Evolving From Customer Experience To Transformation Economy: A New Role For Brand Growth

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Amy Fridlund, The Kantar Group Ltd.

COVID-19 presents brands with a unique opportunity to build engagement by supporting customers’ personal transformation journeys.

By Amy Fridlund, Global Content Lead, Insights Division, The Kantar Group Ltd.

Cult brands, such as Apple, Harley Davidson and Under Armour attract tribal loyalty because they sell more than tech, motorhead or sports gear. They provide the possibility for change — to be somebody new. These brands are successful because they fulfill a human need beyond the practical — they offer the opportunity for personal transformation.

Shifting customer priorities mean the Experience Economy is slowly evolving into the Transformation Economy, where people desire more than just an experience – they want self-improvement and development. So how can brands start to meet these evolving customer needs?

As much as brand managers might want their brands to be integral to people’s lives, very few understand how to make that happen. Only by engaging with people in ways that matter to them can a brand expect to be embraced. Acknowledging the importance of personal growth and integrating this in customers’ journeys can be key to brand growth.

A Growing Desire For Connectedness

Brands can empower personal transformation by bringing people together with greater meaning. Around the world, people are Zooming, TikToking and Skyping to get as close to ‘live’ interaction as possible. COVID-19 social distancing is heightening peoples’ need for connection and community — making it more salient. Kantar COVID-19 Barometer (Wave 3) finds that 42 percent of people say that social interaction has been the hardest to give up during lockdown. But when restrictions end and people once again feel safe, we can expect a civil backlash against the imposed separation. People will seek out others and social endeavors will take on a new focus and fervor.

The latest science suggests that personal transformation is often done in a communal context. Twenty-three percent (23 percent) of people say that they are focusing on personal development in lockdown, right now — be that through exercise, education, meditation, etc. When we combine the two human needs – personal transformation and being connected – we get a natural opportunity for brands.

Brands that take up the challenge of finding creative and effective ways to empower individual transformation through social interaction will reap rewards and benefit society.

Start With Brand Purpose

As new age-y as it sounds, guiding people through personal transformation can be straight-forward with the right understanding and intention. That said, simple is not always easy. The starting point for businesses must be what the brand stands for. Customer interactions that are not based on credible, authentic and meaningful brand purpose are often less fulfilling for participants because they lack depth, and they won’t contribute to long-term brand-building.

Fundamental to nurturing transformation is knowing what customers value in their personal lives and connecting this to the brand promise. In practical terms, the starting point for many brands will be determining how to thread this brand purpose through all layers and functions of the organization, in such as way as to transcend all customer journeys. While many organizations aspire to this type of holistic purpose-driven foundation, it is not something that can be achieved overnight.

A brand might foster individual transformation through social interaction, where customers mix with other customers, employees and the brand. These may be a face-to-face gathering, but they can also be virtual. Think of a MeetUp group paired with brand purpose. If we were to take furniture and homewares retailer IKEA, for example, we would start with their brand purpose of ‘making everyday life better for everyone.’ And we might design a new CX offering that would help people be more organized in the home. UK personal organization consultant Diana Spellman of Serenely Sorted suggests a good activity might for example involve groups exploring their organizational priorities together by piling wood blocks with words such as ‘time’, ‘energy’, ‘aesthetics’, ‘peace of mind’ and efficiency’ on opposite ends of a balancing scale. Activities would be group explorations to encourage personal development towards becoming more organized, involving all five senses, some emotional storytelling and dramatic showmanship to make for a great event.

Create A Transformational CX Future Now

To meet people’s needs, civilization first developed commodities, then products, then services, and then experiences. But even experiences can fall short of delivering what people really want. If businesses aspire to have more engaged customers, then they need to find ways to more intimately interact with people. CX+ 2020 findings show that just 19 percent of retail customers say that brands are truly customer centric — that they put peoples’ needs and requirements first. Our analysis also shows that leading CX brands are almost three times more likely to have engaged customers. The best way for brands to do that, is by helping people to do what is most important to them — to be a better version of themselves.

Eventually, the Transformation Economy will eclipse the Experience Economy, and businesses that are early to embrace this evolution will have first-mover advantage. As the world comes out of lockdown, people will seek social interaction. Smart businesses will see that as a ripe playing ground in which to launch CX initiatives that bring people together with deeper meaning toward personal transformation – nothing could make brands more relevant.