On Brand Advocacy and the Transcendent Customer Experience

How to create brand advocacy through customer journey mapping? And what kind of a customer experience do strong brand communities promote?

Brendan Richardson, the author of “Tribal Marketing, Tribal Branding”, has stated that “the fundamental purpose of the marketer who seeks to engage with contemporary communities of consumption in whatever form is to identify, and where appropriate and possible, support the linking values that unite these communities” and to thus “facilitate” the “transcendent customer experience”.

In a paper entitled “Transcendent Customer Experience and Brand Community”, John W. Schouten, James H. McAlexander and Harold F. Koenig have stated that “Transcendent customer experiences (TCEs), which have aspects of “flow and/or peak experience”, can generate “lasting shifts in beliefs and attitudes, including subjective self-transformation” while “delivering a particularly strong form of brand loyalty.”

Brand advocacy is, naturally, the most mature level of customer commitment here, and that is always based on shared values.

A flow experience, according to psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, produces a state of transcendence, a suspension of temporal reality, and a sense of separation from the mundane, and a sense of unity with some higher plane of experience, whereas, similarly, a peak experience, as discussed by Abraham Maslow, is characterised as a sudden epiphany – both signifying a connection to a something outside the self.

Skydivers, for example, according to Schouten, McAlexander and Koenig, “report consistent types of extraordinary experience, beginning with the thrill of first time engagement” and “progressing through milestones of personal achievement and periods of individual and shared transcendence”.

According to the authors, furthermore, it is shown in studies that people engaging in outdoor activities “report dramatic life- or perspective-altering transformations in themselves”.

So what do skydivers essentially experience?

I went out with a skydiving guy a few years ago, and could not help but wonder. Extreme sports is definitely not for me. However, I can easily agree on this one when it comes to the experience of biking or hiking outdoors in the middle of nature, for example.

All of this may seem to have a religious undertone to it.

Maslow’s view on religion, however, was somewhat blunt.

According to Maslow, a religion mainly exists to provide a framework for understanding the ephemeral, ineffable nature of the experience. And the function of a religious institution, according to Maslow, is to offer texts, symbols, rituals, and a community that can act as triggers for future transcendent experiences.

Now let’s take a step back, and discuss the triggers in relation to an outstanding customer experience.

The triggers of such an experience are individual and vary – but these may include, for example, a sense of a personal crisis, a sense of romance or a sense of encountering “exceptional beauty”. McAlexander and Schouten have identified that in relation to consumption, the triggers may include sensory experiences, such as experiencing sights, sounds and smells; or a sense of “unexpectedly gratifying interpersonal encounters”, and also, intriguingly, a sense of “personal achievement” that “exceeds people’s expectations”.

It seems that great customer experiences have the power to significantly enhance people’s relationships with other people, as well as their relationship with objects, as the authors of this article suggest.

The research cited above clearly indicates that “customers desire to transcend mundane consumerism”.

This tendence is typical of strong brand communities.

The authors of this paper also refer to the dark, addictive and escapist side of the customer experience.

Colin Campbell, for example, has written about what he calls the “romantic” modern consumerism as a type of addiction, in his view caused by the global advertising industry that caters for fantasies. Max Weber’s critique of capitalism is, of course, a primary reference here.

I find brand communities and the concept of a transcendent customer experience to be ripe with yet untapped, hidden potential for promoting a more sustainable lifestyle worldwide, especially among millennials. At the end of the day, the brands that promote a healthy, happy planet may generate stronger communities and more loyal customers than brands that do not pay attention to sustainability issues.

Author: Iiris Konttinen

I am a digital service design and digital marketing professional based in Helsinki, Finland.