by Tomas Gonsorcik, chief strategy officer at VMLY&R New York.
The marketing industry is in a creative-effectiveness crisis.
Brands are seeing a systemic decline in "very large business effects," according to a recent report from the U.K.'s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The report, based on data collected between 2006 and 2018, concludes that a habitual focus on short-term gains, the digital-first obsession, and omnichannel personalization are to blame.
To break free of the trend, marketers will need to refocus on two crucial elements in marketing: brand experience (BX) and customer experience (CX).
BX, long-established through advertising and communications, has been the bedrock of brand-building, and it plays a crucial role in winning consumer affinity. But it's the rise of the CX era, and its tight focus on every consumer touchpoint, that will future-proof modern brands for the next decade.
Balancing between these two elements can be tricky — and few brands understand how to walk the BX/CX wire successfully — but learning to master them will be a major step toward solving the creative-effectiveness challenge.
The Rise of the CX Era
Marketers are increasingly prioritizing the development of robust CX practices to drive business growth. According to Gartner, 75% of marketers plan to increase spending on CX initiatives in the coming months. What's more, a review of open job postings on LinkedIn reveals U.S.-based companies are currently looking for twice as many CX managers as they are brand managers.
It's clear that there is an overt shift happening in modern brand-building, and marketing leaders are reorganizing their teams accordingly.
Customer Experience Transforms Brand Experience
Historically, marketers understood BX as articulating a brand's value to a targeted audience in the most differentiating, relevant, and measurable way possible. They built classic advertising campaigns meant to move the needle on sales and conversions. Some of the world's most iconic brands, including Nike, Budweiser, and Burger King, to name a few, were built on incredible advertising.
But the proliferation of digital media and its decentralization of consumer audiences has created a need for brands to move beyond short-term conversions and build meaningful connections with consumers. The reason why brand experience needs customer experience is that the very definition of a brand is changing: A brand is the promise and the delivery of a total experience.
In this sense, the spectrum from BX to CX covers everything the brand represents on behalf of the company, including all products, services, and communications. Together they are the total experience. Every positive interaction with a brand confirms and reinforces the brand promise. Every negative impression compromises that brand promise and disconnects audiences from the brand. It is no surprise that CX-driven disruptors in athletic wear (Allbirds), alcohol (Haus), and quick-service restaurants (sweetgreen) are giving established brands — those still more focused on BX than CX — something to think about.
A successful modern brand manages BX and CX as a virtuous cycle. BX creates differentiation and distinction; CX senses audience intent and creates action accordingly. The success of one informs on the other, and the overall effect of the total experience influences whether a consumer chooses the brand or a competitor.
According to internal BAV data, the most connected brands in the world excel both in how they connect with people emotionally through BX and functionally through CX. Such brands command 31% more pricing power than their peers, they are 41% more likely to be the top choice in their category, and 51% more likely to be differentiated against their competition. These brands prove the creating effectiveness of balancing excellent CX with inventive BX.
The BX Plus CX Solution
As marketing organizations face new demands — from talent requirements to an expanding definition of marketing — marketers should ask themselves how they can apply CX and BX to drive business growth. There are three keys to adopting a total experience mindset that addresses the creative effectiveness crisis:
- Marketers should look at the meaning of brand promise through a new lens. With CX underpinning the brand, the shared value between the brand and its customers should define the brand promise. "Your company's long-term health rests on a firm understanding of who your customers are and how you provide unique value to them," write Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand, both of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, in a recent Harvard Business Review article. "Defining, communicating, and fulfilling that purpose is the job of an organization's leaders."
- Unlike the world of communications where advertising is created through rigorous testing, marketers who manage CX know that every time they launch a new experience it will be the worst experience that someone will have with a brand. While counterintuitive, it speaks to the nature of change, and to the iterative, customer-centric mentality required of marketers in the future.
- The delivery of the experience will lead to an increased emphasis on cross-functional teams, not just within marketing, but across the business, from sales to product development to supply chain management. Building a modern brand that brings BX and CX together is everyone's business.
To be successful in the CX era marketers will need to embrace a new definition of agility, one that focuses more on one's ability to understand and manage multiple touchpoints to deliver the total experience rather than on the speed with which one operates.
After all, in this crisis of effectiveness, the last thing marketers need is another call for moving with even more speed. Instead, something more fundamental is required: a renewed emphasis on building strong brands that are the growth engines of the economy, society, and culture. To build them, marketers must understand that BX needs CX, because the only way to build a healthy, sustainable, and connected brand is by managing both the promise and experience together.