We all know the challenges of today’s media landscape. Complexity, fragmentation and the ever increasing pace of change. It has never been more important to understand the customer. But when we do, it just seems that customer expectations are changing faster than business can keep up with.

Media are driving the pace of change: evolving from millions of people watching the same screen at the same time, to millions of people watching different things on mobile screens the whole time

The Expectation Gap

Since we started tracking consumer and marketer views of Australian CX in 2016, we identified that there is a huge gap between the industry’s perception of how well we create customer experience, and how our customers think we are doing. We call it the Expectation Gap. But the industry has made some real headway 

90% of the businesses we surveyed in 2018 rated themselves as having an advanced level of CX capability – up from 55% in 2017. And our consumer research asked the same questions – so, how has that advance translated into the experiences that customers have? Not too well…. the gap is now at 106%. That means that as an industry we rate ourselves more than twice as good at creating great customer experience, than our customers do.

That gap relates directly back to business performance. Declining CX performance translates to declining growth. It doesn’t matter how fast we are changing, if customer expectations are changing faster.

The CX Roadmap

So it is no surprise to see that CX is still at the top of our priorities for 2018. Making better use of our data now, and applying it to the roadmap of new technology opportunities. As we move rapidly towards a world where brand interactions are voice activated and intermediated by intelligent agents, our customers’ expectations are only going to get higher, and the gap will continue to grow.

Return on Experience

What we found when we analysed the data in our study is a powerful framework for Return on Experience – we have uncovered the causes of the expectation gap, and the implications for how we can close it by aligning marketing with human motivation


To understand the relative impact of different experiences, we need to be able to measure EVERY interaction that people have with brand and category. We partnered with Mesh Experience, a research partner who have pioneered a technique called Real Time Experience Tracking. We used a real time mobile diary methodology to track 400 people’s self-reported brand experiences across CE/Auto/FMCG and finance. The study uncovers not just what people experienced, but also

  • how positive and relevant the experience was,
  • what other experiences had led to it,
  • how it made them feel about the brand,
  • and how it made them feel about the experience

in other words, it makes the link between the human and business outcomes. From the database of 2,600 experiences we then contrasted the results with marketers’ priorities.


There is a very strong correlation across the study between very relevant and very positive experiences. 81% of very relevant experience was viewed very positively. And this has a direct impact on how likely someone is too choose the brand as a result of having had that experience – 69% of very positive experiences making people much more likely to choose .

The Power of Positivity

In fact, feeling very positive is the single biggest factor that links customer experience to brand choice. But Great customer experience has an exponential impact on results – only 7% of ‘fairly positive experience’ had the same lift in brand choice.

This means that there is a 10x multiplier effect in going from Good to Great.

Not 10%. 10x.

 So, what causes very positive experience, and more importantly, how can we create more of it?

Real Life Experience

Well, when Marketers think personalised, people think personal

The value of the RET methodology is that it creates a single set of metrics for all brand experience – whether that is an ad, trying a new breakfast cereal, seeing a car drive past, or having a conversation with a colleague about their new phone.

We need to look at the bigger picture. Paid media underindexes for positivity throughout the study. Online advertising is the the most personally addressable paid format. Very little online advertising was viewed as very positive. When real people reported back their feelings, it was real life experiences that outperform all else – more than twice as likely to be very positive experiences

The RoE Framework

Paid media only made up 32% of the total experiences in the study.

that means thinking about the ROI of channels or campaigns misses 68% of the return.  

Last century we our predecessors worried that half of their advertising was wasted but they didn’t know which half. Today advertising itself is only a third of customer experience:

We need a better framework for growth.

More persuasive, more positive

So when we map all of the different types of experience together, we see that conversations with others, instore experience, using the product yourself, and watching other people using it, outperform the paid media for both positivity and impact on brand choice. In fact, Real Life experiences in total have a 2.4x higher return on experience than paid media.

 So what we have so far is a way to quantify the opportunity.

What is more important is what we can do about it.


So far what we have talked about it the application of Mesh Experience’s usual methodology. It is more often applied to individual brands, to measure share of experience across a category. But we wanted to know WHY it is so.


