Brand Experience is Fueled by Many Elements
Brand experience multiplies the employees experience by the customer's experience to deliver something sublime to the marketplace.
It Starts With Identifying Where You Are Today
It's hard to move forward without knowing where you are today, the gaps in your 3 Ps, and the opportunities and limitations in front of you.
Laying Out Your Roadmap
Relying on guesswork to decide your next steps and the path to get to your future goals is futile. It requires data & analytics to uncover the best roadmap for the fastest results.
Putting the Wheels in Motion
Getting started means stacking the dominoes in the right sequence with the right experiential strategies and methodologies in place.
The term brand experience is on the minds and lips of many these days. Why? Because an increasing number of leaders are realizing that what worked 10 years ago isn’t working today. Something’s gotta give in terms of what organizations deliver to their customers, but what? That’s the question of the year, and we have the answer.
Buckle up and let’s jump right in, shall we?
Brand Experience is About More Than Customer Journey Analytics
Just about everyone we talk to these days is worried about one thing — staying relevant. That’s because, in today’s highly nuanced ecosystem, consumers traverse digital and offline touchpoints hundreds of times throughout their journey. For a brand to stay top-of-mind, it must be modern enough to meet consumer demands. If not, it gets lost in the shuffle.
To understand where your organization fits in, you have to understand how consumers today engage with the market. Getting granular about what’s happening at each step of the path-to-purchase or path-to-retention and then whittling down those detailed insights into a simple, digestible action plan is no easy feat, though.
Call us crazy, but here at RocketSource, the challenge of simplifying the complex is what gets us out of bed each morning. Our sweet spot is homing in on what companies really need to deliver an incredible brand experience today. Spoiler alert: first touch/last touch attribution models aren’t the solution. They’re antiquated and too high-level, facts that prompt many of the conversations we have about customer journey analytics.
Many companies now seek to implement analytics to gain more insight into what’s happening along the buyer’s journey. Understandably, organizations assume that customer journey analytics can be a golden ticket to finding areas of opportunity across the funnel. After all, the insights you can uncover from a gorgeous Customer Insights Map are rich and plentiful.
Some businesses look to customer insights maps to identify the best path-to-purchase. Others want to discover the best path-to-retention. Still others want to use this asset to implement intelligent operations so they can get the insights needed to make decisions across the modern customer journey funnel, which we often refer to as the bow tie funnel. All of these uses are good, but they’re really just a means to an end.
What these companies really want (you probably want this too) is to know the why, what and how of every single user. That’s the secret recipe for breaking into the market. By understanding what makes a buyer take action you can create an experience that feels personal and, well, downright good from start through purchase, and well beyond. That’s because, when you deliver something personalized, you deliver an experience that’s hard to ignore. This puts your organization in a position to build revenue, reduce costs and increase retention. Getting there requires that you understand the emotional and logical triggers that’ll get your end user to take action. You have to get into their brain to understand what makes them tick — what makes them act and share. It’s this depth of knowledge that enables you to craft impactful campaigns.
There’s a problem with taking such a customer-centric approach, however. Many businesses get so attached to creating an incredible customer experience that they drift far away from the experience they deliver internally to their team. They forget their why, but it’s easy to see the reason why. Neglecting the core purpose of the company is inevitable when the sole focus is on the end customer.
So, where do you start and what do you need to create an exceptional brand experience? Let’s reverse engineer this process to show how we help forward-thinking organizations get on course to reach their goals.
Many Elements Fuel Brand Experience
Jumping into something as deep as brand experience without having the right arrows in your quiver is futile. Relying exclusively on the same tactics, methodologies or strategies you’ve used in the past will likely cause you to fall back into old habits such as operating with blinders on, relying on costly legacy platforms or making decisions based on gut feel rather than data. These habits die hard, we know. By refreshing the tools at your disposal, you can move into the future with a clearer vision of what’s needed and what’s possible. Here’s just a small sampling of the elements we often lean on:
Our proprietary StoryVesting framework gets to the heart of what’s needed to develop exceptional brand experiences.
Core BX Empathy Mapping
Operating from an empathetic standpoint requires an insights-centric, irrefutable glimpse into your employee and customer thoughts, feelings, actions and words.
EX/CX Loops & Data Viz
Gaining organizational buy-in relies on your team’s ability to quickly understand, digest and deploy your vision, which happens by continually taking a pulse of your team and customers, and then visualizing that data to tell a strong story.
Transformative Alignment of the 3 Ps
By analyzing the gaps in your people, processes and platforms, you’re able to understand what’s missing and what’s needed to drive transformation through closer alignment.
In today’s fast-paced world, operating with agile methodologies is non-negotiable.
Advanced Data/Analytics Loops
By harnessing the data and analytics loops available today, you’re able to get a more sophisticated look at what’s happening in your organization and identify transformative opportunities.
Powerful Decision Matrices
As you lay out the roadmap for how you’ll approach something as large and critical as digital transformation, a decision matrix can help quickly identify the lowest hanging fruit.
Agile Tech Stack
Legacy systems don’t cut it anymore. Having an agile tech stack to scale with your organization’s growth will empower you to operate more efficiently.
A Human-Centered Design adopts the critical mindset shift of looking holistically at the person using the product before creating the design.
Insightful Dimension Scoring
Hone in with acute detail to see which areas of your business are helping you achieve excellence and which areas need attention.
Some of these elements, like StoryVesting, our proprietary brand experience framework, and the 3 Ps (People, Processes and Platforms) might not surprise you if you’re at all familiar with RocketSource. Others, like decision matrices, might be new to you. You need to understand all of these elements because we don’t consider them individually. Instead, we determine your organization’s specific needs and then line up each piece in just the right sequence, so that everything happens at just the right time in the perfect order. That sequencing is important, but it’s not as straightforward as it might seem.
So often, the people we talk to attempt to enhance brand experience by innovating on current elements in their business independent of one another. They treat design, data looping and predictive analytics as one-off initiatives as they work to create new experiences or experiment with new technologies. These initiatives are often lumped in as a form of research and development (R&D), which separates them from the core of a business’s function. Organizations that make this distinction struggle to grow and innovate at a competitive clip, causing them to quickly become irrelevant or fall behind the times.
