In the past year, the word "experience" has been all the rage in marketing and branding. The number of experiential marketing campaigns in 2013 exploded, with so many interactive, pop-up, entertainment-frenzied events and activities. But, how many of these campaigns have been executed in a way that not only drives buzz, but also meets business objectives?
The power of a thoughtfully crafted brand experiences can change perception, solve problems, connect people, and even occasionally be the highlight of someone’s day (hello shopping mall flash mob!) What happens when all of that positivity happens under your brand umbrella? It forges a deep, long-lasting connection. In today’s transient digital world, it is arguably the most impactful medium we have to work with, especially when you consider how often a great experience leads to brand advocates. Positive experiences are known to spark word of mouth among consumers: 93% of respondents in a recent Momentum Worldwide study say that they talk to other people about live branded experiences. For 65%, attending a live-branded experience drives them to recommend that brand.
But, instead of connecting with people in new ways, marketers are all too often using experiences to "break through" marketing clutter. This game of one-upmanship often results in flashy, one-off stunts disconnected from brand strategy. The result is that many brands miss opportunities to provide an immersive experience that authentically connects people that matter most to their brand.
Here are a few suggestions for elevating your next brand experience:
I know, I know, planning the big event is a lot of fun. "What crazy thing can we do?" is an exciting stage of the process. But you risk the whole operation if you ask, "What’s our experience idea?" before you ask, "What impact do we want to have?" A clear objective is the only way to determine whether an experience is the right tactic for your brand.
And if you (or even your client) lists "buzz" as the key objective, you have got to shut that down. Buzz is one outcome of creating an idea that resonates with people—but to influence your marketing goals, the focus needs to be on how the experience will affect your intended audience. Will perceptions be changed? Will it help get product in users' hands?
Every brand touch-point—from a retail store to a tweet—provides an opportunity to reinforce your core idea. That doesn’t mean that every one of your social channels will feature every part of your experience—it means you need to find the right roles for each of your channels, so that you create the best and most consistent experience possible.
For the Lucy Light Forest, an interactive light and sound experience created to celebrate movement and the women who love it for Lucy activewear, our team sourced solar-powered LED lights and worked with our sound engineers on site-specific installations while also creating in-store displays for Lucy’s nearby retail environments. We designed emails scheduled for key points throughout the campaign. Custom invitations were sent to area hotels to be shared with guests. We orchestrated the conversation on Lucy’s social channels and determined the role of its web site in our promotions. Without this integrated approach to every available channel, the Lucy Light Forest experience would have been inconsistent and limited.
It used to be that when the creative was out the door, the work was done. That is no longer the case. While there is no way to know for certain how consumers will react to your experience once it’s live, you will know their opinions soon enough: they’ll voice them on Twitter and Instagram, and that’s your opportunity to lean into what’s working and scrap what’s not. Take the feedback from your community and use it to adapt as you go (just remember to keep everything focused on your objective, rather than following the whims of every tweet or comment). Regular check-ins help gauge the overall experience sentiment and give you time to make adjustments to your experience before it’s over.
While I know its hard after you’ve sweated every detail for every hour until launch time, try to keep an open mind about changing the plan when the experience is live, because it can often bring new energy and potential to your idea.
One amazing brand experience can make a difference in awareness and perception for your brand —but if it’s all you do, you’ll be quickly forgotten. Consumers are always ready to move onto the next big thing. Remember, branding is a verb—while you pause and celebrate a successful campaign, don’t forget to quickly turn your energy to the next idea. A successful experience should be a catalyst for activity and brands should be always ready to connect with consumers in unconventional and meaningful ways.
Uniqlo is one of the masters of testing and releasing digital and experiential ideas in quick succession—what is learned on each execution informs the next effort. From Uniqclock to the Lucky Counter tweet-for-discounts, the retailer never takes a break from building its brand in unexpected ways.
Building brand experiences isn’t free of the typical marketing challenges. Having a clear objective, leveraging all assets, and keeping an eye toward innovation will all help ensure that your experiences reach their full potential. Most important, never lose site of your objective: to create substance, not just another stunt.