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How brands can adopt a new approach to measuring brand experience

01 December 2020

This article first appeared on Warc written by our Head of Connected Experiences, Christophe Castagnera.

Recent talk of return on experience (ROE) being the new return on investment (ROI) overlooks the fact that there has always been a connection between the quality of customer experiences and the financial returns measured through ROI.

However, the main issue is the need to accurately measure the effects of brand experience in order to expand the framework of measuring ROI in a more holistic way. And as brands emerge from the tumult of this year, it is clear there is both a need and an opportunity for a fresh and more considered approach that actually measures experiences in a way that complements established measurement practice for mass-media, CRM and digital channels.

Measuring experience

A longstanding criticism of brand experiences has been their lack of comparable measurement and also how to correlate what is measured with clear business results and outcomes. This year, however, with many live experiences forced online by the pandemic crisis, the ROE-is-the-new-ROI conversation has revolved around the benefits of digital experiences and the ease with which their impact can be tracked using behavioural metrics such as visitor numbers, cost per click, engagement rates and so on.

The trouble is, digital metrics only tell one part of the story and are often not measured for offline channels, including most brand experiences. Furthermore, many brand owners do not measure the qualitative brand impact of their experience programmes due to concerns over research costs and the perception that these ‘soft’ metrics cannot be correlated with actual results.

But the good news is that, with a flexible mindset, it’s neither expensive nor hard to measure experience with the same rigour applied to advertising and digital marketing. And when it’s done right, the insights gained can be used to better target creativity throughout a brand owner’s customer journey, as well as to inform if and where money should be invested or whether it has been well spent.

The value of ‘engaged minutes’

The fact is that customers spend more time engaging in experiences than any other form of marketing and brand engagement. Therefore, we advocate every brand should, at the very least, start by measuring what we call ‘engaged minutes’ – the number of people who engage with a brand through a particular experience (be that digital or in real life) multiplied by the number of minutes they engaged with it.

Engaged minutes is an indication of depth of engagement that is as simple to understand and compare against as page views, dwell time or reach. It is an essential baseline, too, against which a brand experience can, and should, be evaluated, along with each of its component parts.

In short, if a brand owner wants to measure the return on a brand experience, it needs to measure that experience, first.

Furthermore, not all minutes are created equal when it comes to engaged minutes. There will be key moments during the experience that matter the most, because they have the highest emotional impact. Some experiences are shorter but feature a hugely powerful peak moment, whilst others deliver emotional impact through a series of moments over a longer period.

Designing experiences that maximise the impact of engaged minutes through these different moments has become far more sophisticated, incorporating the principles of behavioural science.

Beyond engaged minutes

Measuring depth of engagement using engaged minutes is just the first part of the solution needed to build a credible and comparable measurement system for evaluating brand experience. We need to know what the effect of those engaged minutes actually is.

We believe that there are two key effects: brand engagement effects and behavioural effects.

  1. Brand impact effects

There are three areas to measure. The first and easiest is ‘brand advocacy’ using Net Promoter Score. The second is ‘brand funnel metrics’, such as brand consideration, and the third is ‘brand image’.

These measures are commonplace in brand marketing, of course. Yet far less consistently applied to experience campaigns – often due to misplaced concerns about cost, despite the fact that the price of tools needed to do so has fallen thanks to automation and a more competitive marketplace.

Clients who apply this level of rigour to measuring brand impact effects have found the ability to actually quantify the results to be transformational. Moving forward, any resistance to the effective and consistent evaluation of brand experiences must change.

  1. Behavioural effects

Measuring actual behaviour is an essential counterpart to qualitative research. Thanks to digital platforms, it is now straightforward to measure experiences with the same level of rigour as online, a reality that has been much accelerated by the burst of virtual and hybrid experiences driven by COVID-19. Critical metrics such as guest numbers, dwell times, social shares, content views, conversion to leads and conversion to sales can all be tracked.

By measuring both brand engagement and behavioural results from hundreds of experiences over the past ten years, using our live experience platform XPKit, we have identified the three main ways brand owners have sought to use experiences to deliver business results.

The first is to reach new audiences to grow the customer base. The integrated global launch campaign we created for Land Rover Defender in 2019 is one example of this, achieving a reach over one billion.

The second is to deepen engagement and extend reach to shift brand perceptions, as illustrated by the Shell ‘Make the Future’ experience we created for over 75,000 people. This deeper engagement also reached 180 million online, delivering a powerful combination of depth and reach.

The third is to deepen engagement and drive commercial returns, as illustrated by Brand Homes such as the Old Forester Distillery experience in Kentucky that we created for Brown-Forman. This experience involves a paid tour and offers further experiences which generate financial returns alongside powerful brand advocacy.

Evaluating the relevant role – and place – for creativity

From a broader, CX point of view, measuring experiences consistently across the wide array of touchpoints is critical. This can be applied across the four main stages of the customer experience lifecycle – from marketing the product through retail/point of sale, to experiencing the product and, finally, the experience of owning it. Each brand will have its own range of touchpoints, and these will vary in importance depending on the brand owner’s product category or type of customer.

The opportunity here is to better understand how experiences can be designed in a strategic way that optimises the right emotional engagement at the right stage in the life cycle at a level of investment appropriate to a brand owner’s business model. Opportunities for creating richer experiences exist throughout the customer experience life cycle, especially at retail/point of sale and also the experience of ownership.

In retail point-of-sale, for example, Jameson applied a ‘connected packaging’ approach using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology on a series of limited edition bottles to mark St. Patrick’s Day. When an NFC-enabled smartphone comes into contact with the product, consumers can then access a variety of Jameson content and experiences.

In ownership, for example, the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars experience ‘Whispers’ – an app available exclusively to owners of new Rolls-Royce vehicles, providing an exclusive content and bespoke experience platform – demonstrated creative innovation around ownership experience.

As businesses prepare their emergence from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to start building foundations for what happens next today.

Three steps brand owners can – and should – take now

First - start to measure the depth of the experiences they create by measuring engaged minutes. This simple method can be applied to every type of experience, in every market and sector, and can be compared to other brand KPIs such as reach, website visitors and video views.

Second - they should harness the cost-effective ways already out there to measure brand engagement and experience behaviours. By doing this, they can start evaluating the impact, cost and benefits of one experience against another in a way that brings a quantifiable approach to brand experiences.

Third - all brand engagement evaluation should be conducted within a single ROI framework that enables consistent gathering of data and comparison of insight generated. In this way, a brand owner could evaluate one component of a single brand experience against another or do the same across a wide array of different channels for the same brand.

The key here is to build a joined-up picture of a brand’s overall experience by connecting all the results and considering them as part of a whole, whether offline or online.