Want to Innovate? Then Create a Rich, Holistic Brand Experience

Here's How CMOs Can Capitalize on This Emerging Opportunity

By Published on .

Laurence Knight
Laurence Knight
Brand experience is rapidly becoming the new frontier for innovation.

Such brand experiences authentically embed the product into deep content or services, stretching the footprint of the brand far beyond where it is used. This type of innovation is becoming a mandate for growth across a number of consumer categories, particularly in package goods.

Not to be confused with the lifestyle marketing approach of Patagonia, North Face, Disney and the like, experience-led innovation is all about serving up rich, differentiated experiences that encourage consumer involvement and collaboration.

As CMOs look to capitalize on this emerging opportunity, they must take several prerequisite steps.

First, CMOs must rally their organizations to create a clear vision for consumer involvement. Brand development, customer service and breakthrough innovation groups should be integrated and aligned around visionary, experience-based insights that drive the involvement.

Identifying these insights unlocks product benefits and services. Gone are the days when marketing and innovation groups can focus on new product benefits to drive growth and when the innovation group fills the funnel before passing on the responsibility for managing the brand development vision to brand managers.

Insight-led research must be broadened beyond usage to examine how a brand can resonate across core consumer experience states, looking at: 1.) "How does a brand educate me?" 2.) "How does it entertain me?" 3.) "On what can it advise me?" 4.) "Is the brand an expression of me?" 5.) "Does the experience connect me to similar consumers?" 6.) "Does the brand give me a sense of purpose?"

As a team, this integrated organization needs to work seamlessly to translate the experience-based insights into an authentic, holistic experience rather than come up with only emotional and functional product benefits.

A brand that has figured this out is Nestlé's Nespresso, which goes way beyond selling packaged coffee on shelves to offer a holistic experience delivering coffee, machines and services. The brand educates, entertains and involves the fan base in the full experience of how the coffee is grown, selected and roasted. This brand understands the insights behind its experience so deeply that it can present the entertaining style of actor George Clooney alongside the educational voice of its supply-chain manager on YouTube and knows to come up with different innovative designs to appeal to the distinct preferences in different countries.

Second, as brand and innovation teams create new experience states, it's critical to define how a brand philosophy serves the fan base. To do so, it's essential to flip one's thinking, embedding the brand in experiences created rather than taking the traditional benefit-driven approach that consumer package goods have followed. For marketers it's no longer good enough to just capture and manage the brand equity as a static snapshot of benefits, essence, reason-to-believe and key differentiator.

For instance, Unilever's Axe young men's grooming brand differentiates itself by creating authentic, consistent experiences built around a "mating game" platform. Unilever involves consumers using traditional media but also draws them into whole experiences, everything from renaming a popular nightclub in New York's Hamptons to the Axe Lounge and saturating it with Axe branding to creating a female Axe Patrol that visits bars and clubs, frisking guys and applying body spray. This platform is clearly linked to the Axe brand, and no other brand could replicate these experiences and still seem authentic.

Third, with the shift toward identifying rich experience states rather than product usage, teams must experiment with new formats for describing concepts that depart from the standard 100-word limit. Now working directly with rich-media production companies, the pioneering marketers in this area are creating deep content from five to 30 minutes that is more entertaining, educational and solution-oriented. Embedded in the rich experience are 15- to 30-second sound bites that can be used in more than just traditional media activation.

Natural beauty brand Bare Escentuals embeds the simple "swirl, tap, buff" foundation-application ritual into every brand experience, both in media and at retail. This not only educates the consumer, but the ritual becomes the essence of the brand reinforced across all experience points and creates a product connection simply through the experience itself.

A key element of Bare Escentuals' marketing is QVC programming featuring CEO Leslie Blodgett, a format that demands demonstrable, experience-driven storytelling. She has created rich stories around the brand, how it's used and where it's from, and she actively recruits her fan base as unpaid advocates to go forth and evangelize. She also drew them in with a documentary-style video shared on YouTube about how the Bare Escentuals' campaign called "Try, Believe, Love" was created. She's living the experience of the brand and showing how it can be lived on so many levels.

Brands such as these that understand, embrace and innovate using experience-based insights have a true advantage in developing breakthrough innovation.

Laurence Knight is president-founder of Fletcher-Knight, a marketing-innovation consultancy that specializes in translating consumer insights into winning brand ideas and growth strategies.
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