Sure, achieving relevancy in today’s complex world and delivering an exceptional experience requires that you know how to do certain things, like ask probing, strategic questions; infuse intelligence into daily operations; create human-centered designs; and develop sophisticated programs. To get each of these elements to fit together just right requires that they are stacked in the right order across the entire journey so that each piece falls at just the right time, like this (we could watch this for hours):
When your business’s dominoes fall at just the right time along your customer’s journey, you create a gorgeous brand experience that buyers can’t help but notice. It’s through this type of synchronicity that brands can develop an insulating strategic architecture to influence the 3 Ps — the workforce within the organization (the people), operational efficiencies at scale (the processes) and the technology used to build employee and customer experiences (the platforms). But before you can line up your dominoes, you need to know where there are gaps in your lines.
Getting a Pulse on Your Current Brand Experience
Ever heard the expression, “you don’t know what you don’t know”? That saying sums up a sentiment we commonly hear during our many discussions. The main catalyst of our day-to-day conversations is the desire to accelerate growth by leveraging modern assets, such as customer journey analytics, to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced digital world. To that end, many organizations we meet with pepper us with questions about why they’re stagnating and how they can avoid taking a wrong turn on the S Curve of Business and end up on the path to obsolescence.
No matter how big or small your organization is — whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop, a Fortune 20 company, or somewhere in between — to continue to move up the S Curve of Business, your company must maintain momentum with the modern consumer. It’s this momentum that makes brand relevance the new differentiation, according to Tracy Lloyd.
When a brand seeks a meaningful position through personal relevance and emotional importance, it starts by discovering what makes it potentially relevant and then focuses on evoking the emotions that will support, extend and highlight that relevance. – Tracy Lloyd
Using relevancy as a competitive differentiator is harder than it might seem on the surface. Continuing to innovate and evolve requires your company to be aligned with what the market expects from the world around them today. If you’ve ever been tasked with navigating any major decision that would change the course of your organization, you know how daunting it can be.
Leaders tasked with making difficult decisions often get stuck in analysis paralysis. The fatigue of making a decision brings forward progress to a standstill, which is the worst thing that can happen in a time of rapid transformation. Regardless, decision fatigue is real. So real, in fact, that some of the most successful people on the planet have experienced it. Look no further than President Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who all made a conscious decision to avoid experiencing decision fatigue by simplifying their wardrobes. President Obama opted for grey t-shirts. Steve Jobs chose black and denim. Mark Zuckerberg wears hoodies. President Obama’s reason, according to a 2012 Vanity Fair interview, is that having a standard daily wardrobe cut back on mundane decisions.
But decision fatigue isn’t just about wardrobe or other everyday decisions, like whether or not to splurge on that candy bar in the checkout aisle. A lack of focus in our daily work lives has also been proven to lead to decision fatigue. In a 2017 study, researchers analyzed over 225 million hours of working time and found that the average user switches tasks over 300 times per day during working hours alone. Being forced to make major decisions time and again throughout the day causes burnout. Just ask a judge: researchers analyzed 1,100 parole hearing cases and found that the most influential factor in the ruling wasn’t the crime, background or sentence, but rather the time of day the case was heard and the judge’s level of decision fatigue.
As humans, it’s biologically impossible to make one smart decision after another.
Even the brightest minds in the world know their limitations in decision making. Fortunately for us, there are assets that can do the heavy lifting and help navigate the best next steps for an organization.
A Gap Analysis to Uncover Holes in Your Brand Experience
While there are many ways to assess brand experience, we typically begin by doing a gap analysis to compare the current experience that customers have with your brand to how you would like it to be.
A gap analysis looks at three core areas — people, processes and platforms (the 3 Ps) — to discover the limitations and opportunities as well as the current versus future states of each. It looks like this:
Each area of the gap analysis helps us understand what the journey could or should look like. In the 3 Ps alignment, we look specifically at the talent resources (the people) to assess how skilled they are in the necessary areas and how well aligned they are with your why; how everyone works together (the processes); and what’s in the tech stack (the platforms). Once we understand what’s happening layer by layer, we can cross-pollinate each area to understand where the people, processes and platforms align and where there may be disconnects.
A gap analysis is a tremendous opportunity to address concerns now that could have serious implications down the road. A study showcased in Accenture’s Future Systems Report found that by simply not adopting the right technology (platforms), laggards could miss out on as much as 46% of their annual revenues by 2023. $3 billion has already been foregone and another $20 billion stands to be lost over the next 5 years. Meanwhile, leaders who don’t shy away from transformation target three times as many business processes with new technologies than those who only implement technologies to solve for single-point solutions rather than building systems.
The multi-process (systemic) approach works better because it helps build operational efficiencies while breaking down silo walls.
75% say systems are breaking down the boundaries between data, infrastructure and applications, between humans and machines, and even between competing organizations. – Accenture
As gaps are identified via a gap analysis, analyzing an organization’s limitations and potential opportunities becomes easier and clearer. Limitations are easier to identify — for example, legacy technology that can’t keep up with the current market, skills gaps among current employees or silo walls that hinder cross-departmental alignment needed for forward progress. Internal and external opportunities for growth become clearer, too. Getting clarity on achievable outcomes, which paths-to-purchase or paths-to-retention make the most sense to target or what type of new sophisticated software products to develop is the first step in prioritizing which projects, platforms or people to invest in first.
A gap analysis allows us to compare a company’s current status on the S Curve of Business to where the organization can realistically go. A solid gap analysis — à la RocketSource — can act as a catalyst. And let’s be clear, without a catalyst to drive momentum it’s very difficult to get from here to there. As most organizations eventually realize, what got them here won’t get them there. Even the CEO of Walmart recently stated that in today’s world, their brand could be gone in a minute. A minute. That speaks volumes about how much the landscape and your footing can change in a world of instant consumer/user reevaluation and communication. This new world forces brands to create a sense of urgency to adapt and innovate.
And here’s the kicker … in most cases, when a team seems to lack urgency the root cause is not laziness, apathy or lack of commitment — it’s an absence of momentum.
By seeing the chasm between where you are today and where you want to go, you’re able to determine where to aim to hit your target. Part of the analysis and knowing the right direction for your organization involves understanding your why. Assuming you want to create an amazing brand experience to reduce costs, increase retention and stickiness and grow your top-line revenues, you need the right framework, protocols and leadership to facilitate the rediscovery and transformation of your company. Without them, you’ll wind up with an incredible vision but a disjointed culture, experience and set of products.
