ANA takeaway #3: experience is the new differentiator

ANA takeaway #3: experience is the new differentiator

The idea that we live in an ‘experience economy’ is nothing new.

First appearing at the end of the 1990’s in an article by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, it’s a phrase that has come to encapsulate several seismic shifts that have occurred in the last decades of the C20th. 

They argue it is the fourth and the latest evolution of how the economy functions at large; agrarian, industrial, service and now experience. 

It’s an idea that has become so commonplace that most of us when thinking or talking about how businesses function, fail to comment.  What was fascinating to see at the ANA Masters of B2B Marketing Conference in Chicago was the way in which several of the keynote speakers drew on this idea, and applied it to the hard work of building a successful brand. 

It became apparent over the two days that, whilst the idea of an ‘experience economy’ may now be commonplace, the strategic application of the logic behind it is anything but normalised. 

“80% of CEOs think that their brand offers a great customer experience, but only 8% of customers agree.”
– Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP

Which, to be fair, really is quite a gap. This is an idea that Bain & Co have been pioneering for 15 years.  They might call it ‘the delivery gap’, but the idea is exactly the same. 

The ‘B2B Elements of Value’ that Bain & Co’s Jamie Cleghorn talked through spoke to this idea as well. Arguing that, whilst most B2B organisation still maintain a focus on delivering against functional elements of their brand to service customers, the higher order elements of brand and brand experience can go unloved – leading to a misalignment of how CEOs and customers see the world. 

Value can all too often be fleeting and commoditised. Bain and Co’s Elements of Value, given a B2B twist, is a framework for mapping the intangible but highly competitive elements of a relationship between supplier and customer, such as the ease of doing business, the personal value created for stakeholders, or the inspirational and aspirational value a B2B business can create. 

(The Elements of Value is also based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is ace because, for a brief moment, we thought we might make it through an entire conference without it being mentioned. Phew.) 

Bain & Co’s tool is excellent for tacking about the intangibility of brand experience. It’s a subject that sits at the intersection of marketing fundamentals like audience insight and big picture business change, like digital transformation. 

“Digital transformation is like sex: a lot of people talk about it, but not many people are doing it.”
– Geoff Ramsey, Chairman of eMarketer

The forward-looking nature of brand experience was laid bare by everyone’s favourite wine merchant/digital provocateur Gary Vaynerchuk, whose ideas about the need to deliver “contextual creativity at scale” are symptomatic of the experience economy too. 

He suggested that if you’re not able to provide genuinely relevant, tailored content to your key audiences yours might not be one of the brands that’s going be considered a market leader when it comes to marketing.

It’s an excellent example of how brand experience sits at the crossroads of getting the basics right – really knowing who you’re talking to – and being able to deliver technical, targeted and highly personal marketing at moments that matter thanks to technology and people who really know what they’re doing. 

Andrea Brimmer of Ally bank commented on being able to deliver great experiences that are grounded in something essential and truly fundamental: 

“You can’t have great marketing and bad business experiences. Work toward the higher purpose of your brand.”

Connecting purpose and experience explicitly is an interesting thought, and perhaps an obvious one, but as with ‘the experience economy’, just because it’s a self-explanatory idea doesn’t mean everyone’s doing it yet. 

Ultimately, as SAP CMO Alicia Till said, “brands win or lose based on the value and quality of the experiences they offer.”

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This is the third in our series of key takeaway posts covering the 5 main themes that came out of the ANA Masters of B2B Conference in Chicago

[Header photo: Maxime Bhm on Unsplash]