Brand Experience Trends

What’s “In” and What’s “Out” in Experiential Marketing

Today, we know all too well that we can’t believe everything we hear or read. We can, however, believe everything we experience. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that brand experience is taking on increasing importance within the marketing strategies of the world’s most forward-thinking companies.

Brand experience can be hard to define, but incredibly easy to pinpoint, as it covers so many activities a brand might pursue. The way your consumers interact with your brand directly, such as using your service or product, that’s a brand experience. What happens to people in a retail brand’s brick and mortar store, that’s another. The first time someone trials your product as a CPG business, you guessed it, that’s another brand experience. Essentially, any first-hand interaction with your business that isn’t mediated through a media channel, that is brand experience.

The impact such interactions can have is obvious, but just to emphasize the point, PWC revealed that 85% of brand reputation is created and driven by “everyday interactions” (in other words, brand experiences), with only 15% being created by traditional marketing communications. And yet, in spite of this, brand experience certainly doesn’t represent 85% of your typical company’s marketing attention, let alone budget. This is starting to change, and so expertise in this field is becoming inherently more valuable.

What used to be an afterthought or bolt-on to a traditional integrated campaign is now considered worthy of special attention. Possible brand experience executions have expanded from basic sampling or shopping mall roadshows into a variety of unpredictable forms tailored to the company in question. And strategy now plays an increasingly important role in what was seen as the “unsophisticated” part of the marketing mix.

Because of this, a new wave of trends is shaping the brand experience industry. As the pace of change has accelerated, it has become important to take stock of what’s going on around us, so we don’t get caught in outmoded behaviors that may diminish the consumer experience.

What’s “In” in brand experience?

Experience First, Media Second:

In the past, the foundation for many marketing campaigns was the media plan. In this scenario, because brand experiences don’t exist “within media”, they were often neglected.

Today, it’s increasingly understood that brand experiences can be at the center of an integrated campaign, rather than on the periphery. They can provide the content and engaging moments that populate the media – rather than running alongside it.

For this to happen, the brand experience must be developed before media is planned or purchased. Because of the unpredictable shape of brand experiences, the way they interact with media will be unpredictable too, so you need to know what you’re doing with the former before you can make an effective plan for the latter.

Rather than adding a brand experience onto the tail-end of a campaign, more brands are thinking about them first.

SCALING UP:

Traditionally, the biggest drawback with a brand experience is its inability to scale. If you want to give an amazing experience to 100 people, or even 1,000, no problem. But how about 100,000? Or 10,000,000? Not so easy. These restrictions were largely imposed by the narrow format restrictions that people used to apply to brand experiences. Today, as the definitions broaden, more opportunities become available, as we demonstrated with our campaign for Coca-Cola’s Glaceau Vitamin Water. Only 10,000 product samples were distributed but the impressions exceeded 53 million, through the PR and social reach.

Again, people are now more comfortable blending media with their brand experiences to amplify them. This means that you can do something exciting directly for a small number of people and publicize it to a much larger group, as Skittles did for their 2018 Superbowl ad, which was only seen by one person but actually reached an audience of over 100 million.

Secondly, a lot of brand experiences aren’t campaign-based; meaning that they don’t need to run for only a short, predetermined period. Certainly, forms of brand experience such as a retail experience, or ongoing service elements of a brand that are integrated with its business model can run perpetually (as per our global campaign for The Economist) meaning that their benefits accrue over time, rather than being condensed into a short burst of activity.

Finally, improvements in technology and logistics are making it easier to achieve scale even with traditional forms of brand experience such as sampling. It is now more common to achieve very low costs per contact, making such campaigns comparable with other forms of media.

Partnerships:

Partnerships between complementary brands are becoming increasingly common as the importance of brand experience becomes ever more apparent. Part of the reason for this is that some brands find it easier to create compelling experiences than others, thanks to their character or category, meaning they are able to create platforms for other brands to join them.

Examples of this include retailers (since they have ample space to create different forms of experience) and publishers. Media brands have a particular advantage because their product is something that consumers seek out – and that’s why they attract advertisers to their platforms.

For publishers, brand experience partnerships are essentially advertising services brought to life in the real world, where they might put on a content-led experience that another brand is able to participate in. The difference is that the wider creative potential of brand experiences means that you can integrate brands far more than you can with traditional content, making it less a case of one brand “piggy backing” on the other, and more of a genuine partnership.

If you’re a brand for whom brand experiences come easily, then you can definitely expect many more partnership requests coming your way in the future.

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What’s “Out” in brand experience?

JUMPING ON THE BRAND PURPOSE BANDWAGON

Few have failed to notice the growing focus on “brand purpose” in recent years, whereby brands adopt worthy social positions as a way building affinity with their products. Brand experience has been one of the areas at the forefront of this drive, since brands see experiences as a way to make a tangible difference in the real world.

However, in many cases the cause taken up by a brand has little connection to its commercial purpose in the world (as we infamously saw with Pepsi in 2017), and as such, ends up coming across more like an apology for their real business than something which is “baked into” the brand fabric. Whilst these activities, be it clearing up beaches, helping disadvantaged young people, or raising awareness of a particular social issue, may well be helpful, they only serve a simultaneous commercial purpose if the brand has a true role engaging with that issue.

Once brands have learned this, they are becoming more thoughtful in how they activate purpose-based activities and are thinking more about the true purpose of their product.

When brands ignore this lesson, the danger is that purpose-led activities make a once distinct brand appear increasingly homogenous. An effective and purposeful brand experience is something that only your brand has the right to do, so look another layer deeper in your brand development.

