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PR in The Age of Experience

rares petrisor 298% of companies surveyed in a Forrester study said that customer experience is of strategic importance, while 28 percent ranked it as their first priority. Why is this such a hot issue in all the PR, marketing and branding efforts globally put by companies to attract and retain more customers? Because there’s a direct link between the effort – considering the fact that it is properly and strategically done – and the results: 70% of clients stopped doing business with a brand if the customer experience was poor, while more than 80 percent were willing to pay more (up to 5% premium) for a better customer experience (CX).

So, move over Age of Information, the Age of Experience is here to stay. And while the era of accumulation is taking the back seat, communication professionals seem to have reached thin air when dealing with the new challenges, present and future.

First, let’s understand where we are. When the Internet kingdom was formed, back in the early 90s, information was everything. Online information behemoths were ruling the Earth. Companies like Netscape, Yahoo, America Online (AOL) – just to name the very few which made billions and headlines – dominated the way information was handled all across the developed world. Without a Yahoo account you were… nobody. The world has started to build its ‘online presence’. The Internet was making gathering consumer data mining so easy and inexpensive. And we have been living like that till technology changed our interaction behaviour once and again, around 2000, when guys like Mark Zuckerberg were thinking of a way to get more and more people together, to share their stories, experiences and emotions. That’s how all this Age of Experience started: finding a way to do something useful, creative, attractive and measurable with all the data Internet was gathering since its very first day.

The PR agency – the new creative crusader

So, working to grow one’s business market and to expand one company’s reach and pool of prospects is not about gathering information, but creatively using it. We have, nowadays, at least a dozen of good software solutions for analyzing any bit or cluster of information out there. Hard data, Big Data, cloud data, you name it.

The shift that the PR agency of tomorrow has to make is a transition from a ‘comfort zone’, where it had control of the information flow, of what reaches the media and is getting back to the client, being able to influence the public (who, by the way, wasn’t able to access a ‘double-check process’ before the Facebook age) directly from the inbox, to a team who interpret customer data, behaviour changes, create flexible and less-controlled feedback platforms without being 100% capable of managing the outcome through hardcore PR skills, guts, or wisdom.

The corporate communication in the Age of Experience is a continuous process of building a new type of brand interaction: easier, more inutitive and direct, fairer and more transparent, both for the customer and for the brand. The PR agency should lead the creative effort, along with the business strategists the brand has to move forward and win new markets and customers, to reach deeper into the minds and hearts of the prospects, with impactful and meaningful content. PR is about telling the truth today as it has never been. About helping the customers as it has never done. About talking with people like it never did.

Same public, new behaviour

Many PR agencies and professionals are lost in this new territory opened by and with the Age of Experience, mainly because they refused to understand the very essence of it: the world, the life itself is a sum of experiences. And when this philosophical – now algorhitmical, too – perspective seems to take control of the driver’s seat, the ‘old’ intruments and methods become harder to sell, if not less effective.

When I was a journalism student, I was taught that the readership a newspaper is changing at least once, or maybe twice a year. ‘Fresh blood’ is coming through the pipeline and, from time to time, ‘you have to go out there and see how reality looks like for your customer’ – that’s what I was told. Well… that was 20 years ago! Today, everything has changed, yet we have and are the same public: we change our mind sooner and quicker than people did a generation ago.

People group in small clusters based on preferences, geographical borders, activities, beliefs, movies and brands they like – there’s no ‘general public’ anymore. There’s no brand crusaders anymore, as we live in the kingdom of the User. More than 50% of the companies don’t have a clear CX strategy and about the same don’t share a customer centric culture. Corporations are narcisistic giants happy to see that other fell in love with them, too. But this is something of the past, as potential buyers say their buying decision is based on two pillars: price and… customer reviews.

Master the experience, master the domain    

It’s no secret anymore that CX innovators and leaders are gaining a significant competitive edge versus the so-called ‘CX laggards’. How do they get there? It’s a simple rule which might also be the new definition of PR: create compelling stories, deliver them fast and directly to the users, and establish longterm connections based on shared values, feelings and beliefs.  

I’ve recently read a tech article educating PR people to show, not to tell anymore. Nothing truer, as we want to skip some stages in our experience process. It’s in our human nature. For example, there’s a lot of fuss around the ‘experience stack’ diagram, very popular these days amongst developers and communication specialists:

Screen Shot 1
Layer 0 is the real world, as it is the foundation for telling or sharing any real-world moments. If you want to move up, you leave the physical behind and move into the logical realm. The communication in the Age of Experience is about being ‘immersive’: hook the customer into your story and make quick advancements in the bottom layers.

Now, let’s be honest. We live such an exciting time because nobody has truly got the skill to master all the layers. Not yet. It’s a trial and error process and people love it. It’s beyond our will, now, and PR have to go with the flow.   

A beautiful, hell of a journey lays ahead.


References:

Jesse Colombo, The Dot-com Bubble, www.thebubblebubble.com, 2012
Mike Wadhera, The Information Age is over; welcome to the Experience Age, www.techcrunch.com, 2016
Timothy Bowman, Welcome to the Age of Experience, Revel Foundry
Klaus Dodds, Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2007
John P.David, 3 ways marketers can improve customer experience, PR Daily, 2016
The State of Customer Experience, Forrester, 2012
The ROI of Customer Experience, The Temkin Group, 2012
Chloe Mason Gray, The Big List of 43+ Customer Experience Statistics, sprinklr.com, 2015
Kelvin Claveria, CX expert predictions: 10 trends driving the future of customer experience, VisionCritical.com, 2016
Who Owns the Customer Experience? New Research Says CEX Starts At the Top—the C-Suite Must Lead Customer Engagement, Bulldog Reporter, 2015


Rares Petrisor is a mass media, corporate communication and public relations specialist for 25 years now. He began as a TV news reporter, then became very soon war correspondent, covering ex-Yugoslavia and the Middle East. He had a 4 years stop in diplomacy and public affairs, then decided to start his own business in 2005, the PR agency Media Pozitiv. Rares is very interested in studying the area where technology and emotions meet in communication, trying to shape the agency and the PR professional of tomorrow.

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