In the past 12-18 months, we have seen a seismic shift in consumer behavior. The acceleration of e-commerce, driven by native direct-to-consumer digital brands, has reinvented the purchase journey. Acceleration of digital experiences, adoption of new social media platforms and the continued decline of traditional mass media channels have transformed consumer expectations. These shifts have blurred the lines between brand and demand, awareness and direct response. 

Ten years ago, most touchpoints were brand-driven, and customers were influenced by advertising, direct marketing, promotions, in-store experiences, salespeople, etc. Today, touchpoints are consumer driven, entirely discovered by the consumer through social media scanning, reading blogs and reviews, etc.  Small companies can be completely unknown to a consumer because they do no major broadcast advertising. These brands can now introduce themselves digitally, deliver an emotional brand experience within moments, and capture a new sale – all in one well-received digital display ad. Large companies are taking notice.

Experience matters – 66% of consumers care more about an experience than they do price when making a buying decision.

84% of consumers feel that experiences are as important as the actual products and service.

The traditional funnel has been flipped. Where awareness and emotional connection were achieved in big-brand broadcast advertising, and clicks and transactions were driven with direct response-like tactics, today’s consumers are in control. The funnel is demanding a new creative approach. In a brand-led world, success is changing the consumer. In a consumer-led world, the consumers control how they interact with the brand.

Rethinking traditional creative: The marketing approach and organisational needs to transform

The role of the modern marketer has to change. Marketers must be moment makers, experience activators, and relationship builders.

The traditional marketing approach is often bifurcated between the emotive brand building and the transactional direct response approach. Previously, big-brand and broadcast efforts were considered the elite functions, where the personality and emotional qualities of the brand were expressed with grand imagery and profound taglines, all to be broadcast. When it came to customers providing contact information, a different set of tactics were used. The direct response team would use available information from the master brand and use their more pedestrian direct response tools and rules, and make their tactical campaigns happen through direct mail. 

The direct response (DR) creative approach followed this. Directions were thrown over the wall and the DR team had little insight or input into the overall journey or the awareness/brand objectives. They rarely had contact with the CMO and the marketing strategists, serving only as an executional arm. The creative function in DR was around performance.

Digital channels made immediate touchpoints treated like direct response media, especially given the close proximity they had with transactional touchpoints and the fact that they could be measured with similarly quantitative KPIs. The old approach was applied to the digital universe: the big, emotional brand strategy sat in the CMO’s executive suite; rather the digital DR team. Simultaneously, the digital DR capability got really good at what they do. Hence, the rise of performance creative. Performance creative took a scientific approach to design, applying reusable, proven rules known to elicit specific direct response behavior. The craft of digital DR was elevated in its effectiveness as a transaction-maker as the techniques and the results matured.

Digital is king in the experience economy and the consumer-driven world. The big broadcast venues are drying up as they become less used and more expensive. A new approach is needed.

Above performance creative: The rise of experience creative

Experience-led brands perform across the entire customer lifecycle. They realise:

1.6x higher brand awareness

1.7x customer retention

1.6x customer satisfaction rates

1.4x faster revenue growth

For brands to drive action, the creative has to deliver consumer value at every touchpoint. Performance must now be a part of the experience. A new kind of creative is needed for the experience economy that inspires and sells, telling stories and driving  action.

The blend between emotional response and tactical performance where the magic happens. Experience creative must be:

Human-inspired: It has to move hearts and minds. It must leverage a human truth and deliver a high-value experience to drive response.

Conceptual: It must be more than advertising or promotion. It is idea based, content centric and focuses on an emotional appeal or personal vision.

Personally relevant: The creative must always be personally relevant. It must speak to its audience and seek engagement and relationships.

Informed: It’s driven both by data and by human insights. The creation of the creative concepts comes from understanding real behavior by analyzing past data insights and being guided by a subjective, qualitative understanding of how customers feel.

Dynamic: The creative is iterative, dynamic, and responsive to the individual results that it delivers. It evolves to become more emotive, relevant, and effective.

Scaled: It has scale and speed that enables the personalised message to reach the optimal population, regardless of size, and is properly timed to be relevant and useful to customers.

Effective and measurable: It must be measurable and work on multiple dimensions, effectively meeting its brand and awareness objectives, as well as its more traditional KPIs for transactional events.

Developing experience creative will require a variety of skills and a new approach. The new team will be more multi-disciplinary, blending brand and creative strategists, art directors, copy writers, traditional performance creative professionals, and excellent creative talent. The experience creative function is elevated to a strategic activity and will be fully guided by and provide insight into the overall brand strategy and customer journey. New inputs will be added beyond the traditional DR-type analysis and rule set, including primary research, customer data analysis, and more subjective, human-led insight development. Experience creative will have a more prominent role in the CMO’s executive suite.

The experience economy has transformed the view of the marketing funnel. The roles of building a meaningful brand, emotionally engaging with customers, and getting them to act has been blended. A new approach to creative is needed, one that marries the art of message, inspiration, and human touch with the science of knowing which tactics and design elements move customers to act in specific ways. 

Experience creative elevates digital marketing further into the strategic conversation and may well replace (or perhaps evolve) the traditional means of marketing. The best brands are elevating their human engagement and their marketing performance simultaneously, because the present and future demand it.