The future of branded experience – balance, fidelity and purpose

Brands are shifting their focus to experiences, it’s no secret. But what’s the right mix? What kinds of experiences are audiences responding to? Are branded experiences really worth all the trouble? Here’s Mark Bennedick with the whole story.

Mark Bennedick 150 BWBrands today continue to undergo rapid transformation. Businesses are increasingly competing on their ability to deliver a superior customer experience across all touch points and the brands doing this most successfully are the ones winning in this new paradigm. 

The voice of the customer is now more trusted and powerful than a marketing message. Technology has rapidly transformed the relationship between people and brands, in particular social media having the ability to amplify customers’ opinions of a brand exponentially… for better or worse. 

As a result, live brand experiences are proving to be a new key battleground enabling companies to create and convert an emotional connection into real paying customers. These thoughtfully curated moments deliver brand love and loyalty like no other marketing channel can. Despite the ubiquity of technology within our lives, the desire for human connection is ongoing and innate. 

Getting the balance right

Many clients and CMOs I speak to face a complex and challenging task of delivering the right combination of brand building versus revenue generating or customer-acquisition-based shorter term activity. The onset of the digital era provided marketers with almost a Holy Grail of measurement as the trackable data native to online campaigns helped directly justify budget spend. Digital continues today to evolve, grow and maintain a highly relevant and critical component within the CMO arsenal. 

Some interesting new research suggests that there is an important balance to be struck between short term and long term marketing activity across both B2B and B2C marketing. 

The research out of the UK by Les Binet and Mark Ritson released in May 2019 suggests the ideal balance to be 60% of spend towards long-term brand building and 40% towards short-term activation. The results challenge conventional thinking around B2B and B2C marketing. 

Broadly speaking, B2B customers are currently considered to be more rationally-driven buyers focused on price and product features and benefits. B2C customers are thought to be more influenced by emotional drivers. What this new research tells us is emotional drivers behind sales purchases are just as significant for both B2B and B2C customers.

One example of utilising emotions to create connection within a B2B event is YouTube Festival. For the past four years Sense has worked with YouTube to bring this event to life – it’s when we tell the marketing industry about the value of the platform, and why nearly 15 million Australians love it so much. 

Through a range of live experiences and performances, we’re able to bring YouTube’s digital brand to life in the physical realm, create a memorable moment guests won’t forget and then amplify that experience through content and social media. 

Previously featuring an exclusive performance by none other than Elton John (in 2017), this year saw a range of amazing performances from incredible national and international acts. This not only provided the audience with a unique VIP performance but also drove significant social media amplification helping to quantify the value of the experience. 

A new approach

It’s an exciting time to be working in this space as more and more businesses are beginning to adopt the power of experience-based marketing and the difference it can make in connecting with customers.

Mastercard has recently moved its marketing very heavily towards experiences. The company runs more than 800 experiences each year from priority pre-sale concert tickets to its Priceless Tables concept that transported visitors in New York to three iconic restaurants in Tanzania, England and Japan. 

The reason? According to Mastercard’s global CMO, Raja Rajamannar, “People don’t like ads.”

They realised that people are increasingly willing to pay for ad-free environments (like Netflix) making them inaccessible to traditional advertising. In order to tap into consumers’ passion points the company has moved a large amount of its marketing budget from traditional advertising into experience. 

One of the core parts of Sense’s vision is to mine the frontiers of creativity and technology to curate experiences that enrich people’s lives. Like Mastercard, I believe the future lies in experience-driven marketing where the combination of creativity and technology is at the heart of every event, brand experience, retail or employee experience we create. Creativity delivers the emotional hook to our audiences, while technology helps us to inform, engage or amplify the message for a quantifiable return on investment. 

For people to care about your brand, it must create a meaningful connection. It must demonstrate that there is a real benefit to them that actually enriches their lives, no matter how big or small. Without being able to very quickly and simply demonstrate this benefit, it is unlikely that any message will truly make an impact on the psyche of your audience. 

