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Admap, February 2000

Are You Experienced?

Martin Payne, Through the Loop, shows how developing a brand experience can help a brand broaden its franchise and fight off competitors.

Through the Loop has been researching how brands would have to change as we enter the next millennium. One of the areas identified is the Brand Experience. This extends beyond brand values to introduce new associations and to allow the consumer to become more immersed in the experience. When we move beyond the brand, we enter the Brand Experience. Brand Experience delivers new colours, shapes, sounds and sensations that embody the brand.

Every aspect that surrounds the brand is designed to enhance the total "brand world." Consumers no longer consume a brand but they start to live it. This takes the product or service further than traditional brand values and opens up new areas of association and engagement for the consumer.

Extending brand relevance

Brand Experience can operate on a number of levels, such as:

  • The experience adds a new communications channel that surrounds the consumer.

  • The experience adds a service element to the product providing a stronger offer.

  • The experience allows the brand to be extended across seemingly unrelated products and services as the brand is more important than the individual product or service capabilities.

The Brand Experience is all the more important when one considers that in many developed markets, consumers are becoming increasingly disenfranchised from traditional marketing. This has been identified for developed markets such as the UK. The Brand Experience represents a means to bring consumers back to the brand and provide a greater degree of relevance for them. Brand experience can allow the consumer to develop a closer relationship with the brand.

The communications experience

The development of Brand Experience as a communications channel spans the area from factory visits to event marketing. The most obvious example of this experience is Disney’s development of theme parks. However, it is important to note that not everybody can visit a theme park regularly. Therefore, the establishment of the worldwide chain of Disney stores enables the Disney experience to be enjoyed locally. The Disney stores are about far more than selling merchandise. 

In the same way, the growing number of NikeTown stores represent more than an additional retail channel. NikeTown stores provide a stronger frame of reference for the Nike brand than traditional marketing communications. The communications elements of NikeTown present Nike products in a more appropriate setting than where many of the marketing communications are received.

Unilever is opening tea shops using a new brand "Cha". Nestlé has opened Nescafé coffee houses and these are now to be extended into motorway service areas, Café Nescafé, and inside retail outlets. Like the Disney stores, these coffee and tea shops represent not only a new distribution channel for hot beverages but they also allow the development of the Brand Experience. Witness here the success of Starbucks and other quality coffee shops that have transformed coffee drinking from a mere activity to an emotional experience. Consumers are not simply buying a cup of coffee. Lyons understood this many years ago and it is interesting to note that in the UK, Paulig is returning the Lyons coffee brand to its roots through the opening of Lyons coffee shops.

The blending of social values also adds experience to the brand. In this way, both The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry’s offer more than their products but they allow the customer to participate in a social and ethical marketing programme. The consumers become part of the programme and ambassadors for the social values.

General Motors has opened Europe’s first automotive theme park in Germany. Opel Live has forecast 1.5 million visitors for its first three years. The theme park includes a 3-D cinema, car simulators, interactive exhibits, a themed ride and a tour of the manufacturing facility. While this may be the first of many such parks in Europe, the next stage is to follow the Disney model and make the Brand Experience locally relevant. This could include extending it to other General Motors plants and, undoubtedly, its dealers. For most consumers, the only contact with the company is through the dealers and so this is where the experience needs to be developed.

How can brand-focused theme parks like Legoland and Cadbury World reach a wider audience? In fact, all retailers should be able to add experience to their offer. Music retailers offer the chance to listen to music in the store. The latest Virgin Megastore in the UK has taken this further with vibrating floors around the listening points and in the games area. This adds a whole new experience to music shopping.

Restaurants offer an experience that is not available when eating at home. Witness here having meals cooked at the table. This suggests that manufacturers can add brand experience to their products by looking at areas such as restaurants. Surely, it is a fairly simple move for makers of oriental ready meals to provide a pair of chopsticks with each meal to add an aura of authenticity. This could be taken further by offering whole meal concepts, combining ready-made products from different manufacturers.

Adding the service element

When a service element is added to a product, it allows an area of experience to be developed. On-line retailers such as amazon.com and CDnow are able to utilise technology to provide recommendations for their regular customers and so generate a stronger relationship and, presumably, more sales. In fact, any business using the Web should be able to learn about its customers and adjust its offer accordingly.

Similarly, the nature of the Web makes it a perfect way of adding customer experience. For example, SmithKline Beecham’s Web sites for smoking cessation products provides far more than simple product information and represent a service element for smokers wishing to give up. Nicorette, NiQuitin CQ and Nicoderm CQ move away from providing a product to providing a service. The Committed Quitters Programme is a course to help people stop smoking, of which the patches or gum comprise just one part of the solution.

The possibility of continuous updating, discussion forums and e-mail correspondence make the Web a natural partner for launching books, films and TV programmes. Existing media channels have the possibility to express the Brand Experience through a variety of different delivery channels that compliment each other.

Even bricks and mortar retailers are able to improve the customer experience. Witness here the growth of coffee shops within bookstores that encourage customers to stay longer and look at more books. Car dealers again have an opportunity here. They are in the fortunate position of having a detailed database of their past customers. This gives them the potential to target car buyers at appropriate intervals to remind them of service intervals, new accessories an, ultimately, prepare them for the next new car purchase.

Retailers are starting to realise the importance of keeping customers in their stores. Many book stores now offer additional service elements such as coffee shops, often operated as a concession by companies such as Starbucks. This acknowledges the fact that buying books is a leisure pursuit. Developing a greater level of in-store experience transforms the book buying process while at the same time offering a defence against Internet booksellers. The likes of amazon.com and bol.com have clear advantages in some areas but they cannot replicate this type of experience.

