needs
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you’ve become a customer
  • Exceeds your expectations
  • Makes it easy to find information and buy their products, wherever and whenever I shop.

What is interesting is that the experience drivers that deliver a UNIQUE brand experience are somewhat different:

  • Initial impression the brand makes on you
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer
  • Understands your needs
  • Differentiates from similar products
  • Employs people who anticipate your needs

I find it interesting that consumers do not want to be forgotten (or taken for granted) once they have become customers -they want brands to continue to serve and engage them.

Which experience categories matter the most?

The report subdivides the “Brand Experience” into categories: Product Experience; Shopping Experience; Customer Experience; Discovery Experience; Community Experience; and Digital Experience. If you put the experience drivers into categories and then look at which ones matter the most to customers (listed earlier) then it becomes clear that the Product Experience, the Shopping Experience and the Customer Experience categories are the ones that matter the most.  Lets take a closer look at each of these three categories – specifically what they are made up of and how highly they are rated by consumers.

Product Experience

  • Products and services that meet your needs (6.1 out of 7)
  • Invents new ways to enhance their products or services, after you have become a customer (5.6)

Shopping Experience

  • Makes it easy to find information and buy their products wherever and whenever I want to shop – store, online, mobile  (5.8)
  • Provides an efficient shopping experience (5.8)

Customer Experience

  • Understands your needs (5.9)
  • Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer (5.8)
  • Exceeds your expectations (5.8)
  • Educates you about how to use their products and services and become a smarter customer after you have become a customer (5.6)
  • Employs people who anticipate your needs (5.3)

Other key highlights

If you have read my posts you will know that I am of the view that there are important differences between women and men when it comes to needs and wants.  Here is what the report has to say on that and other demographic differences:

Women are more responsive and receptive to experience.  Women are more likely to agree with the statement that the experience influences their brand choice.  They are also more likely to be willing to pay a premium.  Furthermore, women rank some experience drivers much higher then men: “Understands your needs” (73% v 65%); “Continues to serve and engage you after becoming a customer” (71% v 62%); “Exceeds expectations” (72% v 60%).

People over 55 are a less willing to pay a premium for brands that offer a unique experience.

Affluent consumers value experiences more and are more willing to pay a premium for unique experiences.  The experience drivers that particularly important to these people include: “Understands your needs”; “Continues to serve and engage you after you have become a customer”; and “Educates you about how to use their products and services and become a smarter consumer, after you have become a customer”.

US consumers (of all the consumers who took part in the survey) have the highest expectations around the “Customer Experience” categoryof the “Brand Experience” as defined in this report.

UK consumers are much less demanding than US consumers – they are much less likely to cite “Exceeding expectations” as an experience driver that motivates/influences their purchasing decisions.

Asian consumers are the ones that are most likely to say that the experience is the single biggest factor in brand choice and they are the ones that are most willing to pay a price premium for unique brand experiences.

My point of view

All research should be handled delicately.  Bias is present in most research in a number of ways some deliberate and some unintentional.  Also there can be a big difference in what say, what people do (and will do) and what people say they do or will do.

The research ‘supports’  my point of view that the most important lever for improving the “Brand Experience” and growing your business is to make/sell great products/services that create superior value for your customers – allow your customers to get their jobs done cheaper, faster, easier, better.  A little while ago I wrote a post titled The Missing Piece of the Customer Experience Puzzle – to point out that the product/service was being neglected by the Customer Experience movement.

What men and women want is different and women are more experience driven – the softer (caring) dimensions of the ‘Brand Experience” matter more to women.  I wrote a post on what matters to women: how to engage the female customer and deliver the right experience

“Exceeds expectations” is a key driver – which tells me that just delivering to expectations is not enough.  Does that mean that the ‘just get the basics right and forget about delighting customers’ school of Customer Experience is wrong?  I’ll let you make your own decision.

