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July 5, 2007

HUMAN TOUCH How to approach creating a brand experience

Most marketers today should be well aware of the growth of experiential marketing as a deeper method of engaging with a target audience and strengthening a brand through building a direct relationship with customers. However, recognising the potential of creating a brand experience is one thing, executing it effectively is another – and it requires careful planning and research to get it right.

Of course, with popularity comes bandwagon jumpers and criticism – read Justin Foxton of CommentUK’s diatribe against phoney experiences that appeared recently on EVENTS:review for a taster. So let’s make it perfectly clear, creating an effective brand experience is not just about giving your audience a good time.

It’s the steak not the sizzle
“Experiential marketing is about designing credible opportunities for powerful engagement moments between brands or companies and their consumers,” says Joss Davidge, marketing director of experiential agency BEcause. “Deep customer insights are crucial, and consumer focus groups and behavioural studies can often identify a nugget around which big creative ideas are built. The key is to ensure that any experience is firmly grounded in both a succinct understanding of the brand positioning, and the strategic objectives of the brand – otherwise you end up delivering a fairground attraction, not a brand-building experience.”

Mike Garnham, chief executive of MSF Field Marketing agrees, saying: “It is very easy to get side tracked by the creativity and theatre of brand experience. Live marketing is the art of identifying the qualities of a brand that will appeal to the target audience and highlighting them to best effect in the most relevant environment.
“Marketers used to say it’s the sizzle not the steak that is important, well it is not true anymore. Consumers want to know about value and benefit as well as presentation and image – look how much media coverage is devoted to food nutrition. Marketing is about selling brands not creating warm fuzzy feelings. It is, therefore, important to have planning and data skills on which to build communication. These two elements should always come first.”

Getting it right
In fact, there are a three key factors to take into account to make sure you’re getting it right.

First, understand your target audience. “And this should go beyond simply understanding how old they are and where they live,” says Cameron Day, new business development director at iris Experience. “You should be able to scrape below the surface and examine how they interact with brands, and what role a brand experience will play in their decision-making process. Just throwing an event isn’t good enough – you need to have a thorough understanding of how an experience should be executed for maximum ROI.”

Belinda Chambers, director of live marketing agency Closer, agrees adding: “You should ask yourself where can they be reached and what’s the right environment to engage with the particular brand message.”

Second, you need to get to know the brand and its main objectives, along with key performance indictors. “How many consumers are we trying to engage, what are we wanting them to do as a result, are we looking to increase awareness or trial, do we want to build a long term relationship with them? These are the questions that need to be addressed,” says Chambers. Meanwhile, Day adds: “Whether you are launching a new line, or looking to change consumer perception of a brand will have a massive impact on the brand experience you choose. Get a thorough understanding of where the brand has come from, how it appears to consumers and where it is aiming to go in the future.”

Finally, timing and integration are everything. “It’s vital that whatever experience you create complements and fits it with any existing brand marketing activity,” says Chambers. “A consistent message is key.”

A relevant solution

Once the factors above have been taken into consideration, you should be able to find the brand experience solution that will be most relevant to all requirements. “For example,” says Day, “a fine whisky brand targeted to 50+ affluent males would be ill-advised to run a brand experience at a young, trendy music festival. In fact, the brand could be seriously damaged through the irrelevant association. Conversely, starting with a phone handset brand looking to associate itself with music and young people, and conducting the same activity would be a far better fit.”

Next week, Ian Whiteling looks at some successful brand experience campaigns that fulfil these criteria.

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