So we challenged the analysts to look not just about how positive respondents felt about the brand, but also how they felt about the experience – what was it about the experience that made them feel very positive. This gives us a direction to try and unpack is the cause of the Expectation Gap – exactly where we are out of alignment with what people want

Marketers priorities

We asked respondents to classify how each experience made them feel. We asked marketers to rate the same list of motivations according to their priorities. What people want on the horizontal. What brands think they want on the vertical. The bubble size shows the number of each type of motivation across the study.

Comfort is strongly the largest. Slap bang in the middle, because it is made up of regular daily experiences – your morning coffee, completing a task on your banking app. Big, but not terribly useful to us.

Feeling special or valued means pretty much the same thing to brands and to customers – great customer service, a friendly voice in the call centre, but also it is where customers want discounts and offers, and we provide them. We’re aligned with our customers here.

Top left shows where what we over-rate – brand purpose was not driving strongly positive feelings for customers.

The Expectation Gap

Bottom right is where we find the most interesting and actionable insights.

Discovery is the most under-rated motivation: browsing for new ideas, looking in the window of a car to see the interior style. But also reminders of things you have used in the past, ads that seem to appear in your newsfeed just when you want them

Personal excitement can mean new recipes in a store catalogue, an offer of frequent flyer miles with a credit card, or big moments of shared excitement. There was very little demographic variation across the study, but Excitement was by far the most significant driver of very positive experience for under 35s. Given all the Millennial marketing conferences over the last few years, something has gone seriously awry when the detla is this big

Connection to others is very strongly linked to real world and earned media – watching others, being told about things we will like. We are a social species, so when we think about increasing personal relevance, simply applying our data to show people images of people like them using the product is a heavily undervalued component of personalised targeting

We don’t suggest that this analysis can tell us exactly how to close the Expectation gap, but we believe it goes a long way to understanding what causes it – and gives us a causal link between better human outcomes creating better business outcomes

Connecting to business outcomes

So, a Return on Experience framework based on the power of very positive experiences, helps us analyse what causes the tension between what people want and what brands need. But what does this mean that we should do differently? How do we apply RoE to create RoI?


Connected experiences were 50% more likely to be very positive than ones experienced in isolation. This is the multiplier effect so often missed by channel-first market mix models. When we think about paid media as the connector not the channel, the means rather than the end, we increase our chances of creating very positive reactions. But if we are the connector between experiences, what is that we are connecting?


Let’s return to our framework for a minute. Those valuable owned and earned experiences in the top right sweet spot are those that are hardest to create and scale. We have always known the potential of paid media to amplify the positive, but now that scale is data not audience. The top right is where personally relevant data is created – preference, previous purchase, personal network, other things that individual people like. The bottom left is where that data is applied further up the decision journey to make paid experiences more personally relevant. And let’s be clear that we will need our creative partners on the journey with us to make sure that brand ideas are broad and flexible enough to make use of the data.

From Personal to Personalised

We know that the unique customer ID will allow us to connect end to end customer journeys across paid owned and earned media. More personally relevant experiences should create higher RoE.

So far, so obvious. But we’ve been able to do this for years. Why isn’t online advertising in the very positive and persuasive box?

Well, because it is used too late. ¾ of all the online experiences in the study were on a shopper mission. And of the ones that ended in a purchase, nearly ¾ of them ended up buying the brand that was originally planned to buy. When addressable data is applied in online advertising, it mostly acts as navigation – removing friction may be quite positive, but it is rarely very. We need to stop thinking in terms of channel, and apply far better full funnel analysis to individual journeys in order to create more catalogue like excitement in the newsfeed, and more personally relevant discovery in email in order to maximise our RoE


So we have seen that moving CX from good to great, focusing on the Very Positive, has exponential return on experience. And that by using paid media to connect experiences gives us the greatest possible means  to create return on paid media investment

And that that the opportunity to do so lies in an application of technology and data across a connected end to end view of individual customer lifecycles that keeps human experience  and motivation at the heart. 

Graeme Wood

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