The brand landscape is constantly changing and to survive, brands must be able to adapt.
Darwin was certainly onto something when he observed:
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”.
The Evolution of Marketing
Back in the 'good old days' of marketing when meetings started with the clink of a whisky decanter (Mad Men definitely got a few things right on that front) brands were built by selling the functional attributes of the product.
This was the post-war era of the rising middle class - and the new medium of television was the main way for advertisers to reach consumers.
It was during this time that the role of “Creative Director” was invented and his job (it was almost always a “him”) was to come up with new and interesting ways to tell the consuming public how great the product was. The term 'Unique Selling Proposition' was the key buzzword.
In the 1980s, the marketing world evolved. The "Unique Selling Proposition" was replaced by the "Emotional Selling Proposition". The phrase "brand positioning" gave rise to the idea that a brand could stake its claim on feelings and emotion.
In short, it was no longer enough to sell the functional attributes of a brand. You had to sell something more.
Coca-Cola used to sell a sugary brown drink with fizz. Now, it would sell good times, friendship, and summertime. Apple stopped selling 'personal computers' and instead offered ingenuity, creativity, and unbeatable design.
Legendary designer Walter Landor once said: “Products are made in the factory but brands are created in the mind,” and it was this idea that rose into prominence in this era.
Now, brands must adapt again. The landscape has undergone another tectonic shift - towards experiences.
Today's Era: The "Experience" Era
Fifteen years ago, companies controlled brand relationships. Today, consumers do.
This power shift has been driven largely by technology, and the ability of people from all around the globe to share their thoughts and opinions via social media, blogging, and numerous other forms of user-generated content.
This has bought with it a whole new level of empowerment where companies must compel consumers to have a stake in their business. The customer needs to feel as though they are part of the business, that they should be invested in the brand's success.
For this reason, "experience" has become the key differentiator for brands - and it might not be as easy to define as you think.
Consumers today are all-knowing and all-powerful. Brands must manage a complex system of value that requires them to understand how every action of the brand – from product and service, to environmental impact, to technology and marketing – come together to make up their experience offering.
Their sales will not be bought. They must be earned. And like any good relationship, the bond will be built on experiences.
Your Experiential Selling Proposition
So, how can brands adapt and survive in this era?
They need to define their 'Experiential Selling Proposition' - and must do it within an environment where consumers have unprecedented choice and transparency.
To a consumer, each individual interaction with a brand is what builds the brand experience. If a brand defines itself in a certain way with distinct traits, it must echo those traits throughout its products, staff, marketing strategy, and so on.
When HBO created a series of Escape Rooms modelled after its most popular TV shows for the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, it was leveraging both a popular new pastime (Escape Rooms) and taking the immersive reputation of epics like Game of Thrones to the next level by bringing them into the 'real world' - experiential marketing at its finest.
Understanding the Human Experience
As the above example shows, crafting valuable brand experiences has to start from the consumer’s point of view. Here are some near-universal truths about the human experience that should form the basis of any experiential selling proposition:
1. People have short attention spans.
Keep it simple and direct. You need to be different to get their attention.
2. People are social.
We look to others to influence our decisions. We want to belong and find meaning.
3. People want instant gratification
We can never have what we want fast enough.
4. People crave information
Learning makes people feel good, and having choices makes people feel in control.
5. People are emotional
Most of our mental processing occurs unconsciously. The emotional brain is has a huge impact on our decisions and is influenced by images and storytelling.
There are new rules. And there are new tools. But in the end, the successful brand of today’s era will be built on trust, which will be earned (not bought) from their consumers on a daily basis.
Because in our modern age of marketing, experience is king.