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A Brand Jam School of Thought – Part 1

by Alex Graham on 01 June 2012

It was hot. Very hot.

In a room that can only be described as part-design gallery / part-conservatory furnace, Brunel University hosted Digital Brand Jam 2012, organised by the Horizon Group.

Sat either side of me were luminaries of academia and research from the likes of Cambridge, Reading, Nottingham and Swansea as well as a large number of MA students from Brunel itself.

The conference centred on how brand and consumer experiences shape the landscape of the ‘digital economy’ (a phrase that was thrown around a lot during the day with varying interpretations of its definition). Speakers included Warren Hutchinson from Someone/Else, Derek Macauley from Horizon Digital Research, Jason Mesut from RMA and Nico McDonald from Spy.co.uk.

In the first of a trilogy of posts related to the conference, I’m looking specifically at the discussion that came out of Warren Hutchinson’s opening talk and workshop.


I was still on a caffeine high from the introductory coffee, so I managed to compute the majority of what was being said.

Warren opened with the adage that misconceptions about digital interactions between brands and people result in many senior business leaders fearing the consequences; ultimately encouraging those in the boardroom to translate this misunderstanding into a reduction in digital spend.

To the contrary, he argued that privacy issues aside, brands should embrace transparency about their products and services and invite rigorous scrutiny from the general public. You can’t stop Google search, so just embrace it.

He made a very logical recommendation, yet it’s one that many brands still seem uncomfortable with.

Brands rarely consider the lifespan of their customer’s brand experiences when developing ATL advertising strategy.

The example given was British Airways recent ‘To Fly. To Serve’ ads. While these ads alluded to a history of proud service (without actually showing the cabin at any point…), did anyone travelling with BA notice a difference in their flight? When standing at the gate waiting to be shepherded onto the plane, did they actually ‘go further’ to improve that experience? How many consumers would agree that this statement was relevant to the brand after a 12 hour flight?

To resolve this, brands should tie product experiences closer to marketing strategy – particularly in ATL. Too often, false promises are made by brands harnessing empty slogans like ‘we go further’; when the reality is more “we don’t go south of the river…”

Traditional advertising will always be focussed on promoting ‘transformative thinking’, but the point is, regardless of how you market it, if the product is rubbish or the experience doesn’t change as a result of the assumed makeover, the consumer is going to feel cheated, and will say so.

This universal truth – the simple fact that there’s nothing stopping a person talking about the good (and bad) experience they’ve had with a brand – seems to repeatedly be ignored, even in the face of daily (or make that hourly) examples of brands coming unstuck through their inability or unwillingness to adapt to the evolving social landscape, its dangers and its benefits.

Can you suggest any brands that have positively enhanced the customer experience, to match the story they’re telling?

What does it take to convince the senior team in an organisation that a sea change is needed? What evidence is needed to open their minds to the possibilities of the social world?

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