A while ago, Forrester Research analyst Brian Haven asked who’s at fault when there’s a serious disconnect between the brand promise conveyed by the advertising campaign, and what a person experiences later. Is it the agency or the company (brand owner) that’s accountable?
The Experience Illusion — Brian Haven
Here’s how Haven raised the question in his blog:
I’ve noticed a breakdown between the image some brands project and what they actually deliver.… Consider Target. The ads I see on TV and print paint a very specific (modern) aesthetic about that brand. In many ways it feels similar to Apple. But when I go into the [Target] store it just doesn’t deliver. It’s messy, lacks a modern aesthetic, the employees are often rude or are not knowledgeable — the experience they project through brand messaging is not consistent with the experience when you walk through the door.
For me the answer is pretty simple. While accountability for brand disillusion is shared between the agency and their marketing clients, the company that owns the brand is ultimately responsible for all disconnects between the brand promise and the way the brand is experienced or perceived. It’s the company that makes the promise; it’s the company that should fix its broken promises.
The chief marketing officer and her brand steward(s) should be monitoring brand experience across all brand touchpoints, both real world and online. She’s responsible for raising issues and making actionable recommendations when the brand is at risk — or preventing stupid (avoidable) mistakes before they occur.
Why the Company Is Accountable
The company that owns the brand:
- sets brand strategy;
- pays attention to how the brand is being perceived (or should audit those perceptions);
- identifies changes desired in brand perceptions, and defines objectives and success metrics;
- allocates investments (or not) against the brand;
- hires the agency and other specialists involved in expressing the brand promise and influencing brand experience, across all media and brand touchpoints;
- decides how to allocate resources across all the entities and media that play a role in shaping consumer experience — which goes well beyond the marketing mix;
- designs, develops and delivers the final product or service that embodies what the brand stands for.
Moreover, the company is responsible for allocating internal and external resources and priorities across a broad spectrum of activities and media that influence how the brand is experienced, such as:
- the look and feel of their website, and other sales or marketing collateral;
- the TV, print, online and/or SEM campaign;
- how much training is invested in call center reps, and how motivated their CSRs will be to help customers resolve problems;
- all the operations that support the retail store environment and the shopping experience, including training and incentives for retail sales associates;
- how well they deploy social media to encourage productive conversations with customers, partners and suppliers — and to respond to what they hear.
- Etc., etc.
What Went Wrong at Target?
I’d guess that Target operates under the classic silo organizational model, with little strategic interaction between the marketing team and retail operations. Structures like this make it all too easy for brand disconnects to occur.
To address the disconnect between the brand promise implied by Target’s summer TV/print campaign and the reality of a Target shopper’s retail store experience would require a long-term strategic change initiative that aims to redesign what happens once a shopper enters a Target store. That design must be realistic and achievable.
For anyone who’s ever been in a Target store, it’s obvious those stores don’t deliver on the hip, modern aesthetic that Haven has described as the underlying promise of Target’s ad campaign. Yes, they merchandise some cool SKUs, but the overall shopping experience leaves a lot to be desired.
Their agency is accountable for recommending a creative strategy that’s so clearly out of touch with the reality of today’s Target stores. They should have known better. Did they aim for a creative award, without caring enough about what was authentic for their client and the client’s brand?
What’s the Solution?
No amount of lipstick will make this pig more beautiful. In this case the fix has to be more than skin deep — more than the cosmetic allure of a hip, cool TV/print/online campaign.
And yes, Target should engage a high-quality experience design team to envision, design and then execute the kind of experience their customers deserve to have once they walk through Target’s doors.
But they must also add to their team “retail anthropologists” who understand the science of shopping, plus people who manage retail operations and who have the wherewithal to put those recommendations into action. It will take a multi-disciplinary team like that, coupled with experience design experts, to ensure that the future shopping experience chez Target, matches the brand promise they’ve been trying to convey in their ads.
And the company must sign up to the strategic investment and executive patience to make all this happen. They may also have to tinker with organizational design and compensation to ensure that behaviors and action plans will reinforce brand strategy and deliver on the desired brand promise. These are not quick fixes, but they could lead to lasting change and a more enduring brand promise.
Because these are not quick fixes, they may not have the courage to tackle something whose results won’t show up in the next quarter’s same-store retail performance metrics.
It takes a lot more to emulate the Apple brand experience than cool advertising.