December 10, 2015

Why Brand Experiences Matter

Think back to last weekend, and name three things you did. Where did you go? What did you eat or drink? What did you see? Who did you talk to?

Now name three ads you saw, and the brands that made them. If you can, it’s probably because you’re in the business. If you named three, ask your friends or someone in the accounting department and you’ll likely get the same response as most people: a blank stare.

Though most marketers share a common goal: build a relationship with the people you believe will love your brand or product(s) and hope they try it, buy it and advocate for it on your behalf.

Who would have thought the answer to doing that effectively would lie in biology? Well, it’s pretty simple when you break it down.

The human animal, as Simon Sinek notes, is like a machine with systems that are trying to direct us to do things that are in our best interest. And the most basic human desire is to feel like you belong, which creates emotions like happiness, pride, joy, love or fulfillment. These feelings are all chemically produced by endorphins, dopamine, serotonin or oxytocin and are the elemental things that drive motivation. If you haven’t read Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last or watched his TED Talk on the topic, you’re missing out.

People buy products because they think it makes them happy or helps them feel like they belong. It’s why logos are visible on the outside of products. As Sinek notes, “We want people to see the red line on our Prada glasses because it boosts our confidence and gives us a feeling of satisfaction.” Products make us happy as long as our brains need them to. Inevitably, the serotonin-induced rush of “new” fades because we compare what we have to what others have. The feelings of anticipation and excitement we carry about the product at the exact moment of purchase are no longer deemed as necessary by our frontal cortex. Imagine wearing a new pair of shoes for the first time to a party. Exciting, right? Now imagine, two years later, you discover a hole and a frayed lace in that same exact pair. Time for that new shoe feeling once again. We find a product’s limitation as time passes. This is why, according to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, “It’s why we can never buy or accumulate enough to be truly happy.” This is where the power of an experience can be put to great work by the power of a brand.

we are the sum of our total experiences - dr thomas gilovich

It makes us wonder why budgets are so skewed toward traditional advertising and digital marketing. According to Ben Jones, Creative Director at Google, “The brand is alive in my attention, or it is dead. A message is a dead thing. An inert service is dead. An unlovable product is dead. An experience is alive. None of us have time for dead things,” he explained in a Contagious interview.

The facts support Jones’ contention that a message is a dead thing. Consider this:

five thousand ads per day eleven percent noticed and three percent likeable

People are exposed to nearly 5,000 ads per day, only 11% are noticed and only 3% are considered likable. Seems like an expensive way to be ignored, forgotten, or worse—disliked. By contrast, a great brand experience has the opposite effect. Done well, a brand experience is cherished, committed to memory and most importantly, shared. 150,000 people annually attend Red Bull’s Crashed Ice event in St. Paul, Minnesota, yet over 20 million people read, share, like, comment and spread the word about it to their friends.

one hundred fifty thousand attend and twenty million read about red bull crashed ice

When only 10% of people today say they trust ads, and 70% say they trust recommendations from friends, it’s up to marketers to give them something to talk about. Let that sink in for a moment. In this example, the spectacle of Red Bull Crashed Ice demands to be shared because it delivers on the brand’s promise — to give wings to people and ideas. But it’s not just about scale. Smaller brand experiences have the same opportunity to be relevant, community-­‐enriching platforms for people to engage with your brand. They’re often more personal and 1:1, instantly moving into a more meaningful—and memorable—part of our biological foundation. The beauty of brand experience is that it builds from the same blueprint as traditional advertising (brand voice, tone, architecture, visual language), making the first steps outside of the traditional model feel familiar. Not to mention they’re proven to deliver on the same objectives with a more powerful impact. 

ten percent trust ads and seventy percent trust friends

As the drive to acquire for the sake of happiness fades, brands have a tremendous opportunity to enrich the lives of people with experiences that fill the biological desire to connect.

Brand experiences matter more than ever. Empowered by technology and transparency, people have proven they’re willing to engage and spend time with brands that meet them on their terms. The real question for marketers is: are you?

By: Bob Molhoek, Andi Dickson and Nick Rudie


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