Fiona Blades is a CEO. At first glance her title seems like thousands of others, but the “E” is an aberration. Blades is the chief experience officer of Mesh Experience.
An odd name perhaps, but experience is her name and game. The firm uses a proprietary data source derived from consumers to analyse the way they interact with brands at various touch-points.
Blades’ past is in advertising, and before founding Mesh in 2006, she worked as planning director for what was Claydon Heeley, where she spotted a gap in the market.
“Everything was about TV ads. They’d ask ‘have you seen the ad for Mercedes Benz? What did you think about it?’. But actually going into the dealership, having a test drive, going online, hearing what Jeremy Clarkson said and seeing you neighbour’s car on the drive – that’s an experience.”
Today Mesh works with Fortune 500 firms, from Unilever to Delta airlines, advising them how to better spend their marketing money and with what kind of messaging. What sets Mesh apart is the data it uses to understand the brand ecosystem through the customer’s eyes.
The slightest thing can distort consumer perceptions of a brand – from a negative news article, to an advert that has been overplayed. Mesh uses what Blades refers to as “real time experience data”. Similar to a week long survey, the firm pays consumers to act as researchers on its behalf.
At the start, participants are quizzed about their perceptions of a given brand. Every time they interact with – experience – the brand in question, they note it, and note their perception.
“So they have a mobile diary, and on that they’ll tell us: ‘I’ve just walked past a Natwest bank’. Or ‘I’ve just seen a Natwest advert’. And after a week we ask them about their perceptions again, because maybe they’ve walked into that branch and had an amazing experience.”
At scale, this creates a rich tapestry of what does and doesn’t work in the eyes of average consumers. In the Instagram era, which has seen a pronounced uptick in experiential marketing, one can barely walk down the street in Shoreditch without being offered an experience of some sort. Be it Corona Beach or Magnum’s Pleasure Store, simply selling a product is no longer enough – consumers want more.
“We believe you need to take an experience-driven marketing approach. Our mission in life is to help clients to create and measure experiences that grow brands, people and society,” says Blades.
As opposed to share of voice, an historic metric in Blades’ eyes, Mesh compiles a “share of experience” instead. Share of voice only accounts for paid media, which she says comprises just a third of the interactions an average consumer has with a brand.
“Marketers have always looked at share of voice, but when you think about it, it’s just the media spend we are pushing out in comparison with our competitors. Just because you’re pushing it out, doesn’t mean people are picking it up.”
To put this into perspective, the firm recently surveyed 1,400 people covering 6,000 experiences, to explore how every interaction or experience affects consumer perceptions of retail banks in the UK.
The findings are interesting. Barclays is leading the category in quantity of experiences but falls behind on quality of experience, for example. “It’s alright reaching someone, but you’ve got to make sure that it’s engaged reach,” says Blades.
Another example that resonates is that poor experiences can brush off the skeletons in the closet.
Blades gives the example of RBS, which, following a half-year loss of £691m in 2008 had to be bailed out with taxpayers’ money. As a consumer, one might see any non-essential use of the bank’s finances as an affront. Blades says this resonated during RBS’ sponsorship of the Six Nations rugby championship.
“With touch-points like sponsorship, you could say, ‘well it’s just a logo’. But it’s a bit of an empty message in a way, and somebody will fill it with their own. So they’ll go ‘why are they spending so much money – my money – on rugby?’.
“It would be different if it was an ad saying we’ve got five per cent interest on a current account. They’re not going to react negatively to that.”