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Building experiences


The past few days I spent many hours walking in Madrid buying presents. My feet are ruined. Someone from the city council –probably someone who never gets off his car- has decided to lower Madrid’ pavements and mark the doorways and bus’ stops with a different paving as if he/she had decided to make wide thumbtacks stick brutally in our suffering feet. The example is relevant because pavements are important touch points that build our experience and daily perception of brand Madrid. Most probably this paving has a lot of sense in the public buyer’s logic; someone told me it is the way to indicate changes for blind people. What is clear is that this decision never took into account the “customer” experience, in this case the feet of the long-suffering citizens, blind people included.

To talk about the personal experiences that collectively build a brand, we interview today the person who coined the concept of experiential marketing and branding, Bernd Schmitt, (link), Marketing professor of Columbia University and founder of the prestigious Center on Global Brand Leadership (link).

Professor Schmitt loves to be called iconoclast and provocative, “el temblor de la marca” as he promotes in Spanish in his Youtube channel (link). I had the chance of meeting him personally presenting in Spain what was at the moment a real revolution for marketing and branding world: the best seller “Experiential Marketing” (link) in a seminar organised by Esade, called “Marcas con vida propia” where other national important experts participated as well.  Professor, author, consultant and appreciated speaker he has always felt closer to the real world than to the academic one.  In his new Internet video channel he states that many times informal conversations instead of heavy documents lead to great strategies and executions.

What is clear is that he defends passionately his ideas and applies them in every occasion. To watch him in a live event is an unforgettable experience in itself. He talks about three recipes for success: “guts, passion and perseverance”. To stand out, you have to be capable of stick with your ideas because there will be always detractors, and be persuasive till the end to get others to buy into.

A brand experience that improves customers’ lives is the proof that you have arrived to destination. It is the real brand test.

His theory is very simple. Instead of building brands from product and service benefits and attributes as it had always been taught, we should define the type of experience we want to provoke and then manage it in a consistent and coherent way with a lot of attention to details in every point of touch that we establish with our audiences. Schmitt tells us how: through our senses, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions and our relations.

In his book “Customer Experience Management”(link) he establishes a working process in five steps:

  1. To analyse the customers experiential world, always thinking of situations of consumption
  2. To build the experiential platform, expressing it in a dynamic and multisensory way.
  3. To design the brand experience through the sensation we want to build
  4. To structure the customer’s interaction in a consistent way
  5. To commit with continuous innovation, which also means to internalise a culture that allows mistakes, experimentation and change.

P. Professor Schmitt, after this long introduction, what would you recommend to a small reckless and innovative entrepreneur that lacks big resources to research its market and invest in brilliant consultants to accomplish a differentiated brand experience?

Entrepreneurs are often much closer to customers that large corporations.  They feel what the market needs and grasp new opportunities. The first step pf the CEM framework that focuses on analyzing the experiential world of customers, thus does not need to include large research and consultant budgets. Let’s say a woman entrepreneur in the beauty business wants to launch a new line of organic and eco-friendly skin care products. She probably knows other women and what their beauty needs are. She probably knows what trends these women like, where they go shopping, and what else they do. This is all that is required. It’s all about immersing yourself in the daily lifestyle of your customers and then developing a relevant product offer and brand for them.

P. I believe Spanish culture and education does not precisely favour the rising of innovative brands. To go against the tide, to stand out, to question what you’ve learnt and to dare suggest “bold strategies” and avoid inertia, risk aversion and the narrow views, that you quote in your new book “Big Think Strategy” (link). How can we favour a paradigm change?

Many cultures – and certainly many “corporate cultures” are conservative and risk averse. Spain – and Spanish companies – are not alone. In my speeches and workshops with companies, I therefore use some rather playful but powerful exercises to get people to explore alternatives to the status quo. For example, I do an exercise called “outside industry benchmarking’” – that is examining ideas from another industry, not your own.  These ideas have been successful – just not in your industry yet, is the idea. So this is a way to come up with innovations in your industry. Or I ask participants in my seminars to explore “killing some cared cows.” These are assumptions that are held scared in a company; they cannot be challenged, presumably. We start with a list of such assumptions and then see if they make sense. Often, they do not – and therefore provide new business opportunities.

P. Since the crisis began the image of Spain has deteriorated a lot. I know this is a complex topic in which many different factors take part but I would like to know from an outsider’s point of view, what would you recommend to start improving the brand experience in our country?

This is indeed a complex question because a country brand and the experience that a country provides is multi-faceted. It includes cultural and societal perceptions, politics and government, as well as corporations and how they are perceived. Overall, Spain has vastly improved its image compared to a few decades ago, both politically and culturally. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, Spain was seen as a cool lifestyle country as well. Think about the new Spanish cuisine, designers, the Barcelona Olympics and the like. Of course, the country now has been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis, resulting in bad economic figures and a drop in real-estate prices. I am not an economist; so I cannot advise on that. But once the basic economics are fixed, I would advise to continue the course of creating a modern lifestyle oriented society that is “cool” and exciting for Spaniards and visitors alike. But let me add one point: one thing that Spain really needs is a few more successful global brands. I know there are some Spanish brands that do well all over Europe and in South America, from telecom to fashion retailing firms. But you need a few truly global brands.

Thank you very much Professor Schmitt. I am delighted to have had the opportunity of interviewing you.


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