Op-Ed: What Marketers Can Learn from Amazon, Apple about Creating Exceptional Experiences

By Kiran Aditham 

Huge marketing strategist lead Josh Seifert returns with his regular monthly contribution to this here site, and on a week when his agency’s been all over our radar (by sheer coincidence, we assure you). Anyhow, with the iPhone 5 reveal still very fresh in everyone’s minds, Seifert discusses how the tech giant and others like Amazon could teach marketers a thing or two about customer experiences.

On Wednesday, Apple announced the iPhone 5 and reminded us all that the leaders and innovators in the digital world don’t really do that much in the way of digital brand advertising. Instead of running campaigns and managing ads, they spend their energy turning what’s possible with technology into something that makes a customer’s experience just a little bit better.

Apple’s brand communications—from integrated ad campaigns, to retail posters, to the language that Apple Geniuses use to troubleshoot customer problems—are all maniacally controlled in the most traditional and exacting manner, to great effect. Digital, and social media in particular, frequently underperforms within this framework and Apple elects not to actively participate. Aside from the obvious industry transformations—music, mobile, publishing—enabled by Apple products and services, the company uses digital to make its retailing and service experiences easier and more convenient for customers. Apple has done this for years with its customer support communities and message boards and, more recently, with a mobile application that lets you check yourself out and pay for your purchase in a retail store all by yourself.

Many digital native companies, like Amazon for example, also limit their digital brand advertising efforts. Instead of making digital ads, Amazon focuses on making its customer experience better and better over time, constantly iterating and improving the site design to make it perform better. The company also regularly introduces digital service enhancements, like free streaming video with Amazon Prime, which was previously just a premium shipping service for purchases. Amazon also uses digital technologies to allow—and pay a bounty to—customers who promote Amazon products on their own sites. This kind of approach to digital makes the Amazon retail experience better for everyone and rewards the most engaged, most enterprising customers.

On the other hand, very traditional retailers and advertisers, like Walmart, become the victims of their customers when they primarily think of digital as a branded communication medium and fail to use it to improve a customer’s experience. One woman’s complaint about her treatment by a Walmart manager has recently received 1.5 million likes on the company’s Facebook page. When customers want to solve their problems and fail to do so through traditional channels, they turn to public ones to find a resolution.

Companies likes Amazon and Apple make significant marketing investments in digital, but one of the things that really sets them apart is viewing digital as an opportunity not just to sell more, but to make the experience inseparable from the core products and services they offer.