Bringing the Experience Economy to Low-Engagement Industries

Charlie Ittner of Darien Group discusses how the lessons from high-touch consumer brands can benefit noncreative industries

Going to a checkup at the dentist in 2018 is a different experience compared to the past. Years ago, patients may have dreaded cold, uncomfortable waiting rooms where they paged aimlessly through old magazines. Today, many clinical offices are dedicating resources to improve the atmosphere for patients from the moment they walk in the door. There’s a good chance that, when heading in for a cleaning, patients will find themselves in a nicely lit lounge area with refreshments, Wi-Fi, and soft music or television playing in the background. This shift is indicative of a larger movement in which businesses are transitioning from stale, corporate interactions with customers toward high-engagement approaches typically found in the hospitality industry with restaurants and hotels. Many traditionally low-engagement practices such as dentistry, retirement planning, and car dealerships are rapidly adopting 21st century experiential marketing tactics centered around the customer.

[To read more of Charlie Ittner’s thought leadership click here]

Entering a Customer-Centric World

Modern retail strategies have increasingly focused on attracting and retaining customers through refining brand experience, as opposed to relying solely on superior products to capture market share. Sales tactics of the past emphasized the idea that a high-quality product would sell itself, but with a surplus of products available in today’s market, more must be done to stand out and engage customers. About 55% of adults admit they place more value on a positive experience with a brand than on the product itself, explaining the shift from a product-focused sales approach to a people-focused one. Many well-known consumer brands, such as Amazon and Warby Parker, have employed this strategy to disrupt industries and achieve success.

ABOUT 55% of adults admit they place more value on a positive experience with a brand than on the product itself, explaining the shift from a product-focused sales approach to a people-focused one.

Online retail marketplace giant Amazon strives to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” The company’s mission statement has resulted in a business model that revolves around serving needs rather than pushing product and has established a reputation for unparalleled customer service. Similarly, Neil Blumenthal’s Warby Parker has revolutionized the eyewear industry by shipping glasses directly to customers at an affordable price. Allowing buyers to choose among a variety of high-quality, fashionable frames in the comfort of their own homes places customer interests first and has led to Warby Parker’s rapid ascent in becoming a key player in the optical industry.

These are prime illustrations of disruptors in direct-to-consumer, but companies operating in less shopper-focused spaces can still apply these principles to meet modern-day expectations for brand experience and ultimately inspire loyalty from their target audiences.

More than the ‘customer is always right’

Whether your business operates in a low-engagement industry or not, it is highly likely that a potential consumer has already conducted initial research online before engaging with your company. With the buying process often starting prior to any direct interaction, companies can benefit from considering every brand element that potential customers may come across.

To craft a human-centric experience requires more than operating by the age-old rule, “the customer is always right.” Every aspect of your business presence, including online platforms such as websites, review pages, and social media, is an opportunity to educate the customer on your brand and leave a positive impression. Consider all audiences and user outcomes: those seeking to learn more about you; those switching over from a competitor; those looking for a point of contact; and both first-time and returning customers.

Additionally, building trust through transparency is crucial to driving sales. When news broke that data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica had privately acquired data on millions of Facebook profiles, user confidence in Facebook dropped by 66%. Many felt that, despite the platform’s public commitment to protecting people’s information, the company had not truly prioritized the safety of its users.

Fast-casual pioneer Chipotle also took a severe hit to its reputation when several outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus due to compromised ingredients in its food caused widespread illnesses that affected hundreds of customers. After experiencing a 53% decrease in customer trust, the company is now trying to bounce back through aggressive promotional campaigns.

Modern-day consumers desire a brand that feels authentic, without sales gimmicks that may result in them feeling misled or letdown. Using dishonest language or behavior may lead to a quickly tarnished reputation as word spreads fast in the age of the Internet. An open, honest portrayal of your company and the services or products you provide is a welcomed change from unsavory tactics, and customers’ appreciation will be demonstrated through repeat engagements.

With so many options available on the market, consumers will quickly move on to the next and bypass your brand if they feel confused by your product or service. Provide clarity in any descriptions and make all processes user-friendly in order to minimize obstacles that could cause the loss of a customer.

Crafting the Investor Experience

Darien Group’s specialization lies in the investment management space, and through our experience with private equity and real estate investment firms, we have learned that even practical, quantitative companies can reap benefits from brand awareness. It may seem that there is little opportunity for investment managers to apply these business-to-consumer strategies to their businesses, but these practices can in fact be tailored to attract investors and leave a positive impression. We maintain that every interaction, in every form, should be thoughtful; all marketing materials should embody a client-focused mission. These include any and all of a firm’s brand collateral, including its website, PPM, pitchbook, fund or corporate brochures, and tearsheets. The content within these materials should be easily digestible and targeted toward the firm’s audiences. This way, readers are able to receive information quickly, clearly, and efficiently.

Without a firm’s personnel directly involved, investors should still be able to source information about a prospective GP quickly and effectively with minimal obstacles standing in the way. Consider whether your outward-facing materials are providing readers an optimal pathway to critical information points. Decluttering your website navigation bar or crafting clear, cogent section titles in a presentation table of contents are examples of simple but impactful ways to streamline the investor experience. Regularly updating your digital presence and maintaining brand consistency across all materials presents a polished, professional image, a key factor LPs are sure to consider when evaluating firms.

Our Capabilities

Darien Group provides services that help private equity and real estate firms reframe their materials to improve the investor experience and refresh their brand image. We apply best practices from consumer and business-to-business marketing toward the investment management industry. From designing websites and developing visual brands to creating fund pitchbooks and brochures, we partner with our clients to enable them to raise capital faster and more confidently.

[For more on Darien Group’s approach to Branding click here]