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.

The missing piece of the customer experience puzzle

What is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

Is it customer service?  Hardly, it seems that it is rather old-fashioned to say customer service when the speaker is talking about customer service.  No, the in-term is customer experience.  Is it marketing?  No, whilst it has taken a back seat many authors do recognise the importance of marketing communications (brand, advertising, direct marketing….) on the customer experience.  Is it the website? No, many of us get the need to design websites so that they are attractive, usable and useful and thus contribute to the Customer Experience. So what is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?

The ‘product’ is the missing piece

Just imagine that you head to the hairdresser and everything is perfect: the name, the location, the ‘store’, the welcome that you receive, the pricing, the staff that serve you….Yet your hair does not turn out the way that you expected?  What impact does that have on your entire Customer Experience?  Turns it negative right?  In this case the ‘product’ has failed to meet your expectations and that one failure has turned what had been a positive experience into a negative.

The product is the missing piece.  Nintendo turned around its fortunes and claimed the number 1 slot when it launched the Nintendo Wii.  Dyson did the same thing for vacuum cleaners.  And of course Apple with the ipod, the iphone and now the ipad.   The product is the reason that the buyer searches you out and becomes a customer.  If you have the right product then the customer will put up with all kinds of interaction hassles to buy that product of you – and come back to buy accessories.

Why do I say that the product is the missing piece of the Customer Experience puzzle?  Because it simply is not mentioned in Customer Experience speeches, articles and conversations.  The assumption seems to be that Customer Experience = Interaction Assessment and Design.  The need to pay attention to the product was brought home to me this week because two products failed to meet my expectations in a big way.  Allow me to share those with you.

A headset that is uncomfortable on the head

I needed a headset and was in a hurry to buy one so I did not do any research.  Instead I popped into a store and picked the first one that looked like it would do the job at a reasonable price.  The headset was well presented.  And I was delighted that some thought had gone into the packaging – making it easy for me to open up the packaging without having to get a chainsaw to cut through the plastic packaging that is all too common for some electronic products.

The surprise came when I put on the headset – it simply is not comfortable and does not fit around my head.  After about ten minutes of using it I took the headset off because it pinched by head – I could feel it pressing into my skull.  I would call that a major design flaw: a headset that cannot be worn because it is uncomfortable. Being scientifically trained I decided to see what other users had to say about the product.  I found it on Amazon and sure enough there were people complaining about the fit/comfort about the headphone.  Will I buy any other product from Creative?  Unlikely.

Twinings Earl Grey tea – new coke / classic coke?

I am a tea drinker and the tea that I drink the most is Earl Grey and as my wife is the one that does the shopping she buys Twinings Earl Grey tea.  I have got used to it and I like it.  Except that now I don’t like it at all.  Let me explain.

Twinings have changed the Earl Grey formula – to my palate it simply does not taste the same.  So I did some research and found that I am not the only one: “Twinings changes its Earl Grey tea formula and customers revolt”.  Digging into it deeper it appears that Twinings have changed the formula for the UK but will stick with the “classic” formula for all export markets.  And due to the customer reaction Twinings will allow customers to buy directly from them via their website.  Here is the Twinings statement and customer comments on that statement – worth reading the customer comments to see how much the product matters.  Personally, I have asked my wife not to buy Twinings Earl Grey anymore – I will give other brands a go.

Conclusion

The product is the centre-piece of the customer experience in the sense that if you get this wrong then it does not matter what else you get right.  You can add all the customer experience wrapping that you want but if the product is weak then you are fighting a losing battle because the flaws in the product noticed and shared with the world – like I am doing right now. I will never buy a Creative product again: if they can’t make a simple headset what can they make?

If you have a winning product with a loyal customer base then think twice before changing that product.   In the customer age ‘products’ belong as much to customers as they do to the companies that make them.  Changing these products without involving the customer base (co-creation, new product development) is asking for trouble.  Customers like to be in control and they do not like to have things taken away from them.  I wonder how many letters, emails and calls Twinings is receiving from customers?

Make sure that you think deeply about the ‘product’ and your customer’s experience around the product.  There is no surer way to build an empire than to create a ‘must-have’ product and then promote this through the right marketing and advertising.