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BLAND TO BRAND IN THREE STEPS:

HOW to AVOID GETTING LOST IN THE SEA OF DIGITAL SAMENESS

Published on WARC.

After 2020, there’s no denying that digital experience has become a key focus. Thanks to the global pandemic, a sales obsession over customer centricity, has now become the obsession of the C-suite.

An ever-increasing desire for information, the speed at which information can be found and the convenience of personalised service has continued to accelerate. This acceleration, and the change it created in everyday life, has given customers an elevated expectation of experience. One that is benchmarked on the best last experience they’ve had - no matter the category. Leaving advertisers to reimagine their business, their service and operations in an ongoing pursuit of reach and engagement with their customers.

All things considered; Australian businesses have pivoted quickly. Adapting to new demands at an acceptable pace. But within this ‘pivot’ there appears to be an emerging trend that represents a big brand challenge for the future.

In the race for best practice, digital experiences have become bland. Brands seek to deliver on what everyone else around them is delivering on - seamlessness, frictionless, personalised and data-driven. Few Australian brands have created a unique digital experience, the majority are conventional. Touchpoints common. Journeys uncannily similar.

Why are brands becoming bland because of digital transformation and more importantly how can brands avoid falling into that trap?

Disconnected organisations create disconnected experiences

To manage the complexity that comes with digital transformations, organisations have had to restructure. Multiple business units have been established to manage different parts of the experience. Yet, these units don’t necessarily work in the same direction nor to the same business goals. As a result, seamlessness hasn’t extended outside of digital. Instead, digital vs brand experiences are thought of separately.

Mothercare in the UK shows us the gap in experience that’s created from not looking at all touchpoints. The recent 2019 brand campaign made steps to break unfair stereotypes on new mums but failed to bring this experience into digital or e-commerce. This created two separate experiences of the brand. A great ad campaign that spoke directly to their needs and unspoken taboos publicly. Versus a bland cookie cutter digital and e-commerce experience that felt like every other baby care provider.

Alternatively, Powershop, an Australian electricity and gas provider, demonstrates the benefit of seamless experience. Powershop entered the market with a disruptive proposition – to empower Australians to take their power needs back into their own hands. Their digital experience does just that. Through the Powershop app, users can monitor their energy consumption in real time, share this with other members of their household, then adapt their purchase accordingly through flexible powerpacks.

The same inputs create the same digital outputs

Brand and agency partners have an over-reliance on technology platforms. Many brands use the same tech partners to house their digital content. Yet these platforms have a habit of showing the same playbooks and case studies to the same partners. From these case studies, advertisers learn the same criteria for success. Creating an industry-wide sea of sameness.

To put this more simply, if we all use the same ingredients and the same recipe, we all end up with the same meal.

Facebook playbooks are a good example of this. Content that’s six seconds and under, with a logo that appears in the first three seconds, not too much text, no sound. Owned digital experience is no different.

Technology providers are doing whatever they can to create web and sales templates. Whilst templates enable speed and automation, they have a downside in driving a unique shopping experience. Shopify is one of the best technology partners a brand can have. But mass adoption of the same templates has created the same unmemorable e-commerce experience across many brands.

Alternatively, Koala, an Australian mattress retailer, stands out from a templated crowd. By dialling up brand tone and unique service propositions, Koala gives consumers complete control and transparency within the shopping experience, making it a positive and memorable brand moment.

The same media placements create the same digital actions

Within the digital media landscape, the same trend can be observed. Standardised media plans using the same tactics are wheeled out quarter after quarter. For example, Facebook and Google represent 80% of all Australian digital spend. Whilst these two platforms are great at reaching a lot of people, they offer very little room for disruption and have standardised placements. Without flex and bravery within media, brand actions continue to evolve similarly.

So, what is the solution?

Digital is one element of the entire experience a brand provides. Brand, retail, digital, business touchpoints must all be considered within the same holistic experience. For 2021, businesses and marketers need to shift focus. From frictionless incrementalism and value capture, to holistic disruption through value creation.

This will require marketers to creatively unlock what these principles mean for their own brands within digital.

Three pieces of strategic advice to succeed:

1) Elevate customer experience at a business level not only a marketing level

Advertisers need to ensure there is no delineation in experience between product, service, online or offline. To do this, experience needs to become a business challenge not a marketing challenge. Mecca Cosmetica, the Australian Sephora, has continually evolved. During some of the toughest lockdowns in the world, the Melbourne based company created new and innovative ways to serve their customers across all touchpoints. Marketing drove incremental growth and brand consistency via livestream digital content (including lockdown makeup tutorials).

Disruptive growth was achieved through elevated business experience. With Australians no longer able to visit in store, Mecca created virtual consultations from home, interactive booking systems, and extended their online chat offering and click and collect delivery options.

2) Meet the expected, then engineer disruption

Behavioural science explains how the human brain makes decisions. There is broad consensus that both rational processes and emotional stimulus are vastly responsible for behaviour. Rational is a slower and effortful information gathering process. Emotions are more intuitive and shorter lived. But these emotions create memories and memories greatly affect future decisions.

Digital experiences are often executed from a rational standpoint to reduce friction. These experiences have become fast and straightforward. They’ve become so slick they often aren't worth remembering. So, there is an upside to friction when used for the right reasons.

To guard against bland brand experiences, rational and emotional moments must be considered in two parts.

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Through this approach we disrupt conventions, raise consumer expectations within a category and create memorable brand moments.

ANZ, the second largest bank in Australia created positive moments of digital disruption. Rather than targeting prospective customers who were actively searching for a new credit card with rational messaging and offers, ANZ created digital content that disrupted the purchase journey in order to educate (or ‘creducate’) Australians on responsible financial behaviour.

While, Up, Australia’s neobank, met consumers expectations through their intuitive join up experience. Disruption was engineered through a unique unboxing experience and product offering.

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3) Not brand building or performance driving, but customer value creation

Finally, there is an increasing dichotomy between brand building and performance. The first one being long term, slow and strategy led, the latter one being short term, fast paced and algorithmic. Pitting these two things against each other ignores consumer behaviours and motivations.

Digital experience can combine long term brand building through purpose and problem solving across all touchpoints. True value creation is achieved when experience is disruptive, and customer informed.

Former CMO of SWEAT now Chief Customer Officer at Ripcurl, Mike Scott, shares his point of view:

“At SWEAT we were, and still are, member-obsessed. It’s a pillar that runs throughout the business and brand. Leveraging our member data and tech to solve real problems for our members through positive brand moments creates real value for them and encourages members to stay motivated and achieve their long-term health goals.

Understanding our members’ fitness goals, how often they’re exercising and engaging with the SWEAT app allowed us to create those positive moments of friction whether it’s an encouraging push notification or motivating message from their trainer once a workout is completed; or striving to help each member get through their first 5 workout goals in our onboarding program which we know sets them up for long term success.

In my new role at Ripcurl, I am organising the team to work alongside the marketing and IT functions and bring critical functions such as data and analytics teams into the fold to ensure we’re all focused on one integrated customer experience.”

From bland to brand in three steps

Most leaders want to be responsible for memorable experiences. Few, as discussed are demonstrating them. To shift from bland to memorable, experience needs to be considered as a driver of growth through value creation not incrementalism.

This starts with:

 1) A clear understanding of the uniqueness of the brands we work on

 2) Reconnecting disconnected experiences around this uniqueness

 3) Then facilitating the rational information heavy parts of the journey whilst engineering new moments of memorable disruption where it matters