We do not need more research to tell us what matters to consumers.  What is missing is the Tops who are willing to act on what the numerous research studies tell us.

Customer-Centricity: how to become customer-centric in one easy step

If you listen to the pundits then customer-centricity involves a complete transformation of your business

Reading the mountain of ink that has been written on all things Customer (strategy, insight, experience, service, CRM) one would be forgiven for concluding that it is a difficult if not impossible task for a large organisation to become customer centred.  You have to come up with a great strategy, to segment your customer base, to work out LTV, to build propensity models, to implement complex CRM systems, re-engineer processes, overhaul the call centre and employ an army of change specialists to get the culture change you want. But is it that hard?

What lies at the heart of the customer-centric orientation?

Jonathan Field spelled that out last year in one of his blog posts:

“…..you’ll solve most of your business problems by spending more energy figuring out how to best understand your customers’ lives, psyches and challenges, then working to solve your customers problems and deliver delight to their doorsteps.”

That is the philosophy behind customer-centricity. Don’t like the word philosophy then call it the guiding doctrine or the core guiding policy.  But can you short circuit this process (avoid all the time, effort and cost in understanding your customers) and get there quicker?  Yes you can, it is really easy to act now – today.

How to become customer-centric in one easy step

If you really want to become customer centric then simply give up self-serving category practices that exploit the customer rather than build goodwill with the customer. What do I mean?  Allow me to give you example of self-serving, exploitative, industry practices:

  • mobile network operators deliberately make their pricing plan complex so that it is difficult for customers to compare apples with apples and also because the operators make more money as customers typically end up on more expensive plans.
  • supermarkets who deliberately put the milk and eggs at the back of the store so as to force customers to walk past tempting goods and thus make impulse purchases that they never intended to make when they first came in the store.
  • financial services providers that deliberately make their plans/policies confusing using jargon that customers do not understand, putting in place all kinds of loopholes that they can use to avoid paying out and finally wrapping it all up in legal terminology that few of us will ever understand.
  • utilities that deliberately make their tariff complex and are swift increase price because wholesale prices go up but then take their time lowering prices when wholesale prices drop.
  • financial services providers that sell products that are worthless – the PPI scandal is a great example of an issue where the red flagged was raised back in 1998 and then it took another 13 years for the banks to concede but only when the courts ruled against them.
  • software companies that make all kinds of wonderful sounding claims (business and technical) some of which are a stretch of the creative imagination and many of which will be hard to turn into reality.
  • budget airlines force customers to ‘uncheck’ the insurance option twice.  Why?  Because it makes more money for the budget airlines.

You might think that I am picking on these industries.  I am not.  I am well aware that every industry has self-serving category practices (that are considered ‘business as usual’ by all the players in that industry) that at minimum make life hard for customers and at worst exploit the customers.  So what does it take to give up these category practices?  Nothing – really it takes nothing, you can stop right now.  Yet, in practice it takes consumer watchdogs, regulatory bodies and often the courts.  Let’s just take a look at the utilities industry as it is in the news.

British Gas says it will be simplifying tariffs

Ofgem – the gas and electricity regulatory in the UK – has recently been piling up the pressure on the industry players. After making more hushed noises Ofgem conducted a comprehensive review concluding that the energy companies are making excessive profits and that they have to change their ways starting with their tariffs – make them simpler to understand and compare.  Well Ofgem came out and said this, the industry players did not like it one little bit and accused Ofgem of getting its facts wrong – or of misinterpreting the data.  Looks like the Tops in British Gas have changed their minds.

I have been listening to Jeremy Paxman (“JP) interviewing Phil Bently (“PB”) the MD of British Gas and here are the highlights:

  • “There are too many tariffs – 544 tariffs to choose from from six or so big energy players” – PB;
  • “Consumer find it hard to compare tariff, chose tariffs and understand how to save money” – PB;
  • “As an industry we should put our hands up and say we should be doing more to help” – PB;
  • “We have not made it easy” – PB;
  • JP shows a graph that compares the consumer bill against wholesale prices and asserts that whilst wholesale prices have gone down bills have not;
  • PB makes the argument that wholesale prices are only one part of the cost base;
  • “the whole point is simplifying tariffs, giving customers choice, giving them transparency..” – PB

If you want to listen to the interview or read the article click here.

