Some things just never change. While the digital revolution has reshaped how we do almost everything, there are always those activities that are so important to us that they simply cannot be replaced.
This was a lesson we learned back in the ’90s. Remember those days when every new technological development was breathlessly lauded with the phrase, “You will never _________ the same way again”? That proved to almost never be completely accurate. We believed at that time that online shopping would make real-world shopping obsolete. Now we’re seeing that brands, even exclusively digital brands that are promoted and sold only online, are finding it beneficial to have real-world, physical brand experiences.
Birchbox, Bonobos and others are using brand experiences as a way to connect with consumers in a more emotional, visceral way. The proliferation of pop-up stores is a perfect example of this realization.
A great example is the #WeighThis experience—Lean Cuisine created an opportunity for people to express how they want to be “weighed.” This approach takes a contrarian viewpoint of judging oneself by pounds and asks much deeper questions that go to the heart of the brand’s highest purpose.
Clearly, some brand decision-makers have seen the benefit of real-life brand experiences. What are those benefits? Why would brand experiences work, and how can they impact a brand?
There are five benefits to the the real-world brand experience as illustrated in the chart below.
Brand experiences connect with emerging consumers’ desire.
Any study you read about the emerging consumers, which includes both millennials and Generation Z, will tell you that a core characteristic is the desire for real-world experiences over possessions. They are downsizing, buying tiny houses and blogging about minimalism all to make room for life experiences.
If your brand’s target includes millennials and/or Generation Zs, then a brand experience should be considered as part of your brand planning.
Brand experiences generate social media assets.
One of the greatest challenges to marketers today is creating a constant flow of social media assets. Whether it’s videos, photos, clever posts or other content, a brand experience can enlist the consumer to create, post and engage with authentic brand-related content. A properly crafted brand experience extends far beyond the confines of one physical location.
Brand experiences honor the “showrooming” trend.
Often, consumers will do their research in the real world, then purchase products online. This has generated significant anxiety for retailers. But what if we embraced that behavior by taking control of the real world, not to set up selling opportunities, but to facilitate the process of product investigation, knowing the consumer will then pull out their phone to buy the product?
Brand experiences are naturally lean.
There is much talk about lean start-up techniques brought into large established businesses. (Eric Ries has a great book on the subject, The Lean Startup.) Large companies are instituting lean approaches to innovation and marketing, embracing real-time learning, pivoting and developing MVPs (minimal viable products).
By creating real-world experiences, brand leaders can quickly learn what works and what connects with their audience, then make adjustments. The experience becomes both consumer engagement and an insight opportunity.
Brand experiences support search engine optimization.
By generating content during a real-world brand experience and by having the consumer be a part of social media content creation, search engine rankings will be positively impacted. Since most product consideration begins online, the consumers’ journey is more likely to start with your product rather than your competitors’.
So how do you start?
Real-world brand experiences will not fit in all strategic plans, but they are here to stay. We ignore this opportunity at our own peril. They should not be overlooked as an option in the planning process. With a broad set of potentially positive impacts, a brand experience could ignite a product launch or promotion.
1) Write the story you’re trying to create.
The first step is to understand the behaviors you are trying to create. Are you trying to get your consumer to share their experience? Are you trying to generate buzz to get press? Are you testing a new product or message?
2) Look for the boundary, then live on it.
To gain the interest you are trying to generate, you have to have do something that lives on the edge. We’re not suggesting intentionally offending someone. What we are supporting is fully embracing the purpose for which your brand exists. For example, Fruit of the Loom created a pretentious pop-up lingerie store named Früt. They were making a point about absurdly high-priced undergarments while gaining attention of consumers that are usually not likely to engage with the brand.
3) Take a strong position.
What is your consumer trying to accomplish? Getting the answer to that question can open the door to creating a movement around your brand experience. Kotex opened a pop-up shop in New York City to address the stigma about women’s periods. The shop was called The Period Shop and offered comfort items like ice cream, chocolates and comfy clothing, as well as U by Kotex® products for sale.
4) Consider technology.
While we’re talking about real-world experiences, we can’t forget technology. It’s a part of our real world. When Birds Eye opened a pop-up restaurant in London, the visitors could pay by posting a picture of the food on Instagram. Is technology going to be part of experience itself, e.g., facial recognition, Internet of Things, virtual or augmented reality? Or is technology going to be part of the output through social media, video or creation of some other creative asset?
5) Don’t go it alone.
Having the right partner is the key decision that will lead to success. Your partner needs a good balance between strategy, creative and executional capabilities.