Think of society as an opera house; the audience at one end and the orchestra at the other and the maestro in between conducting the musicians to play in perfect harmony. The effect on the audience is usually profound – a sensory experience that every individual connects with. Now replace the different roles of the orchestra with channels of communication, the maestro with people in advertising and the music with brilliant ideas for brand building. The result: an immersive brand experience.
Today, advertising agencies have evolved and often call themselves brand experience agencies. One of the reasons why this has come about is because audiences are evolving; we are no longer dealing with people inclined to believe a message just because they see it on TV, rather with smart consumers who prefer to get to know brands before they will consider them.
Brand Experiences Don’t Communicate; They Connect
Brand experiences are about developing sensory experiences that entice people into a lasting and meaningful relationship with a brand. Initially, the term brand experience was used to refer to experiential marketing limited to on-ground activation or events, today the term entails much more – for example this communication by BBC Media Action about the refugee crisis:
When we develop integrated advertising campaigns, we think of all the channels that will bring our big idea to life while communicating the core message. However, with digital platforms and their greater possibilities, there is more to advertising than communicating simple messages – it is about making those messages mean something to people through immersive activities, whether on-ground, digital or by taking an integrated approach. It is about ideas that don’t just say, but rather do something for audiences. Conventional creative messaging and placement have become old-school, and to win consumer attention and trust one has to do more for them. Rather than develop advertising campaigns with a beginning, a middle and an end to reinforce a message, marketers must think about advertising as a rewarding and sustainable presence in consumers’ lives. Burger King build their consumer experiences by engaging them in the communication process – such as their Burn that Ad campaign, where they asked people to virtually burn McDonald's ads in exchange for a free Whopper.
Developing Brands at the Speed of Culture
Brands connect better with audiences by leveraging the power of culture through valuable and actionable insights while offering them opportunities to not only listen, but express themselves and achieve a sense of belonging with the brand. An effective way to integrate the brand into the lives of consumers is by building human experiences within four different spheres and integrating them in the execution.
Public Sphere: This is when advertising is presented to people when they are moving from one point or activity to another and are ready for new inputs, such as viewing relevant ads on a website within the context of the information they are looking for.
Social Sphere: This sphere allows people to build new connections or strengthen existing ones. People have an inherent urge to connect with others and brands can leverage this by building experiences that help fulfil social desires, thereby facilitating interaction in innovative ways.
Tribal Sphere: People like connecting with people who think alike. Brands that share a specific belief or lifestyle tend to connect better with specific groups of people (their target audience). This is most associated with cult brand building.
Psychological Sphere: Brands in this sphere tend to use language, cognition, emotion and other psychological cues to engage consumers. Almost all advertising operates here in one way or the other, with the common objective of inspiring action or triggering positive feelings.
Nike, for example, use all four spheres through an integrated approach in order to enable people to connect with the brand at a deeper level, resulting in a cult following. The fact that the brand shows true purpose, coupled with their product offering makes them attractive to people. From developing a platform for runners to connect, to standing up for what is right and urging people to do the same, we can learn how Nike have built their brand experience, rather than by simply advertising. Red Bull is another example. They not only rose to prominence by sponsoring alternative athletes and lifestyles, they went further by creating their own events and created a niche in the energy drinks category.
Experiences are the New Advertising
Building experiences is the new way to engage consumers; by creating shared value and offering them the opportunity to connect with the brand by joining in activities that trigger their emotions and help them build meaningful relationships. Whether it is in an opera house or on a website, people need to feel the same sensory experience from brands they would when a maestro waves his baton.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.