McGarrah Jessee

World's Leading Independent Agencies: the real-world rise of whole-brand UX

Brands must take a holistic view of user experience as customers' line between online and offline dissolves

Britton Upham, chief operating officer, McGarrah Jessee
Britton Upham, chief operating officer, McGarrah Jessee

Whitney Wolfe Herd created Bumble after experiencing online harassment. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky built Airbnb because conference attendees visiting San Francisco couldn’t find hotel rooms. Andy Dunn launched Bonobos to offer men wellfitting, high-quality clothes at a fair price. In every case, less than a decade later, these companies are killing it. Why?

What these examples have in common is a customer-centric approach. Beginning with a simple truth, they have extended the principles of user experience to everything they do. They put customer consideration at the very front of their business priorities and build their entire business model around that experience. The result is that, across categories, these brands are redefining the ways customers engage with them, both online and offline. 

To remain relevant, a growing number of companies are responding by bringing the customer voice into the C-suite. The chief customer officer (CCO) is a new role that’s emerging. In these organisations, the CCO is tasked with orchestrating every part of the business that touches the customer – sales, marketing, customer service, operations, sometimes even human resources. The objective: consider the customer’s engagement at every intersection. 

UX isn't an online thing, it's a brand thing 
User experience was introduced as a concept in the 1990s by cognitive scientist Don Norman, credited with establishing Apple’s first user-experience desk. People commonly associate the term with the digital realm – how intuitive it is for a user to navigate an interactive environment. But as the lines between digital and non-digital experiences dissolve, these design principles are carrying over to real-world experiences. In 2018, UX is no longer just a digital thing, it’s a brand thing.

Take a step back and think about the whole brand system. We, as customers and consumers of media, aren’t differentiating between the experiences we have online or on our mobile phones, at retail or when we hop on the phone with customer support. Each one of those interactions contributes to the net perception that we have of that brand. 

It's not what you say, it's what you do 
The new vanguard of companies is mindful of all the ways a consumer experiences their brand. Advertising, word of mouth, social media, retail, at the product level, unboxing something, setting it up – whole-brand UX takes all this into account and helps consumers navigate these touchpoints in a more fulfilling way.

Apple was among the first to master this. It delivers emotional and consistent messaging, but goes beyond that; it considers the brand experience at every interface. Delivering well also means the absence of negative experiences – the "frustration-free packaging" Amazon offers, for example.

However, most legacy organisations are slow to fully actualise on the ubiquitous way that we’re experiencing brands. Traditional organisational structures put barriers between sales and marketing, ecommerce and customer service. It’s difficult to weave one brand vibe all the way through. Take the misfortunes United Airlines has experienced. Each originated outside the realm of marketing and yet majorly affects the public’s perception of the brand.

Embracing the whole-brand UX evolution
As more companies embrace the need to integrate customer concerns with the other brand behaviours, it puts CMOs at a crossroads. Is the CCO role a redefinition of the traditional CMO role? Is it a replacement? The answer depends on the organisation and the person occupying the CMO seat.

The evolution requires a new skill set as data and digital transformation become priorities. It also requires a holistic vision of the brand – going beyond just creating great campaigns and extending to operations, product, sales and HR. Finally, it requires the ability to influence a culture of customercentricity throughout the organisation.

What is the role of the agency in support of the evolving CMO? As the CMO/CCO brings together disparate departments, agencies need to partner in thinking about the brand – not through a marketing lens, but a human one. Because the most powerful marketing will not resemble marketing. It will be seen and felt in the details. Which, in sum, make up the whole-brand experience.

Britton Upham – Q&A

Will you go to Cannes this year?
Nope. Never been. I have, however, logged some time in a Buick Riviera.

AI: the best and the worst scenarios are…
Best case, AI will help us navigate our busy world and the proliferation of information. It’ll be helpful (for example, we just launched a chatbot that aids in gathering employee reviews). Worst case: droid domination.

What will you change in 2018?
We’re doubling down on research, strategy, UX design and utility. The more value your brand offers, the less marketing you have to do.

The best work of the past year is...
Ikea, across the board. Not just its inventive use of media and provocative narratives, but the little things, like its same-day response to Balenciaga’s $2,145 leather tote lookalike. 

McGarrah Jessee: at a glance

Founded: 1996
Principals: Mark McGarrah, partner, Bryan Jessee, partner.
Staff: 152
Location: Austin, Texas, US.