At RocketSource, we hang our hat on the fact that we’re experts at building experiences like these. Before we show you exactly how we approach a brand experience initiative, there are a few foundational items to cover. It’s practically mandatory to infuse StoryVesting, data and the 3 Ps into your organization before embarking on a methodical approach to strategic decision making.
StoryVesting: The Essential Foundational Framework
If you’ve read anything from us in the past, you’ve probably seen references to our business transformation framework, StoryVesting (also referred to as the “why” framework). For the sake of this post, we’ll call it a brand experience framework. Let’s take a look at how the elements of StoryVesting fuse together and why we leverage this framework when approaching a gap analysis.
People’s tastes are constantly evolving as new technology, perceptions and realities enter the mix, making it incredibly difficult to manage employees and customers alike. We’re living a modern life and we expect the companies we buy from and work for to evolve alongside us. If you’re not keeping up with these demands, your company will struggle to keep moving upward on the S Curve of Business. That’s where StoryVesting comes in.
To increase your competitive advantage and push your organization up the S Curve of Business, you must understand where you fall within this framework. How do you answer the following questions about yourself and your organization?
- How well are you answering your company’s why?
- Is your business model still relevant today?
- How mature are your 3 Ps — people, platforms and processes?
- Are your products and services competitive in today’s market?
- Are you leveraging the most modern channels to reach your customers?
- What experience are you delivering?
You’ll notice that these questions only answer half the equation — the business side. While these are the drivers of your employee’s experience with your brand, it’s equally critical to understand what’s happening on the customer’s side. Consider these questions:
- What emotions are stimulating your customers to start engaging with you?
- What logical factors need to be addressed for them to buy from you?
- How can you drive retention by reconciling both the emotional and logical triggers in the overall experience?
Both of the outer circles in the StoryVesting framework lie firmly in experience. That’s because the formula for building a brand experience relies on both sides of this framework.
A Formula for Brand Experience
We didn’t choose the name for our RocketSource blog — Xperience — randomly, and it’s not just a fun play on words. That X means something to us around here — specifically when it comes to improving brand experience. People often think that the term “brand experience” is synonymous with customer experience (CX), but the formula is a little different. By definition, brand experience is a combination of employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX). By using X on its own, we’re able to embrace multiple experiences in one concise term.
Every day we talk to organizations about the importance of building a brand experience strategy — and the desire to improve both parts of the formula makes sense when you look at the competitive advantage it delivers. According to Forrester, companies with exceptional CX outperform their peers by 17% in customer loyalty and 11% in revenues. You may already know that. But did you know that companies with a highly engaged workforce are 21% more profitable than those with poor engagement and outperform the Standard & Poor’s 500 by 122%? It’s hard to deny the individual benefits of CX and EX when you look at stats like these.
But treating EX as one unit and CX as another just doesn’t cut it anymore. To drive truly sublime brand experiences in today’s fast-paced world, we need to change the formula so that EX and CX become multipliers of each other. At RocketSource, we work with companies ranging from innovative startups to Fortune 20s. As a growth and innovation company, we implement frameworks to insulate, sustain and expand businesses. We figure out whether your business is relevant or moving along a path toward obsolescence by analyzing whether you have an addition company or a multiplication company. Here’s how we do it:
Companies stuck in an “addition” mindset are still running with manual processes, one-off documentation and laborious tasks. Companies with a ”multiplier” mindset, on the other hand, run intelligent operations, leverage sequential loops and empathy-centric designs, and deploy journey analytics. Multipliers are relevant and are in closer alignment with their customers and the market. They’re striving for brand euphoria.
Although this animation may look simple, aligning EX with CX to build a buzzworthy brand experience is akin to solving a massive digital Rubik’s cube. In order to have the perfect experience, each element in these concentric circles must line up perfectly and work together in harmony. The only way to bridge the gap between brand experience and CX is to start pushing the two experiences together so that they overlap. Just like the dominoes in the video above, you need to have proper alignment and setup at every stage of the funnel.
Bow Tie Funnel: A Focus on Growth and Retention
The customer’s buying cycle doesn’t end with their first purchase. Yet for years the marketing funnel has come to an abrupt stop as soon as the customer takes the most important step in their journey — handing over their credit card to make a purchase. Once the transaction is complete, that’s it. The journey ends, full stop. No need to keep marketing to them. Once they’re in the pipeline, their journey is effectively over.
While that approach might have worked in the past, when consumers had fewer options, today’s buyers are inundated with choices. An InMoment study about earning and destroying customer loyalty found that 50% of loyal customers chose to leave one company for another that was more relevant and able to satisfy their modern needs. That’s significant when you consider that a 5% increase in customer retention leads to at least a 25% increase in profit, according to a Bain & Company study on cutting costs. But customers don’t want to leave an organization. HubSpot’s customer acquisition study found that 90% of customers are likely to purchase more than once. Despite this statistic, turning a one-time sale into a repeat customer requires intention and nurturing in today’s distracted economy. To drive retention, it’s imperative that you look at your customer’s post-purchase experience just as closely as you do their pre-purchase experience. We call this perspective the bow tie funnel.
If you’re new to the concept of an expanded marketing funnel, here’s what it looks like in action:
The beauty of the bow tie funnel lies smack-dab in its center. See that feedback loop circling around? This modern marketing funnel demonstrates the importance of retention — getting customers to continually progress through the funnel to buy from you. Use the arrows to click through each section of the image to see what we mean and if you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out our in-depth post about this specific customer journey funnel.
When you look at brand experience development through this lens, you can solve really difficult problems from strategic and tactical levels, rather than by chasing tactics. Just going after one-off initiatives, like coding new webpages or designing a new logo, won’t create a beautiful experience. Sure, those items are great and can have an impact, but to truly make a difference they need to be executed on with intention and as part of a bigger initiative.
We leverage the bow tie funnel along with the StoryVesting framework to get down to the nuances of behavioral economics and create strategic growth on the front end, as well as sustainable and buildable loyalty post-purchase. With these two elements as our foundation, we’re able to build powerful, effective brand experience initiatives to help organizations stay relevant today.
