Since the publishing of the pioneering analyses about the relevance of the Experience Economy made by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore 20 years ago, the number of studies about the influence of experiences continuously shared by people on marketing and brand strategies has multiplied. We bring two statistics to support this statement:
- The number of academic and scientific papers containing the keyword “customer experience” retrievable on Google Scholar is currently more than 26,000 – 2/3 published just between 2016 and 2017.
- The keyword “customer experience” is being increasingly searched by online users from all over the world, as showed by Google Trends (figure 1).
While it seems that the importance and the interest around the business impact of experiences have increased exponentially, a strategic question is still open: how do they impact, stress and reshape customer journeys and the design of interactions between people and brands?
A Short Story Of Customer Journeys
Just a few decades ago, in a pre-digital era, customer journeys were designed by companies, agencies and consultancies following established psychological models like AIDA, an acronym that stands for attention, interest, desire and action – the stages from the time when consumers first become aware of a product/brand up to when they make the final purchase decision. The journey would end once the product is bought.
Starting from 2000, the criticism coming from marketing practitioners and focused on the linear shape of these frameworks has significantly risen.
By examining the purchase decisions of almost 20,000 consumers across five industries and three continents, in 2009 McKinsey introduced a new consumer decision journey still characterized by 4 steps (initial consideration, active evaluation, closure, post-purchase) but disposed through a circular shape and able to start considering the experiences perceived by customers along their path. As a matter of fact, they can decide (or not) to reiterate the shopping behaviour in coherence with the level of satisfaction perceived from the brand interaction (figure 2).
What’s the matter with the McKinsey consumer decision journey model? Its name. As suggested by thought leaders Robert Rose and Carla Johnson in their latest bestseller “Experiences. The 7th Era of Marketing”, when engaging one another businesses and people have different objectives in mind, respectively increasing customers and sales and building a trusted, useful relationship with brands. Tesla, Uber and others clearly show how people can become fans and advocates without having ever purchased – or even tested! – any product or service. A strict focus on just the final transaction risks brands losing huge social influence and brand engagement.
Robert Rose and Carla Johnson’s analyses are contemporary to the studies that Brian Solis and Altimeter | A Prophet Company dedicated to the dynamic customer journey – an evolution of the traditional journey influenced by the experiences shared by people (figure 3).
Figure 3: A new release of the dynamic customer journey has been introduced by Brian Solis’s new book “X The Experience”
The dynamic customer journey is social by design, and it is influenced by the role of the connected generation (C Gen) in interacting with brands through an omnichannel and always-on approach. As suggested by researchers from Forrester, the mobile mind shift – users’ expectation pushed by mobile to access any information they desire, at their moment of need – has generated a new scenario where experiences are continually shared among people through digital content like tweets, videos, threads, reviews, posts. These experiences become “social atoms” that let users inform one another through sharing and P2P interactions, creating powerful circles of trust. For this reason, at the centre of the dynamic customer journey resides an influence loop: shared experiences become information experiences that impact other users’ journeys.
The latest advancements in customer journey mapping stress the role of experiences as a competitive asset. As a matter of fact, this new kind of customer-driven marketing powerfully impacts the business and marketing of all companies, and cannot be fully manageable by businesses. This is the main reason why slogans like “Transforming the Digital Customer Journey” that underline the possibility for marketers to (still) directly plan and optimize consumer journeys are deeply challenged by the new experience wave.
Experience Quest, An Innovative Framework To Create Value From Shared Experiences
Here, we introduce a new framework designed as a result of the authors’ analyses and consultancy projects run with national and international clients. It is called Experience Quest, as the framework reflects and maps the behavior of people constantly looking to meet their search needs among user-generated experiences, information and online content. Quests are driven and supported by queries written on search engines, online conversations started on social communities and forums, reviews checks, curation systems like web feeds, e-mail digests, ad hoc mobile apps, etc.
As suggested by figure 4, the Experience Quest framework maps the journey throughout four steps: consideration, evaluation, purchase, caring.
Every step is characterized by a balanced mix of rationality (square shape of the framework) and emotions (circle shape).
Arrows with the tip pointing to the journey identify experiences – shared through digital contents like tweets, videos, magazines, infographics, blog articles, etc. – available to the user through pull dynamics during the experience quest to collect information about the branded product or service. When he/she finally becomes a customer, new positive or negative experiences like Amazon reviews, articles or blog posts, new comments in forum threads, etc. are created, shared and pushed by the same user to inform other peers. Colours (green vs red) distinguish between positive and negative experiences.
The arrows’ inclinations are due to the different reputations among experience sources. The higher the reputation, the lower the inclination. Experiences are curated by the machine (algorithm) and by the same user, who decides which are to be considered. For example, when evaluating a restaurant to book for a romantic dinner, one will probably not consider reviews on TripAdvisor focused on attributes such as the price or the time needed to eat. Non-selected experiences are indicated inside the framework with dashed arrows: they just create informational noise, content chaos and they do not influence the customer journey.
To sum up, the Experience Quest is characterized by several pluses when compared to other customer experience frameworks:
- It immediately shows if the brand acts as a good experience stager, or if any “recovery” actions are needed.
- Emotions and rationality are both included and taken into account when mapping the journey.
- Shared experiences are placed alongside the whole journey, not just at its end, and are differentiated between “pull” and “push”.
- Sources of experiences are differentiated in coherence with their visibility on content curation systems and their reputation. This also reflects the way filters and algorithms characterizing most digital channels tend to work.
The framework is also able to solve the Engagement Paradox caused by the growing channel proliferation and fragmentation – namely, the fact that the more technologies, devices, sites, apps, and other digital touchpoints we have, the less connected we are. As a matter of fact, the Experience Quest gives a more holistic and integrated picture of the full tapestry of experiences shared through contents and conversations across a brand’s digital ecosystem.
In the Experience Quest perspective, a digitally-supported customer journey becomes a path that is really open to be shared. And the purchasing act tends to be more social than ever.
The digital customer experience should not be of interest just to marketing people. If companies want to take advantage of it, they have to break the siloes and make it part of the whole corporate culture, in a global setting that favors innovation and the acquisition of new skills. It is crucial that these new forms of experience with customers, outside the company, find some kind of correspondence with the experiences of the employees, inside the company.
In 2015, Airbnb renamed its HR Director as Chief Employee Experience Officer. Industry leaders like Diageo and YouTube have already hired their internal Head of Culture, in order to keep building iconic brands. We are facing not just new job roles and innovative work opportunities, but an experiential shift of businesses. Experiences must be crafted for the internal workforce to increase the level of engagement and trust. They must also be “collected” to integrate cultural and social insights into the brand DNA and to design more consistent product/service offerings.
Are companies and brands ready to make this (r)evolutionary step and to react effectively to the experience wave?