Reconciling customer experience with advertising

Mark Cameron dissects the value of advertising when it comes to creating great customer experiences.


Life is not easy for marketers these days. The media landscape continues to be reinvented and fragmented and this is affecting the ability of marketers to capture the attention of their target audiences. The power of the mass media model is rapidly waning and so attention is turning to digital innovation and data driven direct communications. But, as many brands have found out, relying too heavily on technology can turn your advertising campaigns into nothing more than smart spam – with an ever-decreasing return on investment.

To further complicate matters research data shows that word-of-mouth recommendations are now disproportionately influential in purchase design making processes, especially those from friends and family. This source was said to be the most trustworthy for 84% of respondents to a study published in Nielsen’s ‘Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messaging’ report in late 2013.

Put simply, consumers are becoming harder to reach, and gaining their trust is becoming much more difficult even if you do reach them.

To manage this challenge, organisations and marketers have been looking to better understand the entire customer journey to enhance the customer experience. But this approach comes with an inherent conflict best summed by the following question: “Do want your customers talking about your products or your advertising?”

It is true that advertising provides a direct line of communication to your existing and prospective customers. But a customer experience advocate, on the other hand, will ask: “Why not let the customer experience speak for itself?”

So how should brands think about this issue?

There is a lot to be said for taking a long hard look at your customers and your organisation to identify opportunities to greatly improve the customer experience. In today’s world almost every consumer-facing company should be doing that in some way. Customers’ ability to be heard en mass is far too powerful not to.

And inevitability, when companies do seek to improve their customer experience, many of the outcomes become innovations and new digital communication channels.

But should these replace the need for advertising? Not at all. What they often do, however, is reframe the question, “What are we advertising?”

After all, if your company has invested heavily in creating a great customer experience, shouldn’t you tell the world?

Take Medibank for example. They sell health insurance but their current advertising campaign is focused on raising awareness for their GymBetter mobile app. This app allows the user to pay to use a use a gym, without having to pay regular membership fees. It’s not their core business but it is brand aligned and delivers great experience, and it gets even better if you happen to be one of their customers.

Market trends are maturing in a way that will start to impact on how brands interact with their customers.

For example, the way consumers understand and use their own data is creating a whole generation with very different expectations about the way that companies should interact with them. Social media is now reaching ubiquity, but there are still significant jumps in online communication that will be made in the next few years. Technologies like 3D printing will dramatically alter traditional value chains.

These are just a few examples of near-term trends that will bring further rapid change. These cannot be ignored – and businesses cannot advertise their way around them.

Creating a unique and fantastic customer experience is a way for businesses to stand out. But how the consumer interacts with the product or service, or how they discover that product or service for that matter, is part of the overall experience.

Deeply integrating advertising into the way a customer experiences a brand is becoming an essential aspect of the overall marketing mix.

Do we want people talking about the product or the advertising? Neither. We want people talking about an outstanding customer experience, of which both are a part.

Mark Cameron
BY Mark Cameron ON 5 March 2015
Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles.

Specialties: Digital innovation, Digital customer experience strategy, Social media strategy, Digital strategy, Online Marketing strategy.
He blogs at and tweets from @MarkRCameron.