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preloader image Martin Schnaack, talking

Avantgarde founder Martin Schnaack is convinced that brands that do not offer emotional experiences will die out. Part 1 of the interview was about fan culture and new status symbols. Part two dives into his own brand Avantgarde and what we can learn from Amazon and Apple. And we won’t forget Starbucks in Shanghai.

Martin, we are flooded with brand messages and experiences on the Internet. How can brands manage to catch the eye of the masses?

Certainly through authenticity paired with originality. Working this out is always the first step of our work. In an ideal process, we first ask ourselves what distinguishes a brand and what dimension of experience suits it.

What does that depend on?

Well, it must come strongly either from the brand values or from the product. If both don’t work as a basis for experience marketing, you have to create a world associated with the brand. Red Bull is a great example. There was actually no chance to gain a foothold in the soft drinks market – that was Coca Cola’s domain. So what did they do? They consistently designed the entire brand from an experience perspective: “Gives you wings!” You can party harder, stay awake longer, be more efficient. All actions are based on this promise and most importantly, fans can take part.

If brands today no longer offer an emotional experience, they will disappear. Just like other brands that didn’t make the leap into the digital world have disappeared. It’s not a “Nice to have”: it’s the next big revolution in marketing.

After the digital revolution, the experience revolution?

That sounds a bit exaggerated, but you can say it like that. For instance, the hotel industry has developed and transformed the experience perspective for customers in a crucial way. AirBnB has played a big role in that transition. Their success is not due to the price, but to the experience: that I meet exciting people, get to know individual locations and can book easily on my mobile. Clever hoteliers have recognized this and differentiate themselves by offering experiences that make overnight stays individualized.

Where else do you see the change nowadays?

Something very similar will happen in retail. The new Starbucks in Shanghai is a role model. By the way, it’s the largest in the world and about ten times the size of the Apple store in Munich. In the middle of their store is a huge roasting house, where you watch the beans and choose your individual variety at the bar. Throughout the entire shop there is not a single piece of plastic, from the wooden tray to the porcelain tableware. Everything appears to be completely sustainable. Despite the coffee being very expensive – it’s about 5€ for a cup – the Chinese queue up at the door. The reason: that is the place to be for this special experience.

preloader image Martin Schnaack, CEO

What does that mean for trade in Germany?

It’s not just about Germany but rather a global trend: Those who ignore the experience will not survive. And experience doesn’t mean “20 percent discount on everything, inside a little music, and you get a tulip at the entrance”. Experience means that I like to spend an hour in the shop and make the purchase, the economic focus, rather unobtrusively integrated.

Customer Service is an area that is often associated with unhappy experiences: eternal waiting loops, standard replies, … This has become harder to find today. Where did this change come from?

Because Amazon has shown how service works. I don’t have to torment myself with computer hotlines, have to take my parcel to the post office and to fill out long forms. The Amazon way is the contrary: I pack it in a box, put it in front of the door, and it will be picked up. Anybody who doesn’t reach this level of service will suffer.

From an experience perspective, customer service is essential, because that’s where you have the “touchpoint Life”.

Can you give an example?

Sure, a very personal one: I checked in into a really expensive room in Copenhagen, late and tired. In the middle of the night, someone was pushing a roller cart filled with bottles back and forth for three hours outside our room. The next morning, I complained at the reception desk, and what did the hotel manager do? Not only did she immediately transfer the money back to my credit card, she also gave me a voucher for another free night. That doesn’t cost her much, because the voucher is only valid if there is a room available. But she turned a bad-tempered guest into a real fan. Hence, I’m sharing that experience with you right now.

What can brands learn from this?

That sometimes you have to forget about the standards. My most positive brand experiences have always been unexpected. In the service sector I have to empower my team so that they are always able to choose from a repertoire of options. This requires an understanding of the emotions of the other person. In my opinion, it will be a long time before robots take over customer service. Acting humanely makes the big difference.

preloader image Martin Schnaack, CEO, taliking
preloader image Martin Schnaack, CEO, taliking

Let’s talk about your brand. What distinguishes Avantgarde from the competition?

Certainly the brand core “experience”. Our aim is to inspire people, to focus on the consumer and to create their connection to the brand through an experience rather than through classical communication or media.

If you google Avantgarde, you also come across the term “event marketing”. A description you don’t necessarily like…

Because “event” is much too narrowly defined. A singular event is only a starting point, but many other levels contribute to the brand experience: from the website, to the product itself and the service. Some brands don’t even need special events because every contact is an experience.

preloader image Martin Schnaack with his bike

Why do people apply to Avantgarde?

Because they want to be part of the experiences we create, and at the same time make them possible for others. Of course, that’s not all: we are a large agency with secure jobs and better salaries than small players. And what is increasingly becoming the motivation for applicants is that they can work internationally at Avantgarde, even worldwide. In Munich we have colleagues from 22 countries now, from all over Europe to Korean, China and Mexico.

When did you notice that Avantgarde became an international player?

 We have aspired towards international recognition since the year 2000, approximately, when we were looking at markets such as China and Dubai. But for me personally, an experience in 2016 was more striking, when we hired a Creative Director in Munich. He’s half Greek, half English, had previously worked in China and said, he wants to join the team but he doesn’t speak German. We discussed this controversially among the board. Then I said, “Guys, that’s nonsense. Our boss in China has been working there for ten years without really learning Chinese. We have customers who think globally, we hold meetings in English anyway. It’s us who have to change.” Today we have more than a dozen people in the headquarters who don’t speak German at all.

Did you actually have a role model when you founded Avantgarde in 1984 as a Fashion Show?

My last great role model was Sepp Maier, former goalkeeper at FC Bayern. But professionally? Rather not. Well, today I notice that my father had a strong influence on me. He had a way of taking risks and being passionate about something, he was certainly a role model for me. For example, he worked as a doctor until he was 85 years old.

 Were there also companies – or brands that acted as role models?

Not at all. Maybe because I was totally clueless when it came to marketing and fashion. If I’m being honest: I wasn’t really interested in fashion. I just wanted to do something myself. Build my own business.

Finally, looking ahead – what will Avantgarde stand for in five years?

Honestly, I don’t know! One constant is the ability to develop ourselves: transformation as a principle. At the same time, we are fortunate to have doubled our core operating numbers every five years. If we double again in the next five years and keep our pioneering spirit, a lot of exciting things will happen.

Especially since we are facing even greater technological and social change than most of us expect. I’ve already bet several people that there won’t be an iPhone in five years. We will wear glasses and interact with our real and virtual environment. That’s just one example. I’m convinced that the world in 2025 will look very different than we can imagine today. And I’m sure it will be an experience!

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