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Creating Brand Experiences: Think before you Engage

by Dan B.

How deep a role should a brand play in the lives of consumers? Marketers of all stripes certainly have their opinions, and ultimately the answer falls somewhere between “It depends” and “Probably pretty deep.” It’s folly to think, however, that brand immersion is a requirement for brand success. 

A brand’s primary role is to provide clear, immediate, and persuasive shorthand for the ultimate product or service it represents. It need not provide a mind-blowing social experience, a heap of utility outside the core offering, or an ethos consumers are compelled to kneel before. It certainly can do and be those things; a brand that fosters such relationships—friend, partner, oracle—is one heck of a brand. But in an environment where consumers are on to us, when they know when they are being sold to and are vindictive against botched attempts at courtship, sometimes the best course is to keep it simple, burnish the base, and go from there. 

Think about Zappos, one of the strongest brands around. Zappos takes a business position of creating retail Xanadu: They make the experience of shoe shopping better than it has ever been. Their brand is credible and powerful not because they have created ancillary engagement experiences, developed notable marketing campaigns, or fueled a cultural movement, but because they exude their promise at every retail touchpoint. The shopping experience is intuitive. The shipping is lightning-fast. The customer service impeccable. The Zappos brand experience is the Zappos shopping experience. Beyond that, they have Tony Hsieh’s (best-in-class) Twitter feed.

That’s it and that’s all. And it freaking works. 

That doesn’t mean brands can’t create relevancy and efficacy by constructing brand experiences. A little more than a year ago, Sun Chips offered its product in biodegradable bags. Unfortunately, the bags sounded like a herd of water buffalo when crinkled. Consumers complained, and Frito Lay discontinued the bags shortly thereafter. That was a missed opportunity. It was a perfect moment for considered, constructed brand experiences. Who said being green was easy? Who said it needs to quiet? Isn’t environmental activism the exact opposite of “quiet”? The brand could have taken an annoying-but-righteous product attribute (loud bags) and turned it into a marketing advantage by creating an unapologetic position (“Make Noise”) and communicating that position through brand experiences: a socially driven platform inviting consumers to speak out on environmental issues, product sampling events at political rallies, branded paper megaphones… the sky would have been the limit. 

When we think about creating brand experiences, it’s useful to start at the core: is there a position to rally around, and has that position been exhausted across the core commercial relationship? Only when the answers are “yes” and “hell yes” should we attempt to extend the brand into supplemental areas of consumer engagement. Brands can certainly benefit from strategically honest brand experiences, but such endeavors are by no means mandatory. Sometimes the business relationship delivers all the engagement a brand needs.

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