Building lifelong fans: why experience design matters so much
Steve Pearce, managing director at LOVE, explains the importance of brand experiences and how they may be leveraged to convey trust.
How often are brands given the chance to get themselves, their product and their audience in the same space? Not that often, when you think of the traditional marketing mix of advertising, sponsorship, promotions and general brand building.
Real-world experiences, however, offer an opportunity to do just this. In today’s environment of financial challenge, they offer a particularly powerful tool. So why aren’t brands making more of them?
When times are economically uncertain, consumers want reassurance. They lack confidence and need to know they are spending their money wisely. For brands, this often means a back-to-basics approach in communications. Rather than experimenting with something irreverent, playful or culturally left field, they revert to talking about quality. Wines and whiskies, for example, return to a focus on taste and provenance, or FMCGs extol benefits and efficacy.
In their rush to reassure, brands tend to overlook the experiential. It is too often ignored by marketers, dismissed as mere activation or PR stunt. In fact, whether pop-up, installation or brand home, a brand experience is the perfect place to convey trust. Experiences are uniquely powerful in creating deeper connections, generating trial, conversion and relationships with people.
They can encourage loyalty and lifelong affinity. Through immersive and entertaining, or informative and soothing spaces, brands can show people exactly what makes them so special.
For example, when it comes to barriers to purchase, trial is among the top causes of friction. By offering something unique and memorable in person, by allowing person-to-person interaction, tactile access to product and brand world, an experiential space provides immediacy and reinforces a belief in what brands are offering.
Experiences can also provide immersive interactions that dial into humans’ nature to seek out real-world moments of enjoyment or relief – something people value more than ever. For example, Selfridges recently offered visitors Superself, in-store VR experience pods to boost relaxation, stress relief and escapism. These aren’t just PR pop-ups, but chime with the department store’s company-wide focus on mental wellbeing.
Other spaces build loyalty and recognition by giving something back to the community. Nike’s Pigalle Duperré basketball courts which revive neglected corners of Paris, or Fondation Louis Vuitton, a cultural space that strives to make art and culture accessible to all, convey the value and values of their brand by enabling cultural enrichment. They are spaces that represent the brands visually but also signal their genuine desire to change the community for the better.
The key to success when brands are showing up in this way is authenticity. An experiential approach to brand needs to be about living, breathing spaces that communicate what is the core of a brand, through multisensory brand expression as well as human interaction. In our work for James B Beam Distilling Co, we didn’t create a conveyor belt distillery visit, but a brand home that extends a warm welcome into the family business’ heritage and heart. It encourages dwell time – through moments of calm as well as awe and through offering a restaurant, VIP experiences and events to enhance the central distillery tour. It also creates a transparency that allows a glimpse of the inner workings of the brand. Such transparency is a crucial element to building authenticity (particularly effective for food and beverage brands).
This is how experiences reassure in an environment when trust is dwindling and why they are so important. It is time for marketers to consider them more seriously in their toolkit of long-term success.