“What attracts customers to any company is a great customer experience,” says Bernd Schmitt, PhD - Robert D Calkins Professor of International Business and executive director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School in New York.
Pointing out that customers are every company's most valuable asset, Schmitt is adamant that now, more than ever, companies need to retain existing customers and to attract new ones in order to survive and grow.
“A brand needs to stay relevant with consumers. And consumer trends, technologies, and culture, in general, change all the time,” he says. “Therefore, a brand must respond to these changes, pick up these trends, and thus stay relevant. A great way to show that you are relevant to consumer's ever-changing lives is to connect with them and engage them - in conversations and activities. Events and sponsorships are a great way of doing so.”
Schmitt explains that the concept of “customer experience” can be used to address a range of marketing and branding issues in an innovative way. While many companies see segmentation from the perspective of the company and its products (segmenting by features, price, or distribution channel, for example), Schmitt says that by taking the experience approach, companies are able to tackle segmentation and targeting very differently, by starting with research tools that reveal meaningful data from the customer's perspective, and using these to develop a customer-focused segmentation scheme.
“Another key issue for companies is how to position brand,” says Schmitt. “Many products are undifferentiated these days. They have similar features, and even in fast moving markets (like consumer electronics), features are easily copied.”
That's why he believes that for brands, differentiation in the mind is vital. Yet most branding initiatives are also similar. “A company searches for the brand identity, the brand values, brand core, brand DNA, the brand personality or whatever they call it, and at the end, they usually come up with trivialities,” he opines. “For example, our brand is warm, or innovative, or intelligent.”
The agencies are then invited in, and they create messages around these branding initiatives. “They create ‘emotional ads,' for example, smiling faces of people performing some sort of lifestyle activity. I don't like to be cynical - but all of this is quite silly. Plus, most of it is developed without any customer input,” says Schmitt.
“What really matters is the customer experience. What the customer gets when he or she shops, interacts with company people, attends events, visits a website. What really matters is the interaction with the brand - not what brand managers and ad agencies are trying to put into people's heads.”
While the concepts and methodologies of traditional marketing, such as segmentation and positioning, and the four Ps, will always be relevant, they need to be applied slightly differently to experiences. “Segmentation needs to be done based on experiences; we need verbal and visual experiential positioning platforms (not these long positioning statements) and the four Ps must include new media and other innovative touchpoints,” explains Schmitt.
In conclusion, he reiterates that experiential marketing is truly about customers. “Most traditional marketing is - despite what marketers say - usually product focused. Some of these concepts complement experiential marketing. But it's all about the mindset: Always think customer first, always think customer experience!”
Bernd Schmitt will be in South Africa on 3 September presenting the keynote at the African Experiential Summit in Johannesburg.