Chore shopping, pleasure shopping

This brings the issue of chore versus commodity shopping to the forefront. There are two types of shopping, that which you have to do and that which you want to do. These two distinct shopping occasions may be referred to as chore shopping and leisure shopping. In the first instance, consumers will look at such issues as price, convenience and time. When shopping for leisure purposes, these issues are replaced by experience. You may or may not buy anything but you are looking to enjoy yourself during the process.

We can expect stores, either on-line or bricks and mortar, to increasingly divide along these lines, catering for both markets with distinct offers. A grocery retailer, for example, may address chore shopping through easy-to-use on-line ordering facilities, possibly direct from your fridge, or a convenience store format. The same retailer can develop other outlets that cater for experience, somewhere to go when you are shopping for a dinner party or other special occasions. This would carry a wider range of items, possibly more "exotic" ingredients and bring in the service dimension through the offer of cookery classes and other demonstrations. There will be somewhere for the children to have fun while their parents browse the aisles. Quite different from shopping for bread, milk, kitchen towels and the standard weekly family shop.

Stores will be able to leverage the data gained through their "loyalty" schemes to offer tailored packages to its customers. These are not just related to product areas but also service concepts, perhaps wine tasting courses for those who usually buy wine. This encourages them to trade-up to high quality (and higher profit margin) wines. Car dealers can offer basic car maintenance courses, DIY stores could be offering lectures and other advice-oriented programmes.

While the use of one-to-one marketing can enhance the Brand Experience which retailers can offer, retailers are also faced with an increasing threat of manufacturers selling direct to consumers. They need to take the opportunity to provide a layer of differentiation that gives them a raison d’être in the eyes of the consumer.

Brands that already have a service element are tapping into customer experience whether they like it or not. Every contact with the company represents interaction with the brand. This highlights the importance of consistency across all commercial messages. The driver in the company lorry or the operator on the end of the telephone communicate just as much as a major advertising campaign. Each point of contact should act to enhance the Brand Experience. Again, Disney may be viewed as an ideal model.

Brand extension

Our earlier work looked at how the Disney, Virgin and, more recently, Cosmopolitan brands were being extended into new categories. Under this scenario, the company’s manufacturing operations are less relevant than its ability to manage a brand and develop properties that allow the brand to be transferred. Virgin may have started life as a mail order music retailer but today it has become an experience that can be transferred across seemingly unrelated categories. A recent survey by J Walter Thompson identified Virgin as the company with the greatest capacity to "bounce" into new sectors.

EasyJet is operating in a similar way. The low-priced airline has a very clear focus on what its brand values are. The company has recognised that these brand values may be transferred into other product and service categories that will reinforce each other. Recent new ventures from the group include Internet cafés, initially in Central London but planned for other countries, car hire through EasyRentacar and banking through EasyBank. Like the Virgin group, EasyJet makes extensive use of public relations featuring the group’s founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Any new product or service launched will start with the existing brand values and should be managed so that it enhances them. However, many brand extensions are little more than variations where the core brand has merely been "tweaked." All too frequently, brand extension can effectively fragment the main brand rather than take share from competitors, build the category or develop a new category.

Brand Experience allows marketers to undertake genuine brand extension that takes them into new profit areas. No longer should one consider new segments that the product can address but whole new categories where the experience can be applied and an appropriate product or service offer developed. This then opens up new profit areas and new groups of consumers are introduced to the brand.

Brand competence

What is important to recognise here is to recognise the company’s competencies in terms of Brand Experience and not its products or services. To return to the Virgin example, it was able to launch into the soft drinks market because of the development of the Virgin brand. Virgin did not need any competencies in soft drinks manufacture or marketing or even in the FMCG sector. 

Similarly, Boots did not need special competencies to extend into opticians or dental care. Its principal competency is that it is highly trusted by consumers and it is highly authoritative within the UK healthcare sector. EasyJet is now in the same position. It’s competency is the delivery of a highly focused, low cost and reliable service that can be transferred to others sectors. This provides the opportunity within the car hire sector more than the obvious link with airlines. Fortunately, it also has the ability to cross-sell in this case, less so with banking and Internet cafés. The latter two examples though do leverage the EasyJet competencies.

Conclusion

The creation of the Brand Experience represents an area that companies will have to address in order to provide sustained differentiation for their brands. At a time when consumers are becoming increasingly disenfranchised from many marketing activities and many marketers are finding it difficult to differentiate their brands through "conventional" means, the Brand Experience can represent the way forward. The Brand Experience seeks to immerse the consumer in the brand and connect rather than distance them.

Brand Experience is a wide concept that runs close to event marketing at one end and relationship marketing at the other extreme. It looks beyond the brand to identify and develop values that have a greater degree of relevance for the consumer. In doing this, it moves much close to the consumer in terms of immersion, engagement or individual relationships. This is where brands can start to develop a competitive edge. The Brand Experience enables marketers to provide genuine and sustainable differentiation which, in turn, provides a strong defence against "me-toos" and other competitive threats.

Through the Loop is tracking the development of Brand Experience. Our Brand Positive programme to analyse the management of leading brands through times of slow economic growth has already shown that many marketers are looking to surround their brands with a greater level of customer experience. It is this Brand Experience that will provide differentiation in the future and will guard against commoditisation.

The Brand Experience offered will be unique to that brand and it cannot be replicated by a competitor. This is the key issue. There is nothing to be gained by producing me-too brand values, even if you are first-to-market. The Brand Experience must provide an cast iron bond between the product and the consumer. In this way, each brand interaction, whether it is actual consumption or the receipt of marketing communications messages, will continue to enhance the brand’s values and strengthen it.

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