Hybrid Brand Experiences:

A hybrid brand experience is one which simultaneously tries to perform a tactical marketing function whilst also doing a strategic job for the brand. For example, product sampling is typically a tactical, penetration seeking form of brand experience, whilst a creative event or experience seeks to build on the brand by creating good associations with it.

The problem with doing these two types of brand experience simultaneously is that they typically need different attributes to succeed. Tactical activities rely on mass direct reach – like distributing as many samples as possible – whilst brand-led activities rely on strong, uncompromized creative ideas.

If you try to achieve both these things together, there’s a good chance your brand experience will achieve neither. This is because the creative elements will damage the efficiency required to achieve tactical scale, whilst the tactical aspects will damage the creative execution.

Hybrid brand experiences – where there is a rich creative experience that also has high sample targets – are now often seen as being too expensive, with brands preferring to split the activity.

In the past, the fact that brand experiences were often an afterthought meant that you had to cram many things into one execution; but now that they’re integral to many brands’ marketing plans, the roles of different types of experiences can be more carefully considered.

THE AFFINITY CIRCLE IS THE NEW PURCHASE FUNNEL:

Brand experience, like many other forms of marketing, used to be thought of only as a customer acquisition tool. Once a purchase was made, the job was done.

Today, brands are wising up to the importance of great experience at every point in the product usage cycle – a cycle which may have the majority of its touch points after the moment of purchase. Samsung’s 837 space in Manhattan is the perfect example of this.

Therefore, many modern briefs don’t end with purchase, but explore what else might be done to make the consumer’s usage of the product as memorable and on-brand as possible. For example, there might be a way you can influence how and when they use it for the optimum experience. Or there might be additional perks on offer for the very best customers. It all depends on the nature of the product and the category, but in each case, there will be something to consider.

Brand experience is now something that is utterly holistic, not merely a moment of jazz-hands in lieu of an advertising campaign. Such a development has wide implications for the whole marketing mix.

Brand Experience FAQ's

Can you measure brand experiences?

Yes – and it’s actually easier than you might think. Unlike other media-led forms of marketing, there is no common formula for measuring the success of a brand experience. That’s because each one will have a different shape and role, which requires custom measurement techniques matched to its unique qualities.

That said, there are some basic principles that hold firm across the board. For example, the comparison of people who were exposed to the brand experience against people who weren’t exposed.

Sense has developed a detailed methodology which can be applied to almost any brand experience you care to mention, more on which can be found in our experiential measurement guide – written by us and available for free.

How can you integrate social media into brand experiences?

Social media and brand experiences go hand in hand – but that doesn’t mean the way to integrate them is always obvious. Too often, square pegs are pushed into round holes when people try to blend them, since they attempt to match their favored social channel with their given experience without considering whether they amplify the effect of one another.

The correct approach should be to first develop the brand experience, and then second see what form of social media would be able to best provide a service to it.

If on the other hand, you know that you are making an experience to support a particular social channel, then the experience should be designed accordingly. There are particular structural qualities to brand experiences that gel with particular social channels – ones which can be learned and replicated with time and practice.

How do you plan brand experiences strategically?

Many people think that strategy looks very different in brand experience when compared to other forms of marketing, but in truth the same principles apply. At the end of the day experiences are forms of communication, and as with any piece of marketing you need to identify the correct message that will drive your desired behavior.

The biggest mistake you can make is to confuse tactical decisions (where should we take our experience? What media should we support it with? Who should we partner with?) with truly strategic ones (what are we trying to achieve, and how are we going to do it?).

Brand experiences have traditionally been plagued with tactical thinking masquerading as strategic, creating experiences that often get caught up in the details and lack a “big picture”, approach so be sure to do some high-level thinking before diving in. Get in touch with us for a helping hand – it’s what we do best.

Are brand experiences expensive?

In general, there is some truth to the perception that brand experiences are a more expensive form of marketing communication than other options. After all, to give someone an “experience” is clearly more valuable than simply telling them something.

That said, its higher value also should lead to greater consumer impact, as they should be far more engaged – and therefore activated carefully, meaning the overall bang for your buck should be equal to or better than other forms of marketing.

There are also now more ways to create great brand experiences cost effectively. Not everything has to be an amazing event for a small amount of people – instead, it could be something mediated through a media channel to millions, or a small moment that is left to run for a long period of time.

The expense of brand experiences doesn’t make them bad value – you just have to know how to apply that expense effectively, which is something we can help you with.

Are brand experiences only for B2C brands?

It probably appears that brand experiences are more appropriate for B2C brands than B2B. This is because many experiences take place in public forums, and as such require the brand in question to be seeking a relationship with the general public.

While it’s true that B2B brands are less likely to activate a stunt in a city square, or to open a pop-up shop, that doesn’t mean that brand experience isn’t for them. In fact, in some cases it can be far more effective than it can be for B2C brands.

B2B brands, since they normally have a narrower customer base, can generally do far more targeted experiences, like small scale events and conferences. They can also get more creative, which carries an extra premium and impact in industries where brand experience is more unusual.

In truth, there is no industry where brand experience can’t play a role – you just have to make sure you don’t employ a one size fits all policy – instead, tailor campaigns to your audience and use your brand to create a memorable and shareable experience.

Inspired? Still taking everything in?

Not to worry, we’re here to help. If you’re planning a brand experience, or just want more information, get in touch with our experiential experts today. Contact us