Deciding Where to Start With Your Brand Experience Initiatives
Even after you’ve identified the gaps, there are numerous ways to stack the dominoes in your favor. Sure, you can rely on guesswork, but we advise against it. You can haphazardly place bandages over problem areas, which we also advise against. Our method of choice? A decision prioritization matrix, which we also call a brand experience impact analysis.
A decision prioritization matrix is an easy-to-interpret map that compares features or variables and calculates their variable importance based on difficulty, risk and other factors. As you consider your options, this matrix lets you quickly visualize the areas with the highest cost, greatest risk or other variables to ultimately uncover the lowest-hanging fruit.
The ideation process is rarely difficult because of a scarcity of ideas, but rather its the abundance of ideas that make innovation a challenge.
The first step in creating a decision prioritization matrix is to build a decision tree. A decision tree maps data from a variable or category to an output or decision. In a data tree, each node represents a decision (visualized as a square box), a transition (a circular box) or a binary yes or no answer. Every tree starts with a single root, which is the base of separation for your decision. For example, if you’re trying to decide where to go on vacation, your root might be “Does the destination have water?” If you’re hoping to find a swimming hole, you’ll keep whittling down your options based on that answer. “No” answers will be filtered out automatically.
Once we’ve created a decision tree, we can visualize that data in a decision prioritization matrix to compare the best and worst decisions. The goal is to offer your organization a visualization of all relevant options that’s easy to digest and put into motion. There isn’t a standard template for this visual display, but here are some nice ones used by McKinsey to assess digital risk:
As you can see, McKinsey does a great job of segmenting ideas based on their level of risk. You can see how each idea will positively or negatively impact a specific area of the business.
Here’s another example of a health and safety risk assessment that’s done by Durham University to help identify the best areas to prioritize:
Although visualizations like these are easy for teams to consume across all departments, you’ll notice that you’ll still have many ideas to contend with. Which ones will have the greatest impact on the organization? Which ones will take the longest or use the most resources? A decision prioritization matrix won’t tell you the sequence in which your dominoes should fall, so knowing where to start is still a giant question mark. That’s where data comes in.
The data you’re using to make your decisions must be accurate, available and have veracity. In other words, it must be insightful enough to help you make decisions about which sequential experiences to go after and how to stack the dominoes to reach your end goals. Through these insights, you can start adding depth to your matrices and maps to prioritize decisions one-by-one. As it comes together, it looks more like this:
We can use this decision prioritization matrix to build a brand experience impact analysis.
Traditionally, a business impact analysis is used to assess risk in an organization, but at RocketSource we’ve taken a different approach to this asset. Before we show you what our version of a fully developed brand experience impact analysis looks like, we want to explain the intention behind this design, because there are nuances that can impact your team’s decision making and buy-in.
First, look at the bubble map. The coloration we use, like the other decision prioritization matrices above, has been ingrained in us from an early age:
- Red means stop. These ideas aren’t worth pursuing at this time.
- Yellow means slow down. These ideas are okay but are not the best.
- Green means go. These ideas are the lowest-hanging fruit and have the highest likelihood of success.
But here’s where we’re different. There’s purpose behind the design we use to map out the good versus better ideas on our bubble chart. There are many ways to lay out the X and Y axes of a quadrant like this. We positioned the X and Y axes to drive the best ideas up and to the right by mapping them low-to-high and high-to-low because it’s human nature to want to rise to the top. We naturally want to reach up for what we want, so having the best ideas down in the bottom quadrant just didn’t make sense. Like lead characters in a novel, humans have both antagonist and protagonist relationships with the world around us. Sometimes we seek to be heroic, while other times we look to stir the pot. These perspectives represent our emotional why in the StoryVesting framework — the topmost items will help us become who we believe in and strive to be, and the lowest are what we actively seek to avoid. When visualizing where you want your company to go you take this perspective, so it only makes sense that the bubble chart should as well.
On our bubble chart, the sizes of the bubbles directly correlate with the impact each function will have on your organization. The smaller the bubble, the smaller the impact. These easy-to-understand sizing protocols simplify a complex story very quickly for anyone looking at the map. Adding color and depth and telling a story with bubbles and roadmaps makes your prioritization matrices easier to digest. Quick understanding makes it easier for teams to gain buy-in, which is critical to seeing experiential strategies through to completion.
As we compile the results, we’re able to map them out and apply a timeframe to each deliverable. Here’s what the end product looks like. This is what we call a brand experience impact analysis.
An asset such as a brand experience impact analysis is able to juggle more variables than the human mind can juggle on its own and it’s easier to disseminate across your organization. This is the kind of asset that comes out of the drawer every day — not just in biannual planning meetings.
Once you understand what you need to transform, you can start to take action. That’s what makes this type of analysis truly unique and powerful. Instead of relying on guesswork or risking getting stuck in analysis/paralysis because of decision fatigue, a brand experience impact analysis can help you discover the tasks that will have the highest impact with the lowest risk. Armed with these insights, you’ll be equipped to start moving out of your current state and into your desired future state. Here’s how.
Making Your Brand Experience Impact Analysis Actionable
Our RocketSource team are experts at finding the right levers to pull and the right drivers to accelerate to enhance digital brand experiences. We’re not sharing this to bolster our egos, but rather to illustrate that we’ve walked the walk and know this stuff works. For years we’ve navigated these waters and in doing so we’ve successfully:
- Driven ~$1.3 billion in new revenue growth through experiential strategy
- Reduced ~$125 million in operating costs through intelligent automation and scoring
- 10x’d employee and customer satisfaction scores by showing companies how to mine and operationalize data
- Driven a 429% increase in click-through rates by turning the traditional digital experience on its head
- Grown customer retention rates by 255% through agile UX/UI methodologies
Yes, we’ve had plenty of successes along the way, but there have been failures too. With each success and failure, we’ve learned lessons that have brought us closer to understanding what works and what’s just a fad. Spoiler alert: we can’t promise there’s a magic bullet waiting for you at the end of this post, but there is a guide that will help you uncover the best path for your organization in today’s complex world. That path includes five elements — experiential strategy, intelligent data and analytics, human-centered design, sophisticated software development, and support.
