The 2000s were the big bang of social media, heralded by the rapid expansion of new channels through which a brand can reach a customer.  Silicon Valley sent marketers on a meandering hunt as new variations of content and character length occupied their time. With content production still (as always) largely restricted to visual media, audio and copy, no matter what the platform, the universe of digital media has started to cool and form into stable elements.

At SXSW in 2017 W2O Group hosted its 7th Precommerce Summit, an annual gathering of marketing’s best thinkers for a day of exploration and consideration.  Each year, as speakers from around the country describe their keenest insights, a variety of themes naturally emerge in reflection of marketplace trends.  Like any good trend they stand out on their own accord.  We will be producing a substantial amount of content in our effort to showcase the great ideas we encountered this year at SXSW, but the first idea we wanted to highlight was Customer Experience.

A lot has been written about customer experience lately. In this post we’ll focus on what we discussed at PreCommerce this year.

We are a product of our experiences

At the highest level, a customer comes to your brand expecting the experience they expect.  Sounds tautological right?  It is, and that is meaningful because it often overlooked.  As Brian Solis said on Friday, to many consumers, a magazine is a broken iPad.  All of their preconceived notions about how your products should function are the result of their previous experiences with similar or earlier products. In the next 10 years a generation who has consumed media exclusively through screens will graduate to the consumer economy.  Kids who have only ever read books on kindles, watched videos on pocket screens, and pinched to zoom are starting summer IT support jobs, saving birthday Venmo deposits and cashing out their WoW inventories to buy, well, everything.  How can a brick and mortar brand hope to get those customers to visit them instead of Amazon?  By creating compelling experiences customers can’t get anywhere else.

As Jeff Haydock from Best Buy explained, Best Buy turned around their business by focusing on the customer experience in store and online.  The sales floor has been carved up and staffed with expert representatives from Magnolia, Oculus, and Maytag to bring the products to life for shoppers. The brand matches online prices, easing the friction of getting out the house and reducing the practice of “showrooming” where consumers will test in store and purchase online. A purchase online is easily picked up in store, with inventory listed so customers can plan ahead and get their product before even the fastest UPS driver can deliver. The customer experience has improved and the payoff is measurable.

Meet your customers

W2OatSXSW Sponsor Bayer has seen the fastest growing brand reputation in the Fortune 100. Unranked just a few years ago, they have shot up the list, an outcome they’ve attributed to their focus on customer experience. Longtime friend of W2O and Bayer Comms leader Ray Kerins described one initiative geared towards timely customer experience in his talk on “Engagement through Unexpected Marketing Innovation.” Many people don’t know that Bayer has a large Crop Science division with global reach. Most of the time customer experience with Bayer is limited to purchase of Alka-Seltzer, Coppertone Sunscreen, or Claritin.  But America’s breadbasket is dependent on the innovation agricultural researchers bring to market that expand and sustain our food production capacity.  For weeks a team of communications and marketing professionals left the glass and metal of Bayer’s US HQ to visit the green pastures and open sky of America’s farms, hosting country music superstar Luke Bryan’s Farm Tour.  One farm after another, they connected with a community that is often overlooked by costal companies, providing them with insight into the future of farming and an all-American, family friendly night of entertainment.  They met the need of their customers to engage with a brand that serves an important role in their livelihood. Millions of social media impressions and personal interaction later, the positive impact on overall brand reputation can be directly related to this custom experience.

At W2O we’re convinced that relevance is the new reputation.  The old models of reputation measurement and management are, frankly, obsolete.  They don’t account for the democratization of voice or the increasing ownership of brand identity in the hands of consumers. They don’t incorporate measurement of volunteered online customer opinion and feedback; they don’t move quickly enough to match consumer attention.  Brands are stranded in the era of the style guide, expression as a proxy for experience. Where are the brand experience guides?  Where are the plans that capitalize on what people love about your brand’s journey?

Topicality does not sacrifice authenticity

As I tweeted about this emergent phenomenon one of my followers asked me if I thought this new system of audience engagement was reflective of the way we see Jimmy Fallon getting more political as Colbert’s numbers rise. He questioned whether authenticity of voice was possible in Fallon’s abandonment of his recurrent (silly) tropes. In my opinion authenticity can be expressed in your values, your language, and the expression of your mission, but the topics you apply that persistent voice to are variable. If they are relevant you have a winning recipe and the foundation of a positive customer experience.

As Bryan Kramer reminded us, “Communication shouldn’t be complicated. It should just be genuine and simple, with the humility and understanding that we’re all multi-dimensional humans, everyone of which has spent time in both the dark and delightful parts of life. That’s human to human.” Understanding this fundamental quality of your relationship with your customer is the first step to crafting compelling brand experiences.

So how have you started thinking about the role of customer experience in your marketing?  Have you observed the same trend toward deeper, more personal experiences? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet me @naimul.