Measuring Return on Experience: it’s ROI for the age of storytelling

Marketers need a measurement approach that blends art and science, story and technology, and that looks more deeply at experience. We need a new model: ‘Return on Experience’ (RoX), say John Cain, Todd Cherkasky and Rick Robinson from SapientNitro.


Sixty years ago, the world experienced a shift as important as the industrial or the agricultural revolutions.

Shortly after the Second World War, the digital revolution ushered in the information age, and with it a huge number of changes in the way we – just plain folk – experience everyday life. The digital revolution also forced a move from a ‘push-driven’ traditional brand-centric view of the world to an economy of connected experiences that are co-owned by company and customer. This symmetric, multi-experience world is triggering new questions and informing new perspectives on marketing investments. For instance:

  • In this changed environment, how do we begin to measure effectiveness?
  • where, when and how should companies invest in order to most effectively connect their brands with customers?
  • do we need to measure value and the return on ‘experience-led’ investments differently than we have evaluated more traditional metrics?


Marketers need a measurement approach that blends art and science, story and technology, and that looks more deeply at experience. We need a new model: ‘Return on Experience’ (RoX).


Toward a new understanding of people: a shift of Copernican proportions

To adjust to the shift toward an economy of connected experiences, we need to re-think a long-held assumption that consumers are passive recipients of information. In the push-driven marketing model, consumers (a label that is problematic and narrow) are assumed to be mere recipients of a product or brand story. They are typically characterised as ‘eyeballs’ and ‘targets’ whose penetration is then measured by recall, impressions and mindshare.

Companies need to develop a far different and more dynamic understanding of their audiences. People are never simple, passive recipients of ‘messages’ and never have been. When they choose to engage, “They are willing participants in a dialogue with your brand, products and services. People are using the things companies make and sell to tell stories to one another about who they are. And in that telling, people get other ideas, they discover new things to be, new ways to be who they are – they are always looking for ways to make those stories new, better, more compelling. This is why we need to understand them, their frames of reference, their language,” says Rick Robinson.

In short, we must view people on their own terms.

Static models of consumer merely surrounded by new media and channels can no longer guide a business focused on the needs of the always-on, connected consumer. Putting the consumer at the centre of the experience changes everything.

Figure 1 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling


Innovation changes: Business value creation now begins with the person and radiates to other parts of the organisation as a reference. For example, Stefan Olander, VP of digital sport at Nike, explains: “We don’t start with technology or the potential profit; we always start with the athlete. I think that’s an important distinction because when you do that the other things follow.”

Brands and products change: They are now tools that enable people to live their stories. A person’s story is larger than the brand itself. The new goal for marketing? How to get customers to incorporate company products/services/brands into their stories – to develop the brand story inside the consumer story.

Measurement systems and intelligence platforms change: A different view of product and brand requires a new system to measure and understand what’s meaningful in everyday experience. We need an approach that blends art and science, story and technology, and that looks more deeply at experience. Such an approach should be sourced by multiple data types and should value the role of human intelligence and interpretive skills. The desired outcome: actionable models that affect business metrics and initiatives.

Figure 2 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling

Toward a wide-angle measurement system

SapientNitro has introduced a measurement model that recognises the new reality of commerce and marketing. We call our model ‘Return on Experience’ (RoX). By building on old approaches and adding a new way to think about, optimise and measure what’s meaningful in experiences, Return on Experience (RoX) attempts to model the overall return of an investment in building an “experience-led” brand. Return on Experience (RoX) prescribes connected experiences that enjoin company and customer.

Our model brings together multiple perspectives in order to measure a return on experience-led initiatives. Each element seeks a different set of metrics and techniques for measurement. The newest element in this mix is “experience” and new kinds of descriptive and prescriptive tools.


The ‘Return on Experience’ model is composed of three parts:

  1. Brand and marketing ROI: Aggregate measures to assess the return on storytelling and experience initiatives.
  2. Return on media and channels: Next-generation marketing mix and cross-media analytics provide a more detailed and accurate picture of channel impact and effect.
  3. Experience optimisation: A measurement frame- work to more precisely assess experience with a new frame of reference and new measurement tools, like sensor technology, which produce new forms of consumer behaviour data at a level that can be mined for insights.


Return on Experience (RoX) shows how businesses create value across connected experiences and how that value can be followed and measured down into individual moments themselves.

Figure 3 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling

Brand and marketing ROI: The first element of the model focuses on ROI of brand and marketing itself. The model uses a variety of business analytics to evaluate return and efficiencies at the aggregate, corporate level. Some examples include ROI analyses, marketshare, cost/ benefit, or the balanced scorecard.

Return on media and channels: The second element of our model addresses return on media and channels. Recent developments in the field of media mix modelling use sophisticated next-generation algorithms (mathematical models) to quantify cross-media effects of marketing.

Figure 4 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling

Traditionally, media mix modelling measures a given channel’s direct effect on sales. Yet today, during an ‘average day’ for many, people experience several hundreds of touch points across a huge variety of media and channels.

Brands often tell their stories in blended media, and new analytics tools help attribute the return on media and channels more precisely. The major advancement is in predictive forecasting models, which now can reveal cross-channel impacts, or ‘assist rates’, taking into account the interplay between traditional media (radio, print and TV) and digital (search, display, social, and mobile) at a brand and category level.

This approach enables marketers to continuously measure and calibrate marketing investments and generate incremental ROI.

Experience optimisation and experience assessment: The techniques that marketers use to assess experience don’t do justice to the nuance and range of how people act, connect with others or sense (and make sense of) their world. But three major advances: sensor technology, information processing and experience dimensions – are changing the way organisations instrument and optimise experience.


To begin with, we need better sources of data and ways to harvest it.

Sensor technology: For the first time, sensor technology has ‘things’ talking. Everyday consumer products – homes, offices, and retail spaces; civil infrastructure; and even the natural environment – all have the capacity to communicate and to deliver huge volumes of real-time data at a level of detail never before possible. Such data can be used alone, or correlated with other quantitative or qualitative sources, to deliver a powerful new kind of business intelligence.

Information processing: That information, combined with advanced consumer intelligence processes and platforms, turns information pathways into real business value. Marketers benefit from a richer, dynamic and more efficient consumer understanding – with greater depth and detail that changes as the world and people change.

Figure 5 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling

But what are the dimensions of the scales themselves?

Experience dimensions: The third part of experience optimisation is developing a new, proprietary model of experience. We’ve identified five experience dimensions that are used to assess how well a particular campaign; design, interaction or environment performs in terms of experience. Those dimensions are: Control, Access, Fit, Sense and Continuity.

These experience dimensions are used in our approach to experience design and strategy. For example, we conducted primary research over the course of three months analysing 28 different leaders in delivering superior experiences.

Figure 6 - ROI, ROX, return on experience, return on investment, marketing storytelling


Return on experience in the new era of marketing

We’ve entered a new era of marketing based on dialogue, not monologue. This new era requires new methods and techniques for marketing to connect more effectively. To achieve the optimal return from your marketing investments, you need to marshal your resources with the knowledge that it’s not (only) about you.

To ensure you are really creating an adequate model of experience in the era of dialogue, you need a measurement system that blends art and science and story and technology – one that looks more deeply at experience and includes intelligence platforms sourced by multiple data types. And don’t forget the role of human intelligence and interpretive skills to create actionable models that affect real business metrics and initiatives.

Our model of Return on Experience represents the requisite set of measures useful for guiding business today: corporate investments, media and channels, and experience optimisation/assessment.

Go, gather -> model -> understand -> act -> measure -> go again.