These are the areas you’ll want to iterate on to deliver a sublime brand experience across the funnel. Let us show you how RocketSource approaches solving some of the most complex problems in the business world using a brand experience impact analysis.
Excellence boils down to two things — people and experience. Although many companies have mastered elements of strategic development and guidance, building experiential strategy requires you to factor in three core tenets — what drives operational efficiencies, which growth levers to push and pull and which retention drivers are key to success. All three areas must be carefully analyzed and acted upon within the confines of masterfully navigating brand risk — not to mention the plethora of other nuances a brand must consider when implementing a forward-thinking strategy.
We’ve teased these core tenets throughout the post above, but they’re so sought-after and important that we want to spend a moment talking about just what they mean and explaining the power behind each one.
People often assume that tracking growth involves monitoring metrics such as Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), Return on Investment (ROI), the lifetime value of a customer to cost of acquisition ratio (LTV:CAC) and cost of acquisition (CAC). While these metrics are informative, they’re simply the output of what you’re doing to accelerate growth in your organization. Solving today’s problems requires more than monitoring outputs, which is why we lean so heavily on the StoryVesting framework here at RocketSource. Everyone on our team, from engineers to strategists and developers to project leaders, has been skilled up in the StoryVesting framework. It’s how we solve problems of all sorts of complexities. As we embark upon any initiative, everyone is taught to look at problems through the eyes of the CEO — you want to come up with solutions that get results. If you get good results, you’re staying relevant. Reaching that goal requires three things — knowing which growth levers to pull and push, which retention drivers to home in on and how to operate efficiently.
If you’re operating with bloat you’re going to struggle to get off the ground. We can’t recommend and implement a strategy within a company with no operational efficiencies whatsoever. Efficiency results from creating intelligent operations by applying sophisticated data loops and lean and agile methodologies. You can extract a lot of value by ensuring that your people are completely skilled up, you have the right people in the right seats on the bus, your processes are modern and up-to-date and your processes and platforms are properly aligned. We build operational efficiencies into everything we do. Having those efficiencies in place allows us to really start extracting valuable insights that will drive results.
Growth levers are the areas you can push and pull to propel your business upward — hence the term levers. We intentionally use the term growth lever because a lever provides a cause-and-effect scenario. When a lever is pulled, even with minimum input, there’s an exponential effect creating more output. The force behind that pull causes momentum. If growth is your end goal, you must pull levers in certain areas of your organization, such as events or processes, to get results and cause upward momentum on the S Curve of Business. Knowing which growth levers will give you the best results will help you develop an experiential strategy around the areas that will have the biggest impact.
It’s difficult to know which levers to push and which to pull if you don’t have intelligent data loops and advanced analytics in place. These analytics are the driving force of growth because they offer deep insight into the motivations and behavioral patterns of both your customers and employees. As you sync the two, you’re able to help your customers see the value you provide from an emotional and logical standpoint. Simultaneously, you can leverage the infrastructure you have in place to allow the people making decisions on growth to support data gathering. Otherwise, big data just stays big, without the right people and processes in place to extract those insights. With this data, you’re able to see which key events lead to purchases, which journeys are the most successful and, ultimately, what you need to stay relevant. You’ll be able to find the best channels, the best content and more to reach your end user. With these insights in hand, you’re able to strategically plan how you’ll approach initiatives holistically instead of on a one-off basis through projects like a simple logo redesign or a new, modern website.
Retention drivers are the emotional triggers that fuel retention over the lifetime of the user. They’re all about what’s happening at the core of each purchase. We talk about these behavioral attributes in StoryVesting because they have everything to do with emotional and cognitive attitudes and how these attitudes fuel retention over the long-haul. As we start to uncover these drivers and growth levers together, it becomes clear that LTV and CAC hinge upon each other. You must do everything to ensure you increase LTV. For example, if you’re a Software as a Service company, you might analyze correlations at the cohort and cohort analytics level. Or, if you’re an eCommerce company, you need to apply those same cohort analytics to ensure your products are in lockstep with what the market wants.
You can see why the nuances in the verbiage are so critical. The words we use to describe our experiential strategies are intentional because they’re all about making informed, insightful decisions across the journey. The key here is this — if you’ve built a solid infrastructure and growth levers, and retention drivers are continuously being monitored via pattern recognition using technology such as machine learning or artificial intelligence, you’ll be better able to predict changes and events. These predictions are critical as customers change their preferences or you hire new employees and juggle turnover. Your goal is to build a sustainable company that understands what makes growth possible, rather than one that experiences growth spikes but then must start all over with each new initiative.
Ultimately, these strategies are rolled out and prioritized in a matrix to give you the best plan of action. But it’s dang near impossible to uncover any of this information without a complete view of your purchase journey. To get there requires data and analytics.
Intelligent Data & Analytics
Let’s face it — data science is hard. If your Apple News feeds are anything like ours, you’re constantly seeing stories about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning models and deep learning advancements. It’s important to understand this powerful technology. In fact, we’ve gone into detail about what it entails and the critical nuances to pay attention to in the past (click the hyperlink above to check out one of our articles on machine learning). While we aren’t going to dive into that again in this post, we wanted to bring up something important — and potentially unpopular. While we’re firm believers in the importance of data and analytics, we’re not immune to the idea that modern technology can sometimes be a hindrance.
Insights gained from data sets alone tend to be sparse. Data for the sake of data is rarely insightful enough, which causes business leaders to revert to what feels most familiar when making decisions — leaning on gut reactions over intelligent insights. After all, that’s been the norm for years and continues despite advancements in data analytics that now allow us to translate those data sets into stories and action items.
Having a framework to guide your data and analytics is critical to inform your strategic decisions. Without backing up your assumptions with data from feedback loops, you and your team could go down the wrong path. Consider the StoryVesting framework as a prime example. The catalyst for the development of StoryVesting was the desire to uncover what makes a person successful. The initial hypothesis was that Ivy League degrees would rank as one of the top traits of success. To test that gut assumption, Buckley set a data loop in motion — one that admittedly caused his wife a little distress as he scattered the walls and floors with his findings. Here are the results of all of that hard work:
After talking to 1,969 leaders, from the C-Suite to managers and directors, Buckley found that the key drivers of success are a person’s passion and their ability to collaborate with others. Contrary to his gut prediction, the data revealed that specialized knowledge and intellect are closer to the bottom of the list. Without this data, the StoryVesting framework would look very different and wouldn’t contribute to organizational success at the level it does today.