My take on this

It is easy to become customer-centric by ditching self-serving category practices that exploit customers.  Yet, it is not in the interest of the Tops nor of the system that they play in to do that.  Why?  Because it hits revenues and profits and the name of the game is to maximise revenues and profits by legal and sometime illegal means.

When industries are locked into certain structures it requires a powerful outsider to come in and disrupt the status quo.  That outsider can be a regulator like Ofgem, it can also be another business that is not invested in the status quo.  Apple comes to mind (music, phones), Virgin comes to mind, Salesforce.com comes to mind and so does Skype.

When Tops (and companies) who have been taking customers for a merry ride (and are only changing their ways because of the regulator) talk about transparency take this with a pinch of salt. Why?  Read one of my earlier posts that deals with transparency.

The first step in changing your ways is to be honest and say it like it really is – think Domino’s Pizza and their admission about the quality of their pizzas and what they were going to do about that.

Being “authentic about your inauthenticity” is an essential step and yet few of us have the courage to take that step especially if you are one of the Tops – Gerald Ratner and his fate may be stopping many.


Customer Experience: what matters most to customers?

Customers are demanding greater product quality in tough times

In my last post I set out the key organisational attributes and barriers that organisations face in excelling at crafting and delivering a positive multichannel customer experience.  But what do customers want?  What matters most to customers?  In Jodie Monger’s latest post she looks at the analysis performed on calls into call-centres (automotive, appliance, electronics indudstries) and points out that customers are demanding greater product quality in tough times.  Specifically, she writes:

  • Economic hardship is causing customers to seek to repair instead of replace products.
  • There is a growing perception on the part of customers that things are no longer “made to last.”

What about efficient customer service and low prices?

I have been reading the Customer Experience Consumer Survey Report published by Econsultancy this month.  Across five industries (Banking, Mobile Phones, Retail, Travel, Gaming) the attributest that matters most to consumers are:

  • Efficient customer service
  • Low priced products;
  • High quality products.

Looking at these responses through the lens of my customer value formula this makes perfect sense. Efficient customer service increases value (for the customer) by reducing the effort involved in dealing with the company (buying, using, troubleshooting).  Low priced products help the customer to make their budget stretch further. And high quality products increase the benefits received by the customer.

Let’s dig a little deeper to see what the variations were for some of the industries.

Banking – what matters to customers?

Mobile Phones – what matters to customers?

Retail – what matters to customers?

Travel – what matters to customers?

Gaming – what matters to customers?

What do I think about the findings?

First of all I find it interesting that customers do not hold out the expectation that companies put their needs first.  I interpret this as customers are living in the real world and they have a pretty good grasp of reality – most companies put their needs first and customers are used to that.  However, that does not mean that you cannot differentiate yourself by putting your customers first.  Remember that consumers were not asking for or expecting coloured computers – when Dell provided them their sales took off.

Second, customers are simply asking and expecting companies to get the basics right.  Provide me with good value (product quality, price) and make it easy for me to do business with you – take the hassle out, save me time.

Third, the ‘fancy’ stuff that so many commentators focus on and which matters most to companies (joined up experience, consistent branding, relevant and timely communications) does not matter that much to customers.

Finally, never take consumer research at face value.  Why?  Because consumers are not that great at figuring out what really drives their purchasing decision and what really influences them.  .  If you were to ask consumers if advertising mattered and influenced them most would probably say no.  Yet, advertising does influence hearts, minds and behaviour. If you spend time counselling people and you will be amazed at how little insight many of us have into our lives – what matters to us, what drives our behaviour.

What are your thoughts?