If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? And more to the point; If I buy a limited-edition Frappuccino and don’t post a photo on Instagram, did it even happen? In a world where social media validation counts for everything, how do you create an authentic customer experience? Content producer and lover of coffee, Candice Witton writes…
German online news platform Der Spiegel is so trusted it can be said that, “Es ist erst wahr, wenn du es auf Spiegel Online gelesen has,” which – as we all know – translates as, “It’s not true until you’ve read it on Spiegel Online”. Based on my experience, the same could be said of New Zealand site, Stuff.co.nz.
The fourth largest website in New Zealand behind Google, Facebook and Twitter, Stuff.co.nz (or “Stuff” as it’s more affectionately known) is the primary digital platform of Fairfax Media New Zealand and an authority source for content. It is the first web page opened by many New Zealanders every morning.
Fairfax New Zealand’s acting CMO, Grant Torrie, says the first lesson in embracing experience-driven marketing is knowing your context and your customer. “For a business talking to millions of people every day, actually knowing who those people are would be vital to our marketing activities going forward,” he says.
In fact, Stuff is so ingrained into the cultural zeitgeist that its content has become indispensable around the proverbial water cooler. Extending the conversation with your co-workers, friends, and families is invaluable, and because of this collective experience, Stuff’s reputation carries gravitas.
Create authentic moments
Whereas platforms like Der Spiegel and Stuff are connecting people in real life, many brands are counting on the growing social media swell and tide of influencers to market for them. And if social media is the new word-of-mouth marketing, Instagram is the new black.
Take US coffee chain Starbucks, for instance – a company that’s been credited with “inventing” the experience of coffee. The chain’s most recent campaign, the Unicorn Frappuccino, pushed the boundaries when it came to crafting a powerful customer experience.
For a limited time only, customers could purchase the brightly coloured drink that appeared as though it had been created purely for Instagram. The elusive beverage quickly exploded on social media, leaving Starbucks to capitalise on visual saturation and a small army of homegrown influencers.
????????✨???? Unicorn Frappuccino ????✨???????? I had so much fun creating this look inspired by the @starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino using @limecrimemakeup Unicorn Hair color and @brazilianbondbuilder . The best part about this look is that the hair color version is vegan, sugar free, and calorie free. ????????????????✨ Check out my video post to see how I created this look! #unicornfrappuccino #behindthechair #btconeshot_vibrant17 #btconeshot_unconventionalcolor17 . . . . . . . #modernsalon #americansalon #notchstl #stl #stlouis #thegrovestl #grovestl #hairstl #stlhair #hairstlouis #stlouishairstylist #hairstyliststlouis #stlhairstylist #caitlinfordhair #anthonythebarber916 #authentichairarmy #esteticausa #imallaboutdahair #licensedtocreate #cosmoprof #fiidnt #brazilianbondbuilder #colortrak #unicornhair #limecrime #limecrimemakeup
“As a heritage brand, that is competing with smaller, artisanal, and more specialized beverage experiences, Starbucks is making a play at attracting generation Z and creating something that they will want to share,” Emily Kahn, a consultant at branding company Vivaldi said in a recent CBS News report. “The short time frame creates urgency and generates buzz, making it a great opportunity to profit off of marketing.”
But the hair-raisingly pink concoction led to polarising customer experiences, as the drive to get likes in real-time outweighed any nutritional or taste value. The drink may have aimed to create a nostalgic experience for adults, but the reality was long queues, high demand and overworked baristas who took to social media to vent their frustrations.
— Gabrielle (@Gabyyrain) April 19, 2017
This begs the question how do you craft authentic moments in the age of Instagram?
When overall customer experience is psychological, and Instagram so strongly influences public opinion, the experiences of frontline staff are also pertinent in shaping positive customer experience.
For Stephanie Tully, executive manager of Group Brand and CMO at Qantas, creating an impactful customer experience starts from the ground up. “We never stopped investing in our people from a service perspective,” Tully says.
“We put a lot of emphasis on empowerment and authentic moments with customers, because your frontline staff are the most important people in your marketing team, really.”
Technology and data are driving this new wave of experience-driven marketing, says Tully, who empowers her frontline staff to make decisions on what customers prefer to deliver a premium, personalised experience.
Good experiences versus great experiences
According to Emma Williamson, director of Customer Experience at L’Oreal Australia & New Zealand, one of the greatest measures of success is for a customer to go out of their way and advocate for you.
“It’s so easy for consumers to throw a product away and never tell us that they hated it or why they hated it,” says Williamson.
“Success for me is volumes of contact coming in to us. I actually want to see that people are talking about our brands positively online as opposed to, ‘I hate my hair colour and I hate you’.
“The more contact we have, the more we are able to actually refine the way we work, and that is really a way that we can be successful and engage with consumers.”
By embracing platforms like Instagram, businesses stand to benefit from authentic interactions with their customers and the potential for increased advocacy.
The future is personal
The case of the Unicorn Frappuccino proves that with new technology and innovation, customer experience can go both ways. Despite overall success, the campaign created a unique emotional experience for everyone – be it excitement, awe, hatred, disappointment or regret.
More to the point, the honest feedback Starbucks received on Twitter and Instagram proves the power of social media to influence how products are received in the market.
Pretty sure at least 3 people have rolled their eyes at me pic.twitter.com/DvPCwnl5jW
— Maura Judkis (@MauraJudkis) April 19, 2017
Delivering personalised content on Instagram is one way businesses can give their customers a valuable experience and connect more authentically. We’ve probably all had the experience of finding Instagram advertisements so aesthetically pleasing you don’t realise they’re ads until you have doubled-tapped.
The lesson? It’s a pretty simple one: In a world of adblocking, ad-skipping, and Youtube Red, Instagram is a platform for shared experience and customer validation. This should prompt all brands to ask, ‘Do I truly understand how my products make my customer feel?’.