It’s important to use the insights you draw from data and analytics to fuel your company’s decision making. By looking through the lens of the StoryVesting framework you’re able to answer the why of your organization.
- Why do your employees choose to work with you, and do their values align with your company’s story?
- Why do your customers initially choose to buy from you, and do you deliver a brand experience that inspires loyalty?
Sure, you can give gut reaction answers to those questions, but using your available data and analytics will show you the growth levers and retention drivers that will put you on course to achieving operational efficiency. Interpreting this data requires a combination of human intelligence and data-driven insights — a service that is highly sought after today.
The insurance industry is a good example of the result of combining human intelligence and data translation. The FBI estimates that insurance fraud sets the industry back $40 billion every year. The life insurance company MassMutual has experienced its fair share of those setbacks, and in 2013 set out to do something about it. The company innovated on its organizational structure by facilitating collaboration between its data scientists and line managers. They created a new role, Product Manager, to translate the information gathered from each department into clear expectations for data scientists. As these data scientists better understood what the company hoped to glean from its data sets, they were able to cull more insights and customize the stories told using data. As a result, the company was better equipped to spot and stop fraud in a variety of areas, which led to a boost in profits equaling “tens of millions of dollars,” according to Sears Merritt, MassMutual’s Head of Technology Strategy, Enterprise Architecture & Data Science.
By aligning human instinct with intelligence, customer experience and employee experience are pushed closer together, aligning and multiplying them to form an incredible brand experience. MassMutual did an excellent job creating new roles to achieve this alignment. We strive to help you, our readers, with this same mission by putting together insights-rich content to help shed light on where and how to move your business forward most effectively. Just look at one of the top posts we’ve published: The Gift of Roger Federer to Corporate America
The way data is visualized tells a strong story. When that story is easily digestible, it’s easier for teams to understand their role and their purpose, and find innovative ways to move the organization ahead. Through data-driven imagery, we can reinforce powerful concepts that are often difficult to grasp. This is perhaps why Harvard Business Review says that having someone who can humanize your data is a “must-have analytics role.”
At RocketSource, we don’t just write about data. We also offer assets to help answer the omnipresent questions — where do I start and what can I do to stay relevant? Intelligent processes bring the answers you’re looking for into focus. One exercise that has brought clarity to numerous organizations is modern customer journey mapping, which we call Customer Insights Mapping. Let’s take a closer look at how a customer insights map can help you, too.
Leveraging Pattern Recognition in Customer Journey Analytics to Build Brand Experiences
Before we dig in here, it’s important to address a common misconception among businesses. Customer journey analytics is not a one-off initiative that can magically help you uncover the perfect path-to-purchase or path-to-retention. Instead, there are many hoops to jump through before you have the full spread of dashboarding that will fuel your analysis.
While there are many parts to customer journey analytics that sound good (and they are), it’s important to address the main goal of any customer journey analytics initiative. It’s not about a map. The main goal is getting to know the people who matter most to your organization — your employees and customers. There are many steps you can take to reach that end goal, one of which is creating a customer insights map and then leveraging pattern recognition via the data and analytics on your map.
You might look at this map and feel a pang of desire to build something similar for your organization. The benefits of this type of dashboard are nothing to sneeze at. That’s because, in this map, we’re able to go beyond basic touchpoint analysis. Remember how we said first touch/last touch attribution is dead? You can see why here. More specifically, look at the convergence/divergence bands in the middle. These bands map out the experience scores of two main cohorts of people, typically your employees and your customers. As you layer these scores across the journey, you can start to identify patterns of highs and lows, both internally and externally, which can signal trouble or euphoria at any given point along your buyer’s or employee’s journey.
We can also start identifying patterns between touchpoints to get a better insight into what’s happening with buyers and employees across the journey. As you observe major splits in experience or drastic lows in employee and customer experiences, you can look at social sentiments to see what people are thinking, saying and doing in each stage of the funnel.
This type of pattern recognition is powerful in its own right, but as you’re deciding where to spend your hard-earned money and find the lowest-hanging fruit, the real bread-and-butter is in the bottom part of the Customer Insights Map — the path-to-purchase and path-to-retention analysis.
The path-to-purchase analysis is part of what makes this dashboard intelligent. By infusing the data and analytics related to your customer’s paths-to-purchase or paths-to-retention (depending on which side of the funnel you’re looking at), you’re better equipped to decide where and how to spend your money.
We recently ran a path-to-retention scenario for a potential client to showcase how we’re able to wrangle their data to guide them on a path toward their end goal of customer acquisition. To find the growth levers they could pull to bring in new customers, we analyzed two of their most common paths-to-purchase. For each path, we looked at the average time it took each customer to buy, the average amount of revenue those purchases brought in and the number of new customers versus existing customers who traveled down that path. As you can see from the numbers above, the path that the bulk of their customers traveled — Path 2 — was the fastest, but it was also the least lucrative. Buyers took almost twice as long to travel down Path 1, but they spent more money and came back more often.
Leveraging data and analytics in this way can help steer your company’s ship in the right direction. While insights are good, it’s important to remember the people behind those insights as you start to develop your next steps. This careful, data-fueled consideration of the user experience is what we call human-centered design.
A few weeks ago, we met with a team from a company that was eager to bring their next product line to market. The team had gathered plenty of research on user experience (UX) but lacked the necessary insights to determine which products and features would actually benefit their customers. Remember how we said that the biggest goal of many organizations is simply to understand the customer? This is a prime example of that. Instead of designing a product for the sake of keeping up with the latest trends, they decided to leverage data to plan their new line with confidence.
In the past, organizations primarily focused on User-Centered Design (UCD), an approach to design grounded in information about the end users of a product. While this may seem like a healthy approach, it’s missing some depth — specifically, empathy and a larger 360-degree view of what’s happening in the buyer’s world.
Human-Centered Design (HCD) considers the person using the product holistically before deciding how the product fits into their daily lives. While the difference might seem purely semantic, there’s a lot more happening besides changing a word around. After all, HCD is rooted in the data insights that can be extracted using the StoryVesting framework.
