Much has been written and said about the importance of experience to perceptions of brand value, utility and loyalty; though there’s little unanimity on how to deliver it. I’ve asked smart people in the marketing world how to deliver “a perfect brand experience,” and I’ve discovered six interesting commonalities:
Demonstrate, don’t tell
The internet’s search and conversation functions mean that businesses can no longer tell consumers or customers what they’re supposed to know; facts must be demonstrated, not simply shared. This challenges many established notions of marketing creative and the structure of its delivery. Volvo’s truck video a few years ago is illustrative of the difference: It shot action star, Jean-Claude van Damme, as he did a split between two moving vehicles. There were no words or promises from the brand, simply the visual demonstration that Volvo trucks drove smoothly and in straight lines.
Encourage, don’t declare
One of the most common devices in marketing (especially advertising) is to feature ideal customers enjoying, or otherwise benefiting from, use of whatever product or service the business is hoping to sell. That’s why commercials are filled with happy families in restaurants or smirkingly satisfied drivers behind the driving wheels of sports sedans. The problem is that fast racking to these declarations of satisfaction is no longer convincing; consumers don’t only need to see use/performance demonstrated, but must also be allowed to come to their own conclusions. So when Subaru runs spots about its cars, it shows little story vignettes of its target customers, only leaves the conclusions about its brand unspoken or undeclared.
People, not brand
Your consumers don’t want to have a relationship with your brand, for two reasons: First, your brand doesn’t exist; it’s a creative invention of smart marketing and the ongoing narrative of your business performance. Second, people have relationships with other people, not things (they think and feel things about inert objects, of course, but calling those emotions “a relationship” stretches the definition of the word to the point of absurdity). So your brand experiences should showcase your people and their behaviors and principles vs. the imagined attributes you hope to attach to your brand. Social media is an important vehicle for this aspect of branded experience; just think of your last positive experience communicating with a business about a problem. It was a person who made the difference, not a brand.
Content, no mechanism
Sharing is an important quality of communicating since it often carries with it the value of referral and imprimatur of approval. But it has no inherent value, any more than the experiential qualities of entertainment. It was never enough to get people to “like” an ad or another artifact of marketing, in fact, ad great David Ogilvy once cautioned that the mark of a great and wasn’t that it was liked, but rather the product or service is presented. Yet today, much-branded content is conceived to prompt appreciation of the mechanism of its delivery, such as a fun online campaign or enjoyable video. “Elf Yourself” was an immensely popular viral phenomenon a few years ago (users could insert their own pictures as faces for dancing elves, and then send the video to friends). The problem was that nobody could remember the brand that sponsored it. Content matters more.
Quality, not quantity
One of the precepts of the practice called “content marketing” is that the ubiquity of mobile tech devices (and the amount of time people spend using them) demands that businesses invent and maintain a constant stream of communications. “Content” is a euphemism for “things created that warrant consumers’ attention, even if for only a passing moment.” Yet most every bit of research on the subject suggests that, just like consumers aren’t looking for relationships with brands, they’re also not interested in hearing from them all the time. Real experience supports this conclusion, as some of the world’s most successful brands, such as Amazon and Apple, don’t market much content whatsoever (there’s even evidence of an inverse relationship between the number of times businesses contact their consumers, and the relative value of those communications and overall brand experiences). A perfect brand experience is itself valuable, not the result of frequency or volume of delivery.
Anywhere, not everywhere
Finally, what might qualify as a wonderful (if not perfect) brand experience in one circumstance could be simply horrible in another. Consumers aren’t looking to find branded communications repurposed for every possible moment of place, or in time; rather, it is best experienced when and where it’s best related to the context and needs of specific circumstances.
The attributes of a perfect brand experience aren’t complex, but juggling them into a coherent and consistent strategy takes time and effort. It also requires that marketers reject some of the easy, more glib excuses they’re given to produce and distribute their materials. Ultimately, what’s “perfect” is in the hearts and minds of consumers, so understanding how, where, when and why they value experiences is far more important than trying to construct experiences intended for them to value.
How Can Marketers Deliver a Perfect Brand Experience?