If you look at Forbes' list of the world’s top 20 brands, only one is FMCG (Coca-Cola), whereas 12 are brands with physical retail spaces that are able to provide ‘real’ customer experiences.
Now I wouldn’t suggest that this customer experience potential is the sole reason for this imbalance, but it’s an interesting observation. Is a ‘real world’ customer experience useful in building a powerful brand? Surely the answer must be yes, as it allows the development of a closer relationship and greater potential to create individual characteristics that will resonate with consumers.
This insight presents a challenge to FMCG brands. How can they too develop customer experiences? We can look to Red Bull to give us a clue.
Red Bull understood that to build customer experiences, it had to develop products and services that people could buy into, which it controlled. It didn’t control the sales process of the vast majority of its drinks, but it does control the sales process of its bars at festivals, of its events, and of its media outlets.
How it's done
By expanding the remit of its brand into non-FMCG spaces, Red Bull has created ‘advertising’ that works extremely hard, since as well as propagating its core "gives you wings" message, it produced customer experience flows. Indeed, you could even argue that through clever in-bar merchandising, and the subtle propagation of concepts such as the Jägerbomb, Red Bull developed customer experiences by proxy – making ordering its drink in an independent venue a slightly different experience than ordering another.
The result is that people now have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to ‘deal with’ Red Bull as a brand (just as they do with Starbucks, Apple, Ikea, and so on), whereas they have effectively no idea about this for the vast majority of other brands on a supermarket shelf.
There are plenty of different ways to achieve this effect for your brand. You could have people buy your product through a channel you control (like Red Bull’s festival bars). You could develop a subsidiary service related to your product, or indeed you could get them to buy an entirely separate product or service you’ve dreamed up that’s simply related to your marketing goals (such as an event).
All of these things have the trappings of business expansion, but can in fact just be acts of marketing disguised as such. One way or another, you just need to give people the opportunity to act as customers, rather than an audience, and your marketing will take on a whole new dimension.
And perhaps this will be the spark FMCG brands need to become truly great and make a bigger impact on the Forbes list.
Alex Smith is planning director at real world marketing agency Sense.
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