How to Deliver a Great Brand Experience

Jan 05, 2021

Experiences are what create memories. When you call to mind a particularly notable moment from your past, the reason it’s so clear is because of the experience it created for you. A great experience is a powerful thing: it generates emotions and has a lasting impact on the experiencer. That means that experiences offer an incredible opportunity for brands to connect with customers, fueling loyalty and growth. But how can a brand create an experience, and what makes that experience great?

What Is a Brand Experience and Why Are They So Important?

Before we dive into the how-to of creating a brand experience, let’s first take a step back and clear up what we mean when we talk about a “brand experience.” Columbia Business School uses this definition:

Brand experience is conceptualized as sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioral responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand's design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.

Put more simply, a brand experience is an in-person, live interaction between a brand and consumers. It occurs IRL, using real materials, locations, people, and more to tap into the five senses and turn the intangible concept of “brand” into something very concrete and present. Brand experiences are participatory and hands-on, with consumers taking an active part in the experience.

Brands have long been using live experiences as a way to build meaningful relationships with people, but technological advances have allowed them to become more involved and varied in recent years. By pulling in digital storytelling tools, social media, smart devices, and more, brands have virtually endless possibilities for building an experience.

It’s useful that there are now more options for brand experiences than before, because brand experiences are also more important than ever before. Both millennials and Gen Z value experiences over material objects, which means brands must think about more than just product features when trying to reach these groups. Plus, experiences trigger strong, lasting emotions, which improve the likelihood that a consumer will become an active advocate for a brand. In fact, a global survey showed that 59% of people value brand experiences for creating ongoing relationships.

On a more nuts-and-bolts level, brand experiences allow companies to collect important data about the consumers who participate in the experience, which can then fuel better marketing efforts. Plus, participants are likely to post about the experience on social media, expanding the reach of the event to those who weren’t able to be there in-person.

Great Brand Experience Examples

The idea of a brand experience can feel a bit abstract without some concrete examples to spark inspiration. There are a ton of memorable brand experiences to choose from, but these are some of our favorites:

  • Netflix & Gilmore Girls: To promote the Netflix reboot of the cult-favorite TV show Gilmore Girls, Netflix transformed 200 coffee shops around the U.S. into the show’s famed eatery, “Luke’s Diner,” for one day. Fans of the show were thrilled — and because of their excitement, there were lines out the door at each location, which then drew buzz and social media attention. This was amplified by the fact that actors from the show popped up at several of the locations, bringing delight to the attendees and fueling even more fanfare. To say that the reboot was well-publicized would be a major understatement.
  • Volkswagen & Piano Stairs: In 2009, Volkswagen had a major marketing and publicity campaign around “Fun Theory,” or the idea that you can promote healthier, more productive behaviors by making everyday activities more fun. As part of this, they transformed a staircase in a Stockholm subway stop into a set of piano keys, with each step playing a different musical note when stepped upon. Not only did the fun, engaging experience cause 66% more people to take the stairs over the escalator, it also generated a lot of positive attention for the brand.
  • Guinness Class: For the “Guinness Class” campaign, hundreds of brand ambassadors visited bars and other venues where Guinness was sold, offering consumers a chance to win a prize if they bought a pint of Guinness. Once the participant had purchased a pint, they shook a mobile tablet to discover what prize they’d won, with one lucky participant per night winning a flight to Dublin on a private jet. The campaign was fun and exciting, and succeeded in elevating the brand cachet of Guinness by associating it with high-class activities like flying in a private jet.

There are countless other examples of great brand experiences, but the three above give a good sense of what’s possible.

Tips for Creating a Successful Brand Experience

So now you probably want to create your own brand experience that generates attention and leaves participants with positive, lasting impressions of your brand. Here’s how:

  • Know who you are and what you stand for: Make sure that your brand identity is rock solid, and that it comes through in your brand experience. Think about the way you want your brand to make people feel — Inspired? Playful? Energized? Motivated? — and as you design your brand experience, keep that end goal in mind.
  • Go where your people are: Before you decide where to locate your brand experience, look at the data you have on your consumers and target audience. What parts of the country and world are they located? What types of venues do they frequent? What do they like to do? Make it easy for them to come to your brand experience by locating it somewhere convenient for them.
  • Tap into digital tools: Just because a brand experience happens in-person doesn’t mean you can’t leverage digital technology. Multimedia experiences add a new level of engagement, and also open up the possibility of amplifying the event online and/or gathering data about participants. Digital tools can be used in countless different ways during brand experiences, from tablets positioned around the space to interactive videos to VR to selfie stations and beyond.
  • Be consistent: When brainstorming ideas for brand experiences, you might come up with some fun, exciting ideas that you have to abandon because they just don’t align with your brand identity. This can be hard, but it’s more important to maintain brand consistency than to run with an idea that’s not a great fit. If you create a brand experience that isn’t well-aligned with your current brand identity, it will leave people feeling confused about who you are, which will undermine the goal of the brand experience: to build meaningful and lasting relationships with people.
  • Come up with a branded hashtag: The in-person participants are the primary audience for your brand experience, but you should also make sure you have the ability to reach people who can’t be there physically. Having a branded hashtag for the event will help create social media attention and increase the reach of your brand experience far beyond its real-life attendance. You can further boost social media buzz by giving participants a reason to post about the event, such as a contest or giveaway.

Delivering a great brand experience takes more thought and effort than many other brand-related activities. However, when done right, the payoff is undeniable.

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