Obsessing Experience

A POV Piece by BSSP Associate Director of Strategy, Jennifer Kim


On June 9, Will Sansom kicked off the Now / Next / Why conference with an impassioned plea that experience, despite being overused as a marketing buzzword, is arguably more important than ever. Derrick Lewis told a deceptively simple story of how Rapha meticulously plotted each store location to be easily accessible from bike paths in order to better serve their community of road cyclists. The day was filled with examples big and small of how obsessing over experiences can be incredibly powerful in building your brand and bringing your brand story to life.

What struck me was just how much the audience seemed to agree. People nodded along in agreement with Tom Raith’s frustration that so many good experiential ideas get buried “in the back of the deck.” Others smiled in recognition at Anna Pickard’s obsession with getting the Slack voice just so. Based on the reaction in the room, one could almost believe that Matt Watkinson’s “Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences” were actually the Ten Commandments being handed down from above in PowerPoint form.

So if most of the room agreed that obsessing over experience is actually a pretty good idea, why did the room light up when asked to come up with “worst case” customer experience stories? Why is it so hard to pull off a thoughtful, simple, awesome customer experience?

The answer to this question is complicated and involves many difficult truths about organizational behavior and corporate structure. But instead of highlighting the reasons why it’s hard, below we offer three simple suggestions on how to take our obsession with experience out of the theoretical space and into a more practical one:

1.) Start small.

Instead of trying to fix it all, start somewhere small. Break the ice with one small idea and build from there. As Will Sansom pointed out, designing experiences to be more consumer-centric is not a finite thing. Experience is iterative and, as brand stewards and marketers, we should strive to be constantly iterating and improving. If redesigning 500 stores is too daunting of a first step for a retail brand, start smaller and rethink your online experience instead. As you build the muscle, it will become easier to flex.

2.) There’s always at least one unmet need or emotion.

Even for the most utilitarian categories or brands, there is always at least one unmet need or emotional opportunity. Find your entry point and build from there. Maybe it’s not going to be about curating luxury travel experiences or rekindling interest in the romance of road cycling, but there is always some sort of unmet need that can guide the customer experience. Identify a fundamental need and build from there. In an ideal world, a brand experience is thoughtfully curated, beautifully designed, brilliantly executed and incredibly unique — but if that feels too far off, you can always start by being useful.

3.) Find your allies, get one win and then build your case.

If this is your case, our advice is to find people in the company who share your religion — even if it’s only a few — and partner with them to find the right opportunity to lead a pilot program. Change one piece of your business to be more experiential and consumer-centric, get tons of data on how it works and then use that win to build your case on a larger scale. People can argue with the theory of why experience matters, but people can’t argue with results.

About BSSP

Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners is a full-service marketing communications agency, named “Best Small Agency of the Decade” by Adweek. Learn more atbssp.com.