Designing 'from the user out': how brands must engage in the digital world

Tablet user
Brands must start with the user when planning their engagement strategy

Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience. An emerging discipline, experience design draws from many other disciplines including cognitive science, product design, interaction design, storytelling & heuristics.

Marketing experience design (MXD) on the other hand, provides a foundation for building a new methodology for realizing the brand and marketing strategies of clients. This approach focuses on why as well as how we tell the story of a brand and, of more importance, how we can use marketing touch points to deliver personalised and relevant messages to new and existing consumer.

To do this effectively we need three components; the meaningful relationship we are trying to establish and/or extend, the digital marketing touch point (be it through mobile display, programmatic media, content or social partnerships etc) and the data flow that measures and tracks the level of consumer engagement at both the brand and product level.

The measure of this engagement has traditionally been based on a pre-defined product or service purchase in the performance sense or brand engagement metrics in its broadest. As digital media becomes more complex and asynchronous, new quantitative and qualitative measures will emerge blurring the performance/brand distinction.

Simplifying the model

Programmatic media has already started collapsing direct and brand digital marketing into a single cookie view platform, that will in time incorporate paid and non-paid partnerships to create a more efficient marketing model.

Allied with media attribution and emerging digital econometric modelling built on consumer and house-holding insights, we will expect to see programmatic media hasten the movement towards a single XD marketing approach and the establishment of new measurement metrics to link brand awareness and engagement levels with online and offline purchase intent.

This will enable us to extend the model offline and create fully integrated creative and content marketing experiences which can be harnessed and driven by the consumers. We at Havas Media feel MXD is a useful, future proofed model for bringing these approaches together in a single discipline.

By focusing on what is 'meaningful' to customers we can help define key product or brand qualities that consumers can, in turn, use to navigate the abundance of choice within a particular market. These qualities extend from price, convenience to 'less measurable' social endorsement and community impact.

Now in its seventh year, our Meaningful Brands study is an insight into people and their relationships with brands. It helps marketers understand the particular drivers that help forge brand connections at both a personal level (intellectual, emotional, social, organisational) as well as at a broader societal perspective (economy, environment, community, Gov. ethics).

What makes a brand 'meaningful'?

We have engaged with 700 brands, surveying 134,000 consumers in 23 countries to build a detailed and consistent view of how these relationships have evolved and where they stand today. The results are not in the favour of our industry and reveal that most people worldwide would not care if more than 73% of brands disappeared entirely; in the UK this rises to 90%.

In many categories, brands have become commoditised in a communications race where price has become the only differentiator. This has in turn driven the digital marketing model to revolve more around sale or lead conversion points than as a key trigger to shaping the broader relationship with a brand.

This might explain why digital marketing has become more acquisition led for price sensitive categories and more communication based through value content and social endorsement for service based categories and sectors where price is not the primary driver.

In this fast-evolving "always-on" world, potential moments of engagement are expanding all the time, and the distinction of paid, owned, shared and earned touch points (media or otherwise) are harder to delineate. It's these moments of engagement, be they light touch like an email or more immersive like a visit to the store, that cumulatively create the brand experience.