When is a brand experience valuable?

The idea of a brand living in a universe has been gaining increasing traction since the dawn of the digital era. A consequence of this has been that the potential to create meaningless branded content has grown in parallel with the number of touchpoints available to host it.

An essential element of this total universe is, of course, the ubiquitous call for “brand experience”. As we move into the “experience economy”, this holy grail of brand execution is front and center.

And now, as the buzz of brand experiences becomes louder, so too does the need to deliver them – and it’s keeping many marketers awake at night. As brands earnestly strive to deliver against this mandate, far too often they’re creating “unique” experiences” that are nothing more than one-dimensional self-serving occurrences: just flashes in the pan.

This might be the symptom, but to diagnose the cause we must first ask what a brand experience actually is before we can identify what a great brand experience is.

This is no easy challenge. Most of us, after all, would agree that even a brand name constitutes a brand experience. Add to that a logo, a color scheme, an ad, and certainly a product – and you’ve already got a significant number of mouthpieces. The accepted word is that a brand experience is any way one thinks or feels when observing or interacting with any product or service of a brand. However, in today’s branded world, this meaning has been stretched and has taken on a very distinct meaning.

The term now most often refers to a visceral experience beyond the product or key brand assets. Usually, an event of some sort that “immerses” the consumer in an activity that the brand hopes will conjure up brand love.

A key watch-out is that as we operate in the experience economy, we need to pay attention to what these experiences should be – not just sponsorship, product sampling sessions, nor purely entertainment.

The danger is that brands create experiences for experience’s sake rather than in the service of a particular objective. Obviously, experience is extremely valuable when it is helping to deliver a clear strategy. So, we need to think about what takeaway we want people to have when they leave. That could range from: this is the lifestyle I want, or this brand understands me, or this brand genuinely cares about what it does. And many, many more.

In order to do that, we have to ask if it is in service to the brand or just in service to the event itself. And, whether any strategy is being fulfilled. We need to apply strategic rigor when evaluating the merits of the event. Is the effort useful for the brand? Is it worthy of the brand? Will it strengthen the brand? And, therefore, is it a good use of money?

Some brands have managed to do it well. You leave having learned something about the brand – from an intangible perception of what the brand stands for, to the tangible capabilities that make you think or feel a particular way.

Red Bull

Red Bull has engaged and wowed audiences for years with its no holds barred extreme sports activities – a branded range of experiences that are related credibly to its core product benefit.

Magnum Pleasure Store, with its engaging mass luxury take on pick-n-mix, has given the brand a new invigorating space to play in beyond the refrigerator. From the unexpected grand live spectacle of a Tesla floating in space to the humble, but cherished ritual of annual Holiday cups at Starbucks, an authentic, relevant, and memorable experience is worth a million ads.

Holiday cups at Starbucks

But a word of caution; nothing leaves a worse taste than a poor brand experience. People are more likely to share their bad brand experiences than good ones. And, share of wallet is much more difficult to grasp after a bad experience than before it.

Ultimately, in a world where experience is becoming more accessible and an everyday expectation, consumers’ demands are rising as are their levels of critique – it is harder to stand out and easier for consumers to reach a point of, what we might term, ‘experience fatigue’, where any brand that doesn’t get it right risks spending money and seeing a negative ROI. But get it right and you might just bring home the money, and the love.

This article was first published on brandinginasia.com.

Thomas Sutton is a Director at Landor, Indonesia