The Experience Principle

by Jon Fortgang Rufus Leonard

Laurence Parkes, Chief Strategy Officer at brand experience agency Rufus Leonard, discusses the relationship between experience and design and says the first task for brands is to define their purpose.

“A brand is the sum of all the experiences you have with it,” says Laurence Parkes, Chief Strategy Officer at Rufus Leonard.  “Our role is to make each of those experiences the best it can be. Increasingly our experience of brands is through their digital channels. That means you need to focus on your brand’s purpose and really bring it to life digitally.”

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Having launched in 1989, London-based agency Rufus Leonard haven’t just been witness to digital’s ascendancy. They’ve evolved alongside it. In 2014 the agency turned 25 – a good time, then, to think about how marketing has changed in that time.

Experience by design
Founders Neil Svensen and Darrel Worthington came from a creative background at brand consultancy Wolff Olins. Recognising the need for greater agility in marketing communications, their idea was to create an agency that worked closely with brands so that their messaging remained consistent across different touch-points. (If you’re wondering where Mr. Rufus Leonard fits into the story – he doesn’t. Svensen and Worthington started planning the idea for the agency in a pub called The Red Lion which, via a mix of Latin and old French, translates into Rufus Leonard.)

In 1994 the agency launched BT’s first website. In 1999 came the first site for Lloyds TSB. In 2001 the team created the first ecommerce site in the automotive industry for Smart. That was followed by Royal Mail’s track-and-trace app and Bupa’s first responsive diagnosis site. More recently there’s been work for John Lewis Partnership, O2, The AA and British Gas.

“We saw a very quick shift of all that brand-led design thinking into digital,” says Parkes. “Whether we’re rebranding Lloyds Bank or building a platform for Stagecoach Group, the question we’re always asking is what the truth of the organisation is. That’s the starting point. Lots of agencies don’t really get brand as a whole. It’s all about the campaign. And lots of agencies don’t get digital. But we’ve grown up through – and with – it. Digital is not something that’s bolted on. We’ve built a proper technical capability.”

We create experience by design’ is the agency’s motto, so how does Parkes describe Rufus Leonard’s overarching principles, and how are they applied?

“First, we try to define brand experiences across all touch-points,” he says. “Many brands these days have no physical manifestation at all.” Think Airbnb and Uber. “Focusing on a brand’s purpose and bringing that to life across digital channels is a big part of what we do. It’s about interacting with the experience.

“Secondly, we’re focused on digital transformation. Everyone talks about this, but for us it means helping organisations embed, deliver, sustain and innovate their digital experience. That, in the broadest sense, is what we do: get businesses to understand technology’s role in their brand’s purpose, day in and day out.

“Thirdly, we try to make things continuous. We have some very long-established clients. British Gas goes back six. Those relationships are a testament to the fact that we do what we say we’re going to do. We’re independent and that allows us to make decisions and be in charge of our destiny. We don’t report to someone sitting in a holding group who only cares about their investment. We build our capability around our clients’ needs, which also allows us to be more agile. We put ourselves in our clients’ shoes. We don’t allow anything to get in the way of us doing the best work we can.”

Users and usefulness
As an example of a project illustrating that design-led approach, Parkes points to the agency’s work with British Gas.

“This was an organisation that was quite siloed. Becoming more agile was a challenge. We were basically given a blank piece of paper and tasked with addressing a millennial audience who don’t want to engage with any utilities providers.”

Rufus Leonard’s solution was to look at mobile. They helped created EnergySmart – a free, online service that lets British Gas customers manage their energy usage and payments with bill alerts and personalised usage charts. Next came ME Mobile Energy. With the number of people in shared, rented accommodation having doubled since the 1990s, the app was designed with the needs of twentysomething house-sharers in mind, enabling them to submit meter readings, predict and split bills and switch the account to a new address when they move on. A Salesforce-based tablet tool was created for engineers. The agency brought a similar focus on UX to British Gas’s consumer and business websites.

“What this demonstrates about the way we work is collaboration, agile delivery and transformational potential,” says Parkes. “We went from zero to a beta test in three months. We had a small, agile team working on it hand-in-hand with the client. The result is that you come out with something transformational in a really short space of time. This was light years away from how British Gas would normally work on product development. For me, that’s the challenge a lot of our clients are facing at the moment: having the bravery to get to something that isn’t necessarily the finished article, but which we can test and get a feel for. A lot of organisations just can’t take those sorts of risks. But for British Gas it was a real plus.”

So, for Parkes, creating experience through design means “having a vision for something, then articulating it really well to start making a tangible difference quickly. Brands today aren’t defined by what they say. Most customers don’t really care about what they say anyway. Brands today are defined by what they do.”

Five UX Principles To Boost Online Marketing

Andy Marshall, Head of User Experience at Rufus Leonard, discussed experience and design at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference in November 2015. “For me,” he says, “UX is the process of seeing things from the customers’ perspective.” Here are five of his tips.

Andy Marshall 2_230Reciprocity
“If you give something of value to a customer they’re more likely to give you something in return,” says Marshall. “But this isn’t quite as easy as just giving something away for free and then expecting to get something back.” Consider what you can give to customers of real value. Don’t offer users something for free and then take it away (or ask them to pay for it.) And avoid anonymity in communications by including emotional cues like eye-contact. People respond to people.

Aesthetic association
As consumers we create subconscious associations between different aesthetics, and those aesthetics appeal to far more than our visual sense. Just ask 7Up. In an experiment the ‘greenness’ of the can was increased by 15 per cent to make it appear more lime-coloured. Customers began complaining that the flavour had also become more limey. Nothing had changed but the colour of the can. “Our impressions of a product are formed from much more than the product alone,” says Marshall. “Packaging, adverts and reviews all inform our experience of a product. Consider the aesthetics in all experiences that people have around your products and services.”

Social learning
“In a social context we learn from others,” says Marshall. For marketers that means showing products in use and building a story around them. He points to Argos and Ikea as brands who understand the value of visual content that presents their products in situ. “And for offline, create an environment where people can try out products, and be observed by other people as they do so.”

Endowed progress
We’re all familiar with loyalty cards which encourage us to stick with a brand until we can redeem our reward. “We’re more motivated to complete tasks we’ve started, compared with tasks we’ve yet to start,” explains Marshall. “Think about how you can bestow progress on other people. If people save a quote, let them know how far through the process they are in your reminder email.”

The peak end rule

“There are three particular aspects of an experience that are important,” says Marshall. “We remember the peaks, the troughs and how the experience ends.”

Interview and feature by Jon Fortgang