Data and analytics are great, but unpacking that data to deliver a brand experience that tugs on your buyers’ heartstrings requires empathy. It requires reliance on empathetic insights about the employees and customers of a brand in order to analyze what people are thinking, feeling, saying and doing at every level. This 360-degree view of the customer comes out of the StoryVesting framework, which guides and grounds initiatives in empathy far better than data alone. Empathy maps are a great way to get into the minds of your customers, but the approach we take to empathy mapping is a little different than most. In fact, we’ve never seen anything like it.
The exercise of empathy mapping isn’t new. Many organizations have gone through the motions of building empathy maps around their buyers, only to let them gather dust because they don’t have the tools to extract insights from their mapping efforts. While the concept behind creating an empathy map is good, we’re firm believers that, to truly get to know your buyer, you must create an empathy map that draws out actionable insights. Here’s how we approach it:
While most organizations map out the thoughts, feelings, actions and comments of their customers, we’ve expanded our maps to also include the thoughts, feelings, actions and comments of our employees. This type of qualitative data from employees is gold when it comes to HCD because it helps you to get inside the mindset of your customers and employees. From there, you can start to draw out bigger-picture takeaways, such as the primary pain points and other motivations bringing your customers and employees to your organization. Once you understand these motivations, you can find solutions and metrics to help answer both customer and employee needs. You can also analyze the overarching cognitive associations your employees and customers have with your brand.
We want to draw your attention to something in these empathy maps. When we approach any kind of HCD concept, we always use pictures of real people, not stock images. Not iconography or archetypes. We use real faces to remind us that there are real people behind the designs we’re creating. By putting real faces upfront, we’re able to look them in the eye. When we’re out in the field gathering qualitative and quantitative data to fuel our designs, we sit shoulder-to-shoulder asking probing questions to really uncover these behavioral triggers.
The whole point of this approach is to get into the hearts and minds of your user by asking very elegant questions in the right sequence. Journalists are experts at this strategy. Look at what award-winning journalist Katie Couric has to say about the interview process:
There are a lot of similarities between the journalistic interview process and asking questions to pull out deep insights about the people in your business. For example, avoid yes-or-no questions. When trying to get into the hearts and minds of your users, you need to let them talk. A yes-or-no question stops the conversation dead in its tracks, making it hard to gather insightful qualitative information, which leads us to the next point — listening. While it might sound intuitive, many interviewers jade the conversation by not listening to what’s really being said and infuse their own biases instead, which eventually guides the conversation. Couric’s last point really hits this point home. What she says about television interviews also applies to data collection in your organization:
”This isn’t a self-aggrandizing exercise about how much you know. It’s not an opportunity for a gotcha moment. It’s really to shed some light on how someone thinks, their position and allow them to communicate. I think if you allow your interview subject to communicate whatever message he or she might have at that moment, then you’ve done an effective job.”
Once you’ve gathered qualitative data from shoulder-to-shoulder observation and insightful interviews, you’re equipped to start analyzing the results. Brainstorming around each of these qualitative insights with your team can be incredibly enlightening. As you fill in your empathy map, you’ll be able to identify opportunities for improvement as well as showcase where you’re excelling. This insights-centric approach to empathy mapping is what makes our method uniquely powerful. As you filter insights into your Customer Insights Map, you’re able to filter down what customers are thinking, saying, doing and feeling at every stage of the funnel. A traditional NPS survey just can’t uncover the emotional drivers that will make your brand sticky.
We Conduct Our Own Brand Experience Analysis Too
We recently went through an empathy mapping exercise here in our Labs division, where we’re building a new product called Platstack. Platstack is an app that lets you save, share and organize anything online. It’s a powerful app that we believe can become habit-forming — an important quality of successful products — if we take the time to understand and design it correctly using HCD.
The recent Beta release version looked like this:
From the feedback and data we received about this version, we determined that the product didn’t inspire users to visit the app on a daily basis, so we researched where we could make design changes that would make users want to visit daily. To get to the root of this problem with Platstack, we went through an exercise called Hoshin, in which we brainstormed in silence using the data we’d gathered internally and from our friends and family. Soon, major issues — ones that had statistical significance — started to surface. We found that 9 times out of 10, issues with the design kept the product from feeling engaging. Instead, it felt overwhelming and confusing at first login. Although we’d tried to simplify it during our initial design phase, the lack of visuals and collaboration features proved to be hurdles to a sublime brand experience.
So, we asked ourselves three questions:
- What could we do to drive recall in our users?
- How could we bridge the mobile and desktop experiences?
- What real pain point that our users wanted us to solve could we build an association around?
As we dug our heels into all of the UX/UI research we’d gathered, we began to uncover areas for improvement in our design. For example, we found one of the keys to engaging design — asymmetry. In our original design, we’d done the opposite and used a geometric pattern. While we assumed a grid-like pattern would be comfortable and pleasing to the eye, we were wrong. Our research showed that grid patterns were actually perceived as boring, which drastically reduced the stickiness of our product. Without having something compelling and engaging to look at, our users bounced.
We also looked at some of the biggest websites in the world to gather data about how they approached design and considered the cognitive associations behind those designs. For example:
- YouTube has only one video playing at a time. That video is why you’re on YouTube in the first place so it’s easy to navigate and understand.
- Pinterest uses a mosaic infrastructure. Through their design, they visually showcase what their product does — aggregate multiple links.
Yes, visuals matter. A lot. Through our research, we were able to learn why — visuals form memory recall better than text. To develop a sticky app that was engaging, easy to use and understand and that welcomed collaboration, we knew we had to beef up the visual display that Platstack provides our end users. Here’s what the next version looked like:
Based on the findings in our Hoshin brainstorming session, we used a Fishbone diagram to uncover the drivers behind creating a process or habit with our product. We decided that, as humans are visual creatures, we should make the product more visual and asymmetrical, so we reduced the grey space and infused a dynamic resolution. We also added motion into the design to keep our user’s imagination going, which should bolster memory recall. And we focused on bringing up as much content above the fold as possible.
A data-centric and empathy-centric approach to design allows companies to move well beyond guesswork. By leveraging qualitative data (the feedback we received from our beta users) and merging it with quantitative data (our internal analysis and statistics), we were able to develop a stickier UX/UI to answer our users’ biggest pain points.
