By Asit Mehra
We’ve all heard the marketing industry is evolving at a breakneck speed. I actually think its consumers that are doing the evolving. As marketers, we are just trying to keep up.
Today’s consumers value meaningful engagement, which can’t be copied or faked. They crave authenticity and social awareness. They are attracted to ethical, responsible, and sustainable businesses. In other words, they’re seeking more of a relationship from the brands they choose to support. Enter the “brand-led experience.”
What it isn’t?
The predominant approaches to meeting the needs of this new empowered and connected consumer have basic flaws. The traditional brand-led approach is too transactional, too much selling to.
On the other end of the spectrum is the tech-led approach, like that of Uber or Tinder, which leverages their vast amounts of data to personalize offerings to consumers but it isn’t distinct enough to build lasting consumer loyalty.
What it is?
A new marketing approach is needed. One that:
– builds relationships.
– is in service to consumers.
– is distinctive and not easily replicated with technology.
We call this new approach brand-led experiences. Done right, customized experiences can deepen engagement with a new type of consumer: one who is willing to spend a little more time interacting with a brand if the pay-off is unique, relevant experiences that add value to their lives.
Being a brand experience-led company is about using both brand-led and technology-led approaches to forge deep connections with consumers through meaningful customized experiences. In fact, successful experience-led brand companies design experiences that help consumers create their own experience. It’s the only way to truly scale personalized experiences. Or rather, hyper-personalization.
Personalization has already become the expectation. Hyper-personalization pairs predictive technology with data to provide a much deeper understanding of your audience. The end result is your consumers barely have to do any work, because you’ve designed a frictionless experience.
Building relationships in the Magic Kingdom
Disney is a perfect example of a brand being rooted in building a relationship with their customers rather than selling to them.
Tired little feet, missed naptime, and a dropped ice cream cone will inevitably result in a temper tantrum, or what I’d call a Disney breakdown. These breakdowns are all too common at Disney World and can easily ruin a magical day at the Magic Kingdom. With deep consumer insights and research, Disney realized that a visit from Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck with a new ice cream cone almost always comforts a screaming child. Disney then tracked those families who were paid a visit by a Disney character, and, not surprisingly, they often spent more at the park.
Makeup (makes) a customer for life
Unlike what others say, the Internet really hasn’t changed the customer journey that much. It’s still about making deep meaningful connections with your consumer as shown in the Disney example.
However, with technology and data, we are close to having the capability to interact with people on a much more personal level. A good example of using technology with a personal touch is L’Oreal’s MakeUp Genius app. It uses augmented reality to address a very functional consumer problem: the messiness of trying on different makeup looks. The app, which now has more than 20 million users worldwide, let’s people virtually sample L’Oreal Paris products by mapping them on your face.
But a brand-led experience doesn’t stop there. The MakeUp Genius app is still about helping with the selection of existing product offerings. This year at SXSW, L’Oreal took it one step further and ventured into truly personalized products with Custom D.O.S.E. This is hyper-personalization for a segment of one.
Technology not only does a great job expanding our capability to tell stories, it also allows us to create entirely new experiences. But at the end of the day, business is still about connecting with people.
Let’s contrast two technology-enabled companies that have been around for a relatively short time: Uber founded in 2009 and Airbnb launched in 2008. Both rely on internet transactions, both offer a form of customized travel: go where you want to go, stay where you want to stay.
But Uber it seems has come up short when it comes to creating a sense of community and thus does not have a particularly loyal following as Lyft and many others have come along. Airbnb, by comparison, stresses (in its tagline) “Belong anywhere.” From the moment you hit the website, you are invited to be part of a global travel community. It is much more than a transaction for accommodations over the internet, there is the brand promise of creating your own magical end-to-end trip and being made to feel at home wherever you are.
As it builds this community, Airbnb hits the main goals of a brand experience-led company: building relationships, being in service to consumers, and offering a differentiated proposition that isn’t easily replicated.
This fundamental shift away from traditional communications modes to experiences that are in the service of people will enable business to drive new levels of personalization, trust and, create more value – economic, social and ultimately human. Those of us who don’t embrace becoming an “experience” led brand may find themselves irrelevant in the new digital economy.
Asit Mehra is executive vice president at Omnicom