Mar, 2017 | Strategy

In my brand work, I often talk with my partners about experience-based strategies.  I’m not referring to events and experiential sampling or how to bring to life a brand in a physical sense.  I’m looking at the base strategy, the foundations of any marketing or business plan that impacts the choices made across the mix.  The biggest question I tackle is ‘how must we approach our strategic planning for the future?’

In today’s market consumers are demanding more from the brands and businesses they love. They want experiences, reasons to integrate products into their social interactions.  They give attention and adoption to brands that add value to their daily consumption and lock out brands who sell to them without a context that’s particularly relevant to them.  They want personalisation, interaction and inclusion all designed around experiences that enrich their lives.

A Changing Consumers Landscape That Demands More.

It has long been insufficient for a brand to deliver a quality product or service that meets the immediate needs of the recipient or delivers USPs and satisfaction above and beyond its competitors.  These are all important, in fact, they are expected as a minimum requirement by consumers worldwide.  But people desire something more, something relatable, something that enriches their lives and matches up to all the other sensory experiences they take part in from the moment they get up until the moment they go to bed.

The evolution of technology, the increased ease of travel and exploration, the access given to the world by the Internet to share, discuss, debate and participate no matter where you are, what you are doing or who you are with; our life is much more than what it was, it’s richer, it’s fuller, it is augmented to a level where we seek an experience from everything we touch and we ask for more.

The roots of this theory are not brand new.  Writers such as Seth Godin and Bernard Cova have talked about the idea of Tribal Communities for years, exploring how people have sought to create new connections that are driven by common interests, experiences or passions.  The power of experiential marketing has been covered by marketers such as Bernd Schmitt who talks about how creating moments and shared experiences can deliver a deeper, more meaningful message take-out and create a connection for consumers with a brand that lasts long after the event itself.  Today we all watch and participate as friends, family and colleagues share with us their latest activities and adventures, moments shared, surprises made and even food eaten through a myriad of social networks all centered around one thing – experiences, experiences shared.

So, what if we could start to put these elements together?  What if we actually built our marketing strategies based on creating experience across every touch-point we generate?  A way to take emotional connections to the next level and see our interactions with consumers be a welcome addition rather than a rude interruption.  What would our business plans look like if adding value through experiences was a measure and integration became the goal?

Early Adopters are Winning Consumer Hearts and Minds

Tomorrow’s success stories are those companies already adopting this approach and leveraging its ability to help them stand out and create lasting connections between their brand and their consumer.  Apple’s focus and attention on experience is at the root of everything they deliver.  From their packaging and the unboxing experience all designed to lead you through each item, you unpack to their stores with ample space to go in, touch, feel and try their products in an inspiring, open setting that turns the shopping experience into a way to explore.  

Starbucks personalised service with your own name on a cup, or even the intentional wrongly spelt name on the cup, and their heart-warming social strategy which links a love of great coffee with get-togethers, gatherings, and good old-fashioned catch-ups.

Red Bull, Airbnb, and Beats by Dre are amongst the examples of those who embrace online storytelling and product experience in their campaign messaging.  Red Bull embrace energy fuelled experiences that connect to the core of their brand identity sponsoring all walks of events but also capturing these moments and sharing them online through a continuous feed of social links.  

Airbnb’s product lends itself to embrace the experiences driven by travel, but they harness this by pulling on individual desires and insights to showcase the variety of experiences that make traveling with Airbnb relevant to you. Beats by Dre, taps into the role music plays in building up to moments and experiences in people’s lives.  Spearheading their campaign through a series of videos that put their products role at the heart of pre-event preparation for sports stars, musicians, and other high-profile celebs.

Embracing a New Model of Marketing Strategy

But what does it mean to put experience at the core?  To date, the term ‘experience’ for most companies has remained attached to events or face-to-face interactions which are generally one-offs or few and far between in any marketing plan due to cost and resources.  Little is applied to other channels or applications outside of promotional marketing which together could lead to a brand more memorable, more meaningful and more integrated into consumers lives than those you might leave behind.  Digital media, product packaging, retail layouts, customer service – all channels that can contribute towards building experiential connections.

  1. Interrupting your approach to brand planning.

To put experience at the core means to align your entire business model to the purpose of creating interaction.  Connecting your product’s role to something more than the functional benefits or needs to go beyond the emotional.  You need to start with what your product or service means to your customer and the interaction that they will have with it.  What kind of experiences do you want to create based on your brand identity, what experiences do your consumers already create or have with your product? How will you deliver this to market and what resources will you require?

  1. Look outside the communication lens at every touch point

A marketer’s role in their brand’s development needs to expand beyond their traditional remit.  There’s a lot of talk around the emerging role of the CCO (Chief Customer Officer), but regardless of the title, we need to start considering all the touch-points of our brand, including those outside of the communications landscape.  Are our products and packaging creating the right experience? Have we evolved it to embrace the new needs and wants of a digital era?  Are our customer relations complimenting our efforts on social media and integrating with our brand purpose online?

Photo borrowed from Brian Solis

The role of brand experience across touch-points has never been more important and as the significance and impact of digital continues to grow, it has never been more imperative to connect these functions and ensure continuity and cohesion along the buyer journey.

  1. Create consistently and build stories that have longevity for your brand

Some businesses are creating one-off, throwaway interactions with their brands that need to be regenerated every time.  This is especially prevalent on digital and social media where content is increasingly whimsical and is created in isolation of a bigger picture.  Once something is online, it’s there forever, so consider all online creative from a long-term brand experience vs short-term campaign delivery.  By doing this you ensure all your content has the power to live on and profit the social search and research phase of the modern buyer journey.

For Nike, their sportswear is a preparation to beat goals, to conquer challenges and work towards feeling better about yourself.  It’s about putting on a mindset that says, ‘I can do this’ and feeling like the clothes you’re wearing, the shoes on your feet, are going to help you get there.  Nike uses marketing imagery that delivers images of people doing exactly that.  Experiencing the same gains and achievements that their consumers hope will come to them by wearing Nike.  Their introduction of Nike Run Clubs provides an experience of support and commitment, a message that ‘we’ll help you get there’.  The innovation in their shoes is all about enhancing this experience, making the run more comfortable, the colours more individual and bold, the design fashionable. And their move to create both the Nike+ Running App and Nike+ Training Club are all designed to align their brand with the workout experience and to put it at the centre of the experience of achieving results.

So, how experience based are your business strategies?  How connected are your marketing plans to the role your product or service plays in your consumers’ life experiences?  It’s no longer enough to tag this onto the end of your process and hope it filters through in a meaningful manner of emotional connection.  Now, as marketers, we all need to deliver on experience. Tell me, do you have a plan?



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