Creating brand experiences has become the mantra of marketers. Everybody wants to deliver experiences to stay relevant and build strong relationships with customers. Technology has provided us with incredible tools to communicate, measure engagement and create seamless transitions between the online and the offline worlds. It has also created more complex dynamics and made it more difficult for brands to grab the customer’s attention and to conquer their hearts. But as we aim to create strong brand experiences to find growth, we should look not at the tools but at opportunities in new risky territories. This is why knowing where the limits of your brand are is key to stretch the brand and go beyond.
Let me explain.
We know that brand experiences help form bonds with consumers; in a multi-platform world, engagement, preference or loyalty becomes the result of many cumulative moments between the brand and the customer. But what really creates great brand experiences is not only the use of a new medium or technology tactic, but instead the commitment of a brand to a purpose that is rooted right at its core and how it connects with the audience.
It’s a great time to be a marketer. Creative expression, authenticity and human connections are more highly valued by consumers than ever, meaning that brand guidelines are no longer the bible for creating successful marketing, nor is repetition the same as consistency. Today there are creative ways to grow your business that won’t require a 5 million dollar check for a 30 second ad at the Super Bowl (the estimated cost for a spot in 2017). And what’s best, your brand is no longer exclusively limited to your point of sale or even your core service or product. Warby Parker, Chobani, Nescafé and Patagonia are great examples of brands that have created new proposals spanning multiple platforms without losing sight of their values, but most importantly, creating new sources of revenue and unique relationships with their consumers.
Unfortunately, opportunity and success are not necessarily partners. While there are fewer rules for brands and marketers, we do know that the game has become more challenging. Setting a strategy that is flexible enough to propose new concepts and consistent enough to be understood by the audience and scale is no easy task. It requires a deep understanding of your business issues and context, defining an authentic and overarching brand purpose and knowing your customer better than anyone else.
Warby Parker, Chobani and Maille (to name a few) have had great success with the extension of their brand boundaries. These brands have learned to leverage on physical location to materialize their online world or they created an exclusive point of sale to emerge from the crowded supermarket aisles. Warby Parker, with the same idea of great design at “revolutionary prices” for everyone, created functional and aesthetic boutiques by stretching those values. Chobani’s café in Soho extended its brand purpose “better food for more people” by creating a space where people could enjoy healthy and delicious food and where the hero is always Chobani’s yogurt. This not only allowed the brand to be associated with good and tasty food but helped the brand to be paired with savory dishes, expand beyond breakfast to capture different moments of the day. Maille in the same way, transformed its relationships with consumers from the supermarket back to its origins in the kitchen castle. The French historical brand is the unique mustard brand that stands not only for the ingredient but for historical craftsmanship, excellence, and culinarily. No wonder why the consumer is eager to pay its premium price.
Another great example is Nescafé’s “community store” concept. Research and consumer insights show that its brand followers, mainly millennials in Asia, were yearning for a space where they could connect and express their creativity through technology, events, and social interaction. The master brand opened a 2500 square feet space in Harajuku, Japan that goes beyond a regular coffee shop. It proposed specific brand rituals for delivering the unique experience that customers were craving. A multi-purpose space was created where events could take place. A media wall was installed to give the visitors a voice and baristas were placed at the center of the space to showcase new recipes and new ways to drink Nescafé. With this strategic move, and the development of flexible formats to implement around the world, Nescafé created new sources of income outside of the supermarket. Also as a result, the brand is being considered as young creative beverage that people can enjoy in many different ways and moments. Today, Nescafé is competing more with soda and energy drinks, not just coffee.
The furniture manufacturer, West Elm, is also stepping beyond their brand boundaries. They plan to create by 2018 a chain of hotels as a complementary strategy to sustain growth and recruit new customers. Also with the intention to deliver a richer brand experience than the one on physical and online stores by allowing the customer to be totally immersed in what West Elm represents. The challenge for the company will be to extend the brand into a more complex ecosystem, control new touch points, and develop unique rituals that could differentiate the experience from other design sensible hotel competitors.
Another surprise is Patagonia’s incursion from the outdoors active wear into the food aisles. Patagonia has launched in August last year Patagonia Provisions with different ranges of sustainable products such as breakfast cereals, snacks, soups, and beers that you can take with you for a hike or eat at comfortably wherever you are. The 42-year-old eco-friendly and socially-responsible brand has proved that a well-defined brand purpose and its consistency through time can open new possibilities for innovation. What Patagonia is doing is essentially fulfilling their promise of creating great products that won’t harm the environment. If you focus on the core essence of why and how you do things, what you do can evolve. If you’re truth to your purpose, the boundaries can change and your customers will follow.
It is an exciting moment to be a marketer but nobody said that the battle to gain the customer’s heart was easy. It demands vision, passion and creativity; leadership to recruit the best team players across and outside the organization; determination and candor to face the odds, persist or pivot. It requires a strong commitment and an outstanding execution. Let’s not forget that a brand is a result of a journey of integrated messages in people’s mind. Opportunity comes from breaking the rules but only as long as they are rooted in genuine values. Creating unique, strong and compelling brand experiences depend on the limits of your brand purpose, so let’s start by defining it.
Authored by CBA Business Director, Esme González
Image courtesy of Patagonia Provisions