Blog: Building 'real world' digital brand experiences

Andrew Stothert from Brand Vista discusses how brands can maximise the positive effect of a 'real world' brand experience in a way that's impossible to match with a purely digital approach.

There is a real truth in the value of putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, says Stothert
There is a real truth in the value of putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, says Stothert

The most powerful experiences are fundamentally based on a unique and differentiating brand at their core. In the world we live in, consumers see brands as total entities, not separate channel manifestations, therefore it is important that both 'real world' and digital experiences are aligned. 

What powerful ‘real world’ brand experiences offer a result that is impossible to simulate?

The mantra we chant is that the truth is always in the product. Powerful real world experiences are critical to connecting with customer’s feelings, but they don’t exist in a vacuum - they need to extend into the digital space. Experiences can’t transcend this barrier unless the brand truly understands its customers, what they feel, and what other choices they have.

There is only one Glastonbury, Epsom Derby, or Wimbledon. These brands have grown through reinventing themselves whilst staying true to their core brand. In these cases the brand is the experience, and the experience is the brand, but the product is the key to the uniquely differentiating position they own.

We have all seen and no doubt experienced the pop-up world of brand experiences, be they from Mini or Magnum, but often these seem like glorified sampling exercises. In contrast, Lidl’s pop-up restaurant and the ads that surrounded it brilliantly blended their customer journey. It challenged perceptions of quality and drove recruitment to stores. However, if the stores hadn’t delivered the promise, then the whole thing would have been an abject waste of money. Quite clearly it works; it takes only one look at their customer acquisition and financial outcomes to see this.

American Express Unstaged is another brilliant blend of customer insight totally aligned to the needs of the business. Its focus is about retention through adding value way beyond the transactional relationship with its customers. This is very difficult to replicate because it is based on how they make their customer feel.

The discipline of brand experience continues to develop and evolve as brands seek to connect on deeper and richer levels with their consumers, in order to drive loyalty, repeat purchase, recommendation and social media presence. Still, we must not miss the point that each experience sits in an environment where consumers see a whole brand and not just the individual flashes of brilliance.

The truly unique and protected brand experiences focus on the short term hit and the longer prize - how each and every interaction makes their consumers feel. Getting this right means interrupting them in ways that build on an overall feeling about their brand, not just a one-off moment.

How can you maximise the effect of experiential marketing in a way that is overlooked by ‘digital-first’ thinkers?  

Experience is king in today’s world of brand building. The challenge for most companies is not just how to create amazing one-off brand experiences and magic moments but how to deliver the basics brilliantly. We can create the most amazing digital-first experiences that then collapse because they are not aligned to the operational side of the business.

Bringing cross functional teams together to deliver and support the experiential marketing efforts of the brand can turn on-off interruptions into aligned brand building activity.

Having a clear picture of the overall customer journey into which the brand experiences are going to be placed is critical. It allows any activity to be part of the synergistic development of the brand, from the perspective of the customer.

There is a real truth in the value of putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. They don’t see the difference between the various departments within an organisation, nor do they care about them. They simply want an experience that is consistent and appealing wherever and whenever they collide with the brand and everything that sits behind it.

What consumers see is either a seamlessly aligned experience that aligns with everything they know about the brand, even sometimes challenges perceptions, or they see a disparate and dysfunctional series of tactical stunts that will eventually be outdone by someone else.

The upside is that getting this right creates a conversation with the customers they recognise and are excited by.

The key to brilliant brand event experiences is not just creating magic brand moments but also doing the basics brilliantly. If consumers judge brands by what they do, and not what they say, then you can have the best brand ‘wow’ moment in the world - but if the loos don’t work, all your hard work is undone.

Andrew Stothert is chief executive and a founding partner of Brand Vista.

More: American Express delivers US Open inspired tennis experience

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