The Collective Customer Experience and What it Means for Brand Marketers

Power to the consumer

The way people live, work, communicate and play has changed dramatically over the last decade. But at the end of the day, people are still people.

There’s no denying that, with our new ways of engaging with the world, expectations have gone through the roof. People talk of the fourth industrial revolution and the digital revolution, but in my mind, it’s an experience revolution that’s been enabled and created by the other revolutions. The net is that consumers expect more.

Perhaps the biggest change to experience is its holistic nature. Why? Well, because experiences are now collective instead of singular.

In the past, consumers had one-to-one relationships with brands. The brand would speak and the consumer would listen and then make a purchase decision. If they liked the product, they might buy it again. Today, there is experience memory to contend with. As a brand, you might speak, but the consumer has hundreds of thousands of other voices to listen to alongside yours. The experience then becomes collective.

I recently began looking for a new car, browsing online and in person at dealerships. There’s no doubt that when the rubber hits the road, the dealer experience is critical. This is especially true for someone like me who doesn’t enjoy the stress of the car-buying process. My online journey was key to helping me gather all the necessary information before I walked into the dealership.

Shopping online, I felt safer, not just because I didn’t feel the sales pressure, but because I had thousands of other people alongside me telling me whether the car and the dealer selling it were any good. Both are important to me and, given my wariness of the car-buying experience, dealer scores became a critical component of my decision-making process.

In pursuit of better experiences

Do companies set out to create and sell bad products and services? I don’t think so. They might have to work on a tight budget or fit in a particular car-buying niche but they don’t set out to fail. Indeed, a former senior auto executive told me, “No one makes bad cars these days. In general, you get what you pay for, so it comes down to the experience that sorts the winners from the losers.”

In the pursuit of a good experience, marketers have bolted one form of data-driven innovation to another. From direct mail to telemarketing, websites to email solutions, social media and more. The truth is, complex, fragmented data and technology solutions are hard to avoid. But today, creating great marketing experiences is critical because the consumer’s voice is as loud if not louder than your marketing messages.

As a marketer, it’s not just the marketing voice, you need to look at the whole experience. This starts with going back to basics to know your customer. If you can unify data, understand the customer and then use that information to create experiences that matter, everyone wins.

Undoubtedly, data is the key enabler. Without it, you have very little hope of consistently delivering valued experiences. But the right to use it must be earned through great experiences that build trust. A virtuous, not vicious, circle.

The value of data and collective experiences can be seen in the recommendation systems of major streaming companies and a certain rainforest-themed megabrand. From them we learn that if we like this, then we’ll probably like that. It’s a huge advantage to have all of this data, but the majority of brands need to work across and around these so-called “walled gardens” to the rest of the data ecosystem.

The foundation of a better data-enabled experience is not made by buying an off-the-cloud marketing stack or placebo-as-a-service solution. It’s made by planning a customer-centric data strategy, getting identity management right and unifying data and technology to give the whole front office, not just marketing, the opportunity to understand and serve the customer.

Jed Mole is CMO at Acxiom. He is responsible for Acxiom’s communications with its various audiences, building the brand and supporting business growth. Before moving into the CMO role, Jed held various marketing, product, sales and sales support roles in Acxiom’s international business; this included key client engagements with brands such as Procter & Gamble, Sony, Dell and Hearst.