Brand Experience: Beware the ‘full’ service distraction
by Mike Silver (@stretchmike) I was sitting with a well-known ECD recently who commented that, in the content-obsessed world we live in, it was amazing how prominent brand experience had become. Being a little long in the tooth, he recalled how, back in the day, experiential and activation elements were seen as the ugly ducklings in the media mix. Despite this rise up the agency food chain, experiential outfits still find themselves with little security in comparison to their ATL/TTL counterparts.
‘Full’ service distraction
Global networks and full-service big boys are like grocery stores; they wait for trends to emerge from smaller independent shops before trying to replicate them en masse and quickly restock their shelves. The problem with this solution is that, if you are looking for the best pastries in town, you won’t be pining for a two-day-old doorstop croissant from your local supermarket. Similarly, in the agency world, brands sometimes go for convenience at the expense of craft and innovation. The problem with this model is that it goes outside in. Experiential’s rise is largely due to growing consumer demand for real experiences that may be shared across multiple channels. A good brand-experience agency will:
- develop relevant live content first before
- devising an amplification strategy around it that
- ultimately results in some form of consumer action eg purchase, social sharing etc.
There are too many horror stories where campaign brainstorms kick off with ‘we need to go viral’ or ‘we must use influencers’ instead of focusing on the content, seeding and call to action.
In 2012, Frankie’s Cola was involved in a battle with Woolworths after it allegedly shared its brand and business plans with the retailer with the promise of being stocked in store, only to see a near carbon-copy no-name brand rip-off appearing in store.
Clients are incredibly busy individuals working within demanding organisations. The temptation to not look for specialists is understood when procurement has done all the hard work of securing thousands of discounted hours from a global network. As such, brand-experience agencies are called upon on an ad hoc basis. There are a couple of problems with this model:
- Inter-agency collaboration: by not having a specialist brand-experience agency contracted, co-creation is nearly impossible with a new set of chemistry among your agency partners for every campaign.
- Economies of scale: real value-add through brand (and business) understanding from senior agency resource will be impossible.
- Brand loyalty: if you are shopping around every five minutes, your brand-experience agencies will be forced to do the same in order to keep the lights on. As such, without an extended exclusivity contract, expect them to be working with your competitors to grow their brands just as much as yours.
Future brand-experience model
We are already seeing brand experience sitting at the heart of more and more communication strategies moving forward, primarily because brand experience goes beyond traditional associations with ‘events’ or ‘activations’.
The consumer-centric focus of most financial service businesses bears testament to this, with brand experience transcending into digital (user experience/UX), retail/shopper (in-store experience) and even support functions (call centres, social media responsiveness, etc). For example, Investec has embraced voice biometrics to avoid the annoying security questions when dealing with its call centre.
A good brand-experience agency’s strategy team should be able to transcend easily into any live engagement space. While it may seem as if I’m proposing brand experience should lead, this is not the case. What I’m suggesting is that brand experience is perfectly suited to influence other channels. The level of influence is really up to the client. Certain briefs that begin with some form of live engagement should ideally be kicked off by the brand experience agency and thereafter fed into other channels when the core is cracked. Similarly, campaigns that begin elsewhere (eg in the sponsorship or NPD space) should ideally be fed into brand experience for channel specific implementation.
In a scary new media world where real content is king, some agency elevators are attempting to stop on every floor, while others are stuck in between floors. While they figure themselves out, clients would do well to get their brand experience agencies out of the basement and quickly!
Mike Silver (@stretchmike) is managing director of Stretch Experiential Marketing (www.stretchexp.com). He established Stretch — a communications agency specialising in developing strategies and concepts for integrated brand-experience campaigns — after working in sponsorship consultancy and experiential marketing in the UK. He contributes the regular “Brand Experience” column, focusing upon broader integrated ‘brand experiences’, to MarkLives.
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