As experience-driven marketing continues to gain prominence, it will become more central to integrated campaigns rather than being the ‘add-on’ piece not typically considered up front. The brand experience concept will, more often than ever before, help if not lead the creative direction of campaigns from the inside out. 

Emotion connects

A well-crafted experience has the ability to connect directly to the heart. As Ritson and Binet’s new research shows, brand building is primarily emotional where as shorter term activation appeals to reason across both B2B and B2C audiences. 

As a company, whether we’re working across large-scale live events, brand experience, employee engagement, retail or more permanent space design, Sense’s overarching approach never wavers – always remain focused on the audience we’re speaking to while balancing the emotional and the rational messages. It’s a proven formula that has enabled many of our clients to achieve success. 

One of my favourite campaigns from the year past was our work for Google Home Mini Pie ShopWe educated families about the power of voice technology in the home and leveraged Google’s strong partnership with the AFL by building a pop-up Pie Shop at the MCG. 

By ‘emotionally’ connecting the product to one of Australia’s most loved games (and foods!), we were able to demonstrate the ‘rational’ benefits of the product in an entertaining way. The experience drove extremely strong lift in consideration and purchase intent by consumers with more than fans taking part and more than 1500 Google Home Minis taken home. 

Keep it real

Genuine authenticity appropriate to the context in which it’s delivered is another important way to connect with audiences. 

Be real. Be authentic. Make it personal.

In today’s world people have limited time and the time they do have available for brands is even smaller. In fact, the ‘Meaningful Brands’ study noted that people wouldn’t care if 65% of brands disappeared. The study also revealed that more than 77% of people want to associate themselves with brands that don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. 

So, how do you become part of the 35%? 

People want an authentic brand narrative that is consistently clear ‘online’, then experienced ‘offline’ in the physical world. The modern audience has much more sophisticated sensibilities than those past.

By ensuring the message brands are delivering not only matches their brand narrative, but is also authentic within the context it is being delivered, brands increase the potential to elicit a positive response, build trust, create a connection and deliver a shareable experience. 

A recent move by Facebook saw it create five Facebook Cafe pop-ups in the UK. The cafes gave Facebook users advice on how to personalise their privacy settings. By utilising the power of live brand experience Facebook will be looking to educate audiences about its product while building trust in the wake of a number of data privacy breaches. 

Facebook understands that in an increasingly digital world, human interactions are more important than ever. 

Brand purpose

Brand purpose is a natural fit when it comes to experience-driven marketing. Content and brand experiences built around brand purpose have been shown to strengthen relationships with customers as they seek to align themselves with businesses who share the same values as themselves. 

Research led by Saïd Business School in collaboration with EY shows brand purpose has a range of benefits such as an increase in customer loyalty, boosts in employee engagement and accelerated sales. 

Shared values create shared meaning, and with meaning comes connection. However the precursor to this is authenticity. Consumers today are very aware of when they’re being marketed at, and it is critical that brands align themselves with relevant causes that make absolute sense to who they are as a brand. Get this wrong and you’re probably doing more harm than good. 

One brand that is getting it right is Volvo. Volvo is an active supporter of the UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign and a founding member of the UN Global Compact. Volvo’s reputation for sustainability is respected across the globe because it invests in what it believes in. This can be seen in one of its more recent initiatives, the Living Seawall

Volvo has also recently implemented blockchain technology to ethically track the supply of cobalt in its electric vehicle batteries to ensure a supply chain that is not only secure but also free of human exploitation. The right brand purpose combined with new, cutting edge technologies like blockchain is giving the industry more opportunity to successfully combine values, operational efficiency and sustainability. 

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As we strive toward a better future, humans will continue to search for meaning. Meaning gives us definition to our life and its path. We’re choosing to connect with those that are dependable and worthy of our trust, and we have the power of digital to help us do so. We seek transparency, consistency and a personal experience. Ultimately, human beings want authenticity and are willing to align themselves with brands that provide experiences that match these desires. 

Can your brand deliver?

Mark Bennedick is cofounder and director of Sense Group

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Image credit:Elena de Soto