|Illustration: Kim Rosen|
|The more emotionally engaging your brand experience, the more unique, intangible value you grow.|
Emotional experiences are distinguishing leaders from ever more look-alike, seem-alike, feel-alike and do-alike brands. What is the difference between an Apple iPod and a Samsung Yepp if they functionally play the same amount of music with equal portability? The distinction is the emotionally inspiring elegance, hipness and simplicity iPod fans pay a premium to have.
Virtuous cycle of marketing engagement
Experiential marketers who unleash their brands' emotional appeal create a virtuous cycle of marketing engagement. Consumers return loyalty to brands that engage them in habit-forming, emotionally satisfying experiences. The top 20% of Starbucks' customer base averages 16 visits a month, fueled by a passion for coffee experiences. Howard Schultz is right to be concerned with ensuring their experience is unharmed by expansion.
While emotionally appealing brand experiences can open up new categories and create growth, they also can resurrect markets once surrendered to the history books. Cirque du Soleil is redefining a tired, declining entertainment category as a multimillion-dollar business noted for double-digit growth, high margins and loyal customers. It combines a unique collection of intangible experiences provoking excitement, wonder and countless repeat bookings at hundreds of dollars a ticket. Setting the Cirque experience apart from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is an elaborately transformed experience of theatrical, fashionable and sexy performance spectacles evoking an array of inspiring, unforgettable and inimitable emotions that uniquely engage the Cirque du Soleil customer.
Emotions play a significant part in even the most hard-nosed business decisions. A decision to list with New York Stock Exchange as opposed to the FTSE, the Hong Kong stock exchange or the Frankfurt stock exchange is never based purely on cost. The Big Board engages emotions associated with prestige, power, respect and credibility, carefully orchestrated to echo through all possible controllable experiences of the brand.
And, of course, emotionally engaged consumers can build incredible value. News Corp. paid hundreds of millions of dollars for MySpace.com, which is anchored by user enjoyment of the social experience. By aggregating strangers into communities of mutual yet diverse interests, MySpace leverages its emotional pulling power into a fantastic marketing aperture.
Retired baby boomers are spending big sums fondly relating back to icons of their youth. A Chevy Camaro that cost a few thousand dollars in the 1970s now fetches hundreds of thousands. Dodge, Ford and GM are all rereleasing their most memorable muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, and there is still plenty of opportunity for marketers to tap into these emotions and repeat the success of Harley Davidson or Ford's Mustang.
Brands are a bundle of experiences. The more emotionally engaging your brand experience, the more unique, intangible value you grow.
Advertising agencies that embrace this model and position themselves to serve it will prosper.
But they need to start adapting now. They need to upend many conventional assumptions in running their client engagements and businesses. They might begin by expanding the use of marketing sciences to construct the business case for creativity. Pressure on accountability, streams of behavioral data and powerful analytic techniques are combining to bridge gaps between theory and marketplace facts. At the bleeding edge is biometrics and neural sciences, translating previously hidden consumer experiences into remarkable insights for managing brand experiences. Leaders will thus combine the power of accountability with more insightful and relevant creativity or, in other words, construct the business case for creativity.
Increasingly, science also tells us that emotion, not rational thought, is the gatekeeper to consumer behavior, rendering the most emotionally engaging experiences the most effective communications and compelling us to override that knee-jerk attraction toward feature-driven, all-too-rational communications.
At the same time, we must remember that the sum of all experiences is the most powerful communication. It is virtually impossible to persuade customers using one dominant medium. Rather, they are engaged through multidimensional, emotionally rewarding, co-created experiences in increasingly varied combinations of old, new and emerging channels. And every one of them should be considered for their consistency with the brand strategy.
As everything communicates, ad agencies must assume responsibility for planning every element in the customers' experience of the client brand as consumers move from brand discovery to point of purchase. This means assembling the collaborative talent it takes to build content for channels in the right contexts with whatever marketing-services specialist it takes. Experiential creativity demands new talents and another type of teamwork altogether.
Today's agency should look more like a hub of creative talents from various sectors of the arts and other cultural influencers. At DDB, for example, we call it the Creative Co-Op-an on-demand team, structured to bring clients the brand experiences they need to grow their brands and business.
And above all, avoid arguments about the need for specialists or generalists. There is a need for each, given that creative brand experiences springing from multiple disciplines demand constant coordination. The most important talent therefore becomes collaborative.
Finally, stop regarding P&L statements as collaborative inhibitors. Instead, focus on adapting and evolving talent to deliver creative brand experiences to solve client needs. This is not about accounting. It is all about the people.
Emotions unleash unique intangible value in brands when experienced by consumers in ways that reinforce their engagement and participation with the brand. Marketers and agencies who commit resources and imagination to this way of thinking about and managing their brands will find growth once thought impossible.
Go see Cirque du Soleil and you'll see what I mean.