News & Views

Black Tomato's Tom Marchant on Brand Experience

by Contagious Team

Tom Marchant is the founder and CEO of Black Tomato, a group of companies which is radically revising the idea of experience through an almost antiquated lens: the travel agency. 

Black Tomato uses music, books and film to help bring destinations to life before and after a journey, and develops an almost minute level of understanding of a locale to offer its guests a perfectly tailored experience. 

Tom will be a speaker at Now / Next / Why San Francisco on 9 June in the Evidence & Execution section of the day, where Contagious briefings are squared up with stories from practitioners big and small to talk about how some of the world's most interesting brands are obsessing the multifaceted concept of experience. 

We asked Tom some questions about the inspiration for Black Tomato, as well as some of his current favourite brand experiences.


What was the inspiration around Black Tomato?

We were formed from an obsession with the pursuit of the experience and a belief that people like us were not being catered for by the travel industry.


It's scary to launch a new brand. What was the earliest proof-point you had, where you said to yourself 'OK, this can work’?

Three things energised us early on: customers, coverage and awards.

Customers, we began to encounter people who had never used a company to organize travel before and land-grab customers from the established players.

Coverage, we had leading travel titles covering us within months of our launch, stating that they believed we would change the way people think about travel by putting the emotion of the experience first.

Lastly, awards, we were awarded the Guardian’s Best Travel Site and Cisco Customer Kings in year one.


Let’s cut through the jargon: what does ‘brand experience’ mean to you? Why is it so important?

Brand experience means everything for us. It's the manifestation of what we stand for. What we dreamed of. What we longed to create. The blood, sweat and tears, the highs and lows of our journey. It is us. In your hands. It is the truest measure of whether we can deliver what we say we can.


What’s the number one mistake you see brands making in their attempts to create customer-focused experiences?

Too many brands are looking outward and never inward. Customer-focused experiences might be dreamt up by the marketing team and promoted effectively, but they can ignore those charged with delivering them, or who on the team can inform the best experience to be produced.

A brand experience starts from the ground up and needs to pervade every part of the business. Everyone needs to live it, breathe it and buy into it. How many times have you been disappointed by the promise of experience in great adverts or marcoms only to be let down at that first point of contact with the business? It has to be more than skin deep.


Who, other than Black Tomato, do you think is nailing brand experience right now?

I’m impressed by a lot of brands, including some favorites: Neuehouse, WeWork, Korean Air, citizenM, Suitsupply and Warby Parker


What current marketing buzzword or trend is the least important, in your mind?

Volume over value.

Absolute numbers should not be the focus. The desperate pursuit of Likes, clicks, enquiries and traffic does not automatically translate to better business. It’s easily achieved and is misleading. We try to focus on the quality of interaction and the service offered for the relevant audience.  And any increase in numbers because of it really does equal value to grow a business around it.


Join Contagious at Now / Next / Why 2015. Limited tickets available; book now:

CHICAGO / 19 MAY  (in partnership with SOCIALDEVIANT)

SAN FRANCISCO / 9 JUNE (in partnership with BSSP)

Contagious magazine and Contagious I/O subscribers receive a 10% discount.  For more information email or call +44 203 206 9275.