Sophisticated Software Development
So far we’ve talked about the importance of developing an experiential strategy by pulling on growth levers and/or driving retention. We’ve talked about leveraging data and analytics to make sound business decisions and truly get to know your end users. And we’ve looked at HCD, a design methodology that’s all about delivering a better brand experience. Often, the last piece of the digital puzzle involves developing out a piece of sophisticated software to deliver these experiences to the end user.
To paint a picture of what sophisticated software looks like, consider this example from the transportation industry:
Each vehicle in the image above will get you from point A to point B. The bike will inevitably take longer and require more effort. The second car will get you to the end goal faster, but you might be in for a bumpy ride along the way. The last car, is sophistication at its finest. There’s an unmatched scent of fresh leather when you open the car door. The seats are buttery soft and the ride is silky smooth. This car truly is the Ultimate Driving Machine.
Software development is the same. You’ve likely experienced a sophisticated software product that offers a surprisingly refreshing experience from the moment you log in. The program moves fast and creates an incredible feeling. It’s this kind of brand experience you must strive for as you write code.
There’s a massive difference between simply putting pieces of code together and building upon an experiential strategy through your product. It’s consistency with 99.9% uptime. It’s bringing modern applications with modern code structure. It requires code built using advanced architecture such as microservices, so broken components are quickly identified and overhauled. It’s how you optimize the code frameworks and tinker with the code. It’s deciding whether to use serverless or server technologies. This type of sophistication creates sticky experiences.
What it Looks Like When Sophisticated Software Builds Brand Experience
In a recent conversation with a leading logistics company, we discussed the importance of creating a program paired with gorgeous design and based on advanced machine learning, fueled by their data and analytics, all to achieve a simple end goal — reduce logistical friction. Although the conversation itself can be summed up in one sentence, the development process that will go into each layer is anything but simplistic. This particular app will be used across multiple devices, so we’re building it in a manner that thinks through the entire experience using event-driven architecture.
Event-driven architecture sets up the codebase to fire off sequential events at just the right time in the buyer’s journey. When the user performs a specific task, the program is smart enough to know to deliver the next step in that journey. To the end user, the experience feels personalized, seamless and as good as smelling the fresh scent of leather upon climbing into a brand new beamer. To get to this point, we can’t rely on customer journey analytics alone. Sophisticated software requires agile development with quick releases to test out the user experience. The feedback loop allows us to develop an app that’s truly centered around the human experience rather than focused exclusively on the user’s in-app experience. That’s HCD. See the cohesion between the various elements? Everything comes together to create one incredible brand experience.
Using Data to Further Enhance the Brand Experience
Your data and development must work hand-in-hand so that one isn’t stealing from the other. Today’s data is rich with insights. Those insights are needed to fuel software products so that they can run efficiently and provide the best brand experience. Sophisticated software uses predictive insights from machine learning algorithms fueled by your data. Here’s an example of one such algorithm we’ve used in the past to understand what’s happening along the path-to-purchase:
This screencast might look simplistic to a seasoned data scientist — and it is — but we’ve kept it high-level on purpose. In this case, infusing data from various touchpoints into one algorithm lets us know what’s happening with our buyers along their path-to-retention. Armed with this information, we’re able to predict future outcomes, which can help develop products that answer the end user’s needs in the right place at the right time.
A leading company in the home and outdoor industry recently reached out to us for help with this very issue of understanding how to create brand loyalty. To aid in their effort to retain past customers, we proposed rolling out a program that would make it as easy as possible for the customer to stay with the company when they’re ready to make a repeat purchase. Similar to Apple’s iPhone exchange program, customers can get credit for trading in older product models for new ones. To this end, the company must leverage their data to predict the timing of repeat purchases and know how to reach those customers at the right point in their journey.
Bringing it All Together
We work with very complex projects. The ultimate goal of each is to make informed and insightful decisions across the journey by bringing together each of the elements we’ve discussed and stacking those dominoes in the right sequence — but that’s not where our work ends. We know that the market isn’t done evolving, so we’re just getting started, offering support and optimization services as well as education and training to keep teams skilled up enough to stay ahead of the curve.
By using StoryVesting as our foundation and the backdrop for everything we do, we’re able to plan an experiential strategy to uncover which growth levers to pull and which retention drivers to push. Getting this strategy right and ensuring we’re making informed decisions requires intelligent data and analytics.
By analyzing the data behind various paths-to-purchase and getting granular with what’s happening across the bow tie funnel, you might discover that a path that seems less attractive on the surface is actually the best one to pursue. For example, if you’re going through a brand experience initiative, revenue might not be the best path-to-purchase to pursue. Instead, it might actually be the customer with the higher CSAT score, versus the one that buys more quickly and has a slightly higher immediate ROI. This is the type of granularity we uncover in terms of both levers and drivers. Ultimately we use this to shape human-centered design strategy and the direction of sophisticated software development. To make it actionable as well as to gain buy-in, we leverage a brand experience impact analysis to know exactly how to stack the dominoes in the best way possible.
The brand experience impact analysis is an excellent starting point for most organizations we work with because it allows for a 40,000-foot view and shows how to operationalize each stage and event.
We like to combine the tangible with the digital and often print out the brand experience impact analysis for organizations to hang on their wall. We make it big so that our clients can democratize these initiatives across the organization and build buy-in. In digital-only format, the buy-in just wouldn’t be the same.
We then break these stages and events out into microtasks for our clients by putting them into a task management program like Jira or Monday.com. At the same time, we’re there working shoulder-to-shoulder with teams, educating them on the why behind it all. That’s because when initiatives are operationalized by a third-party, it’s easier to tell a stronger story as they’re systematically pushed out to each layer of the organization. With the consultants on-site, it’s easier for executives and managers to gain buy-in from their teams, making adoption easier and more widespread.
While this shoulder-to-shoulder training is not a common approach in the world of management consulting, it is powerful. It lets you plug the holes in your ship by way of understanding how to operationalize the pitfalls discovered during the initial gap analysis. With these holes closed, you’re in a good place to begin building upon your current brand experience.
Ready to Get Started? We’re Here.
The goal with any major initiative is to help your organization stay relevant today, tomorrow and long into the future. So often, organizations are only one click or data breach away from irrelevancy. How can we help you get started?