For any brand looking to find powerful ways to connect with users, physical brand experiences are becoming an ever-growing part of the marketing mix for one simple reason – physical brand experiences work. They drive awareness, encourage preference, and do the best job of turning each hands-on interaction into an opportunity to communicate value. This is especially true for millennials, who have enormous market influence and favor brick and mortar retail experiences to online ads they often ignore.
But not all experiences are created equal. We’ve all seen some of the poorly thought-out executions at concerts, stores and high-traffic areas. Creating a valuable brand experience is not just about building a few pop-ups or sponsoring an event. It’s about taking the steps to make experience central to any marketing plan. To deliver on the promise of experiential, there are several things every brand should consider.
Think platforms, not one-offs
While it’s getting better, experience marketing is still packed with lot of poorly conceived, unstrategic one-offs. Some brands aimlessly take leftover marketing budget and put it into a weekend activation somewhere and expect to see transformative results. That’s like buying a single Facebook ad for one weekend and expecting world domination.
We must move from one-off experiences to experience-led campaigns and platforms that can scale to multiple markets and audiences. This can be a very simple and iterative process, first testing an experience concept – either as a billboard, retail pop-up or other format – in one market. Then, if the test is successful, the concept can become a brand platform that can quickly be rolled out to audiences in multiple markets.
Red Bull was able to do this perfectly with its Sound Select program, which curated new music experiences in 18 cities around the world. As the campaign reached Portland, we collaborated to create experiences for a 3-day concert series that felt connected to the community and true to the Red Bull brand. Similarly, Converse’s Rubber Tracks program has been succeeding with this model for years, using its landmark music studio takeover experience to engage artists and communities from different cities around the world.
Let’s get “Phygital”
Today, impact alone is not enough – you also need scale. The way to add scale to each experience is integrating digital with physical. For companies with large user bases and an app-based product (like Lyft), leveraging that digital platform within physical experiences is a no-brainer that can be a significant way to drive scale around a brand experience.
“Branded content has increasingly become more than the content itself; it’s about building a 360° ecosystem around it with multiple consumer touch points. The goal has always been to help brands tell stories in ways that create meaningful connections with consumers, so if we’re able to combine online connections with real-world interactions and let fans physically experience them, that’s a huge win. “
Online content platform Tastemade is a perfect example of this approach in action. As a company, its mix of live events and social videos are even further activated by its app which can help turn food events into shareable content. In an interview, Head of Brand Strategy Andrew Saunders explains, “Branded content has increasingly become more than the content itself; it’s about building a 360° ecosystem around it with multiple consumer touch points. The goal has always been to help brands tell stories in ways that create meaningful connections with consumers, so if we’re able to combine online connections with real-world interactions and let fans physically experience them, that’s a huge win.”
But connecting the digital and physical can take many forms. Some retailers like Nike have opted to enable “online queues” in its app for pre-orders, while Apple lets consumers check physical store availability for its highly coveted AirPods. Others create activations where consumers that can’t be a part of physical experience can participate digitally through their computer or app.
Impactful experiential marketing, like all brand marketing, is about telling interesting stories. The only difference is that this form of storytelling occurs in an immersive physical environment. In the words of Story Founder Rachel Shechtman, retail is about “storytelling with product.”
But what does “interesting” really mean?
It could simply mean providing something “of interest” to the user and serving their needs. Whether that’s a brand like Vans building a skatepark, Spotify offering free cycling classes powered by its music, or Madewell offering crafts classes for free in its stores, creating value is vital to engaging consumers.
Another, more artful and emotional approach to “interesting” is providing audiences with entertainment, inspiration or even a moment of wild surprise and delight like we did for our Sprite Corner campaign. The pop-up was a Sprite-themed bodega and secret music venue that celebrated both NYC as the birthplace of hip-hop and Sprite as one of the first brands to embrace the musical genre in a way that was interesting and culturally relevant.
But perhaps no one does this better than fashion brands. They are the masters of interesting storytelling – almost always delivering high on culture, creativity and novelty. A perfect example of this was Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall 2018 runway show, which used drones instead of models for part of the show. It was certainly an impactful way to make a cultural point and drive not only awareness, but also conversation!
Interesting experiences add value and invite the consumers to participate in the brand. Brands that embrace experience as a shareable marketing opportunity will see the benefits reflected in their growth as mobile and social media usage continues to dominate. The research is clear: not only do experiences drive engagement and sales, but also social media sharing.
The way forward
Obviously, creating interesting, impactful and connected experiences doesn’t come easy. But as the saying goes: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” Both brands and creators must make it their goal to strive and make the world more interesting for audiences with everything they touch. And to create experiences that create not only impact but scale. Too often, brand experiences fail to meet that “interesting” bar, with brands settling for the status quo, resulting in activations that are “un-spirational”, self-serving and transactional. Approaches like that will hardly be successful in our cluttered, modern landscape.