Brand marketing is changing. A brand is no longer defined by how it describes itself. It’s defined by how it acts, what it feels like and how others describe it. Connected digital consumers rely less on top down messaging and more on distributed, increasingly diverse, brand touch points when they formulate their own personal brand perceptions.
With this shift is an increasingly bright spotlight on the need for a holistic experience across the brand. What matters is how it is experienced across all touch points, and some of the most exciting brand thinking is focusing on experience itself as a channel.
In this space the role that’s becoming incredibly important to the success of modern brands is that of the ‘Chief Experience Officer’ — or CXO — who is ultimately responsible for the total brand experience.
In some cases the role has a dedicated place in the organisation, but in many others it’s a shared challenge across brand, marketing and product. Customer experience is influenced by many interactions and touch points, so bringing in CXO thinking across the board empowers different disciplines to build and foster strong brands.
With that in mind, regardless of the discipline, we all need to apply an element of experience thinking to our everyday work. Innovative brands emerge when marketing departments think like inventors, designers create services (not products) and brand managers think like engineers.
We like to describe this shift in mindset as ‘CXO thinking’. Thinking like a CXO is about truly putting the customer experience first, inventing and re-imagining — creating encounters based around what people really need or really want. That might mean taking an alternative perspective, reinventing an interaction or pivoting an offering to be more focused on customer experience.
One factor making this shift even more important to consider is that brand experience is the vocabulary of a new community of digital customers. How they act around brands, what they expect and how they inform themselves around purchase decisions is radically different from consumers before them. They’re socially connected, technology-savvy and increasingly brand disloyal. Good experience is essential in reaching those customers.
Bad experiences travel fast, but great experiences travel even faster, and one only has to observe the growth of disruptive brands to see this in action. Indeed, these brands are setting the pace in terms of placing user and customer experiences at the heart of their thinking. Disruptors such as Airbnb and Uber have been founded and built on models that improve or simplify the lives of their end users.
So whatever 2016 holds for you, we all have a new new job role — to think like a CXO. Here are a few principles we think are important for all CXOs or CXO thinkers.
Prioritise customer needs
One of the first things to do is put the customer at the heart of the creative or design process and prioritise decisions around their needs. Virgin America have re-imagined their ticket booking system to put customer experience first. By looking not just at their functional needs, but also their emotional ones, they’ve turned a mechanical process into something quite imaginative and playful.
Inspire and support
Once the customer is at the heart, the CXO should be thinking about how, as a brand, you inspire and support a community in their passions. Nike+ Training Club — with a product designed around community and athlete inspiration — and Peak Performance’s Magic Hour campaign — which connected athletes to inspirational locations — are two examples of inspiration placed at the heart of an idea.
Both these examples serve something fresh and rewarding to their respective communities and are designed around motivations, not products.
Invention is a crucial thread of CXO thinking that leads to new and engaging experiences. In fostering innovation and experimentation, CXOs can envisage new products or services created within existing brands or markets. A great example is how L&PM (Brazil’s biggest pocket book publisher) invented an experience for World Book Day. Ticket books brought RFID technology to physical books, presenting readers with a pre-paid series of journeys integrated into a book which afforded them time to discover the writing.
Seek out collaborations
Collaboration and extension are also important tools in the CXO’s kit. Both allow a brand to grow in a new direction, through strategic partnerships that mutually benefit a consumer’s experience. Spotify and Uber, both disruptive brands in themselves, have created a seamless service that lets travellers continue a Spotify playlist on their Uber journey. This simple connection is a great example of each service being augmented by the other, and is a lesson on collaboration which enhances the customer experience.
Re-imagine your reality
Finally, re-imagination is probably one of the most important ways of thinking in a CXO role. Transforming your service or product directly — or transforming how consumers experience it — is a very powerful thing. Audi Unite is an Audi-designed service that re-imagined the future of the vehicle into a usage-based sharing model, rather than an outright ownership model.
Whilst in its infancy, the project demonstrates the ability for a car manufacturer to really think about experience first, and how consumers might use their ‘product’ in a totally new way. This takes a team thinking like service designers, inventors and engineers to develop the project — all of whom are impacting the end experience and applying CXO thinking.
You have the power
In a world of changed expectations from always-connected consumers, every physical or digital touch point has an impact on how brands are perceived, and ultimately built. Whatever your role within your brand, you have the power to be a brand builder.
Thinking like a CXO, and making improved experience your goal, is one way of making this impact mean the most. So, make your job for 2016 to be a Chief Experience Officer, whether in person or in spirit.
Written by MTA member, Dave McDougall