While brands used to be defined by a simple mark, a specific product, or an engaging advertising campaign, the proliferation of digital technology has enabled consumers all over the world to connect with their favorite brands in real-time, across multiple platforms, in new and ever-evolving ways.
For our clients, understanding how these consumer-brand connections may affect their future is what keeps them up at night, and it’s our job to help. Here are just some of the ways that brands are shifting the landscape of consumer experiences, as well as some opportunity areas for brands that are still looking to grow their experiential muscle.
While holding out on a digital strategy and selectively choosing your social channels may have worked for a while, consumers now expect their favorite brands to have a presence online. It’s also worth considering that much of your competition may be (or is soon-to-be) online in the form of direct to consumer goods. As a result, make sure to include digital in your design strategy, not just as a simple sales channel, but to develop unique online brand experiences and build more personalized relationships.
Purina Beyond E-commerce
While Purina Beyond had historically been a brand bought in person, in a physical store, when the company saw an uptick in e-commerce orders, they decided to adjust their design strategy to match. While most e-commerce packages come in a plain brown box, Purina created a unique product, package and unboxing experience specifically for their e-commerce shoppers, including some specifically formulated small batch products that are unique to this channel. The resulting design ensures that consumers receive an unexpected and delightful Purina experience on their doorstep every time they buy their favorite pet-food online.
On the flip-side, Away is a direct to consumer luggage company that makes one thing: luggage. While they do this well, being online only could also mean missing interaction time with consumers. To help solve this, Away connects with consumers in unique ways - they launched an add-on that offers buyers personalized monograms on their luggage, hand-painted by NY artists (personal touch, anyone?). Special pop-ups such as their recent partnership to launch a pop-up hotel at the Amastan in Paris for fashion week allows shoppers to experience the brand in its intended environment.
Because consumers are increasingly looking for brands that feel human, that means that brands need to tone down their transactional nature significantly in order to gain trust. In fact, sometimes one of the strongest ways to raise awareness for your brand and create value for your consumer is not to sell a thing.
An oldie but a goodie. Back in 2015, as trends were leading away from weight loss and focusing more on strength, nutrition and health, Lean Cuisine pivoted from a diet company to a modern health food brand. To help elevate this messaging, they launched a social campaign called #weighthis, showing women near a scale. Instead of asking them to weigh their bodies, women were asked how else they’d like to be weighed - in their personal accomplishments, acts of kindness etc. No food was served alongside this campaign, and yet it helped catapult Lean Cuisine back into the CPG running, this time as a health food brand.
To mark its new 90 series range of cars, Volvo create a series of videos called “Human Made Stories.” They featured tenacious people, determined to solve challenges to problems in new ways. The films are beautiful, personal and have nothing to do with cars. A Volvo may appear in a frame or two of each, but the content is immersive and inspirational. The goal was to align their brand with the values of their target consumer to strengthen or create a compelling emotional bond.
Possibly one of the hardest parts of experiential branding these days is that brands are blurring the lines between their product, their personality and their consumer. Brands are living, breathing entities and the best ones behave like individuals too; passionate, relatable, and often unpredictable. The strongest brand experiences this year all took some pretty significant liberties, stretching the boundaries of their offering to make experiences feel unique, desirable and differentiated. Word to the wise however, if you stretch anything too far, it will break, so make sure that you always keep your core consumer in mind.
Nordstrom has just announced that they will be rolling out a series of experiential stores that won’t actually stock merchandise. Instead, consumers will be encouraged to interface with personal shoppers who can help them curate clothes from other stores or online and try out services and experiences that traditionally live at the periphery of
consumers shopping habits, like manicures, tailoring and even food and beverage.
While Ford is technically a car company, it’s no longer acting like one. Instead, Ford’s new CEO says that the future of Ford is mobility, which is more about moving people around then about vehicles. Next on Ford’s list of mobility challenges to tackle? Parking, public transport and bikes. This shift in business focus suggests that Ford, any companies like it may strongly influence not just what we buy in the future, but how we live.
Ultimately, we’re just beginning to tap into the potential for brands to design for consumer connection. And while many retailers and brands are struggling to keep up, others are using the shift as a catalyst to prioritize the needs of their shoppers. For example, when WholeFoods and Amazon joined arms, it changed the game for both companies and set a whole industry on edge. And while we don’t know exactly what that future looks like for either business, what we do know is that merger was a result of both companies being willing to take a business model risk in order to prioritize the needs of their consumers, and that’s worth paying attention to.
If there’s anything we tell our clients as they’re defining their own digital and experiential strategies, it’s that taking risks in the interest of your consumers is vital to staying ahead of the curve. And as long as you keep the 3 principles above in mind, those risks very often pay off in the form of brand loyalty.
Authored by CBA North America Managing Partner - Elainne Roberton
Image via Away.com
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