Categories
Articles Insights

How US and UK perceptions of experiential are converging

It’s no secret – the past 16 months have been tough for experiential agencies. So, it’s thrilling to see live brand experiences bouncing back strongly. It’s also important to acknowledge and applaud the innovation we’ve seen during this time, fast-tracking industry progress and stretching the possibilities for brands, beyond what might have seemed possible pre-pandemic. The brand experience landscape is forever changed. As are the perceptions of it.

What does this mean for the future of experiential? What is the impact in terms of how brands (and which brands) are using the discipline, and how and why does this differ by market? Starting with those at the forefront; the US and UK.

The omni-channel mindset

Before the pandemic, US brands were more inclined than their UK counterparts to view experiential campaigns with an open, omni-channel mindset, looking to their agencies to create engaging experiences, regardless of the channel and developing more integrated activities. This forward-thinking “format-free” approach was not being embraced in the UK to the same extent.

Agencies could often be siloed or selected for their “specialisms”, and briefs were often more prescriptive, at times stifling the creative possibilities. The same brand types would incorporate brand experiences into their annual plans in the UK, in a somewhat formulaic style. While several of these brands remain on the experiential sidelines, we’re seeing the challengers stepping forward, with a more flexible, open-minded approach. Fully embracing the lull, or lethargy, from their big-brand competitors.

As US brands emerge into the recovery, it seems their hunger for this free-thinking approach has grown, as is their reliance and trust in their agencies to advise on the best and most appropriate approach.

Increasingly and refreshingly, brands are supplying briefs with no specific format in mind for their activation, willing to let the agency lead on how best to engage the target audience to meet campaign objectives. Idea first – execution second.

A cautious return

An activation for Henkel brand Zotos Professional (ZP) started out as a more traditional brand experience brief in a live environment, but evolved into a purely digital campaign, in order to deliver the best, most relevant and engaging experience for the audience in question. ZP was comfortable with the shift in format, so long as the integrity of the idea was maintained. It is one of a number of post-pandemic US activations being digitally led.

Indeed, the term “hybrid” appears to be the new normal, with agencies now able to offer clients the best of what went before, while also drawing on the innovation seen during the pandemic to amplify and deepen experiences. Live activations have a live-stream element. Digital is booming.

Brands are understandably cautious, so it makes sense that they’re leaning towards digital/virtual activations, but with more live elements being built into the mix than was the case a few months back. In this way, digital technology is helping to accelerate the experiential revival in the US.

There’s been a similar, if slightly more cautious, return to brand experiences in the UK, but in a more traditional way, with touring activations across the country still popular to reach consumers nationwide, rather than digital amplification.

However, there are signs that UK brands are taking a broader view. A recent survey of about 100 brand marketers found that 91% felt brand experience didn’t just have to mean live, which is unlikely to have been the case 16 months ago. So it appears that brands are starting to open their eyes to other forms of activation and potentially looking to their brand experience agencies to offer this range of options – just not as enthusiastically as in the US.

The contrast could well be due to the sheer scale of the US compared with the UK, forcing brands and agencies to explore efficient ways to achieve reach for the experiences they create, making PR-able stunts and campaigns with a social or digital aspect more typical.

However, by embracing a hybrid, omni-channel future, the UK will not only be able to rise to consumers’ hunger for experiences, but also deliver more effective activations that also acknowledge the acceleration of digital technology that’s taken place during the pandemic.

The future of experiential

It’s telling that YouGov’s tracker informs us that “boredom” and “frustration” are the strongest emotions currently felt by the British people, replacing “stressed” and “scared”.

Brands can meet this demand with exciting, engaging activations delivered in the most appropriate way, not only with respect to health and safety restrictions but also reflecting where the audience is and what they want to do, embracing digital technology and social media to build engaged communities united through experience.

US brands are setting the pace in this new world of experiential and, as if often the case, we foresee a similar trend emerging in the UK.

Sarah Priestman is President at Sense New York, and Nick Adams is Global CEO of Sense.

This article first appeared in Campaign Magazine, July 21st 2021.

Categories
Articles Insights

The future of the airport experience must be extraordinary and experiential

Evolution is a slow process. Although the world around us changes rapidly, human beings remain relatively unchanged. Our hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, wills and won’ts are fundamentally the same as they were thousands of years ago. The marketing world often forgets this. We can’t resist the next big thing – the must-use platform or the glitzy new gadget. We forget the fundamentals of what makes people tick.

When looking to grow a brand, rather than worry about TikTok or blockchain or cryptocurrency, think first about the golden rule of business – how can we provide a good customer experience?

Take Apple, for example. On May 19, 2001, the first Apple store opened in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The idea of a tech company launching a physical retail space was seen by many as a huge risk, with Businessweek even commenting, “Maybe it’s time Steve Jobs stopped thinking quite so differently”.

Some 17 years later, Apple launched its 500th store in Seoul, South Korea. Apple is now as much a retail brand as it is a tech company. What opportunity did it see that so many others missed?

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology – not the other way around,” said Steve Jobs.

Apple understood the value in providing its customers with an amazing experience. Enough was enough. The previous model of watching commission-hungry sales people push their products in drab surroundings was no longer good enough. The company needed to go to extraordinary lengths to provide a better experience for prospective and existing customers. The investment was worth it. The gamble paid off.

The American Society for Quality conducted a survey on customer loyalty. One question asked why companies lose customers:

  • Customer influenced by friends – 5%.
  • Customer lured away by competition – 9%.
  • Customer dissatisfied by product – 14%.
  • Customer turned away by attitude of indifference by the provider – 68%.

The results are significant. The retail experience provided by frontline staff is nearly eight times more important in maintaining customer loyalty than the actions of a company’s competitors.

A study by PwC told a similar story. Their research showed 85% of brand opinion is driven by everyday interactions with the brand; only 15% is driven by traditional comms. Put simply, the frontline of a business matters. Like Apple, companies willing to go the extra mile to make the experience on their frontlines extraordinary tend to succeed.

An experiential future
We are living through a period of rapid change for customer experience. For thousands of years, all business was conducted face-to-face. However, the last 100 years has seen the development of a vast array of new technologies, which have divided most company’s frontline. People can now connect with businesses via their phones or emails, social networks or chatbots. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of several new technologies that puts even greater pressure on face-to-face experiences.

Why go into a bank when I can speak to an advisor over Zoom?
Why go to the cinema when I can watch a film on Netflix?
Why go to the shops when I can buy an outfit at the click of a button?

The answer to these questions is the same as the one Apple gave us when it launched its first store 20 years ago: Extraordinary experiences drive an extraordinary level of customer loyalty and advocacy.

While nobody is doubting the unparalleled level of convenience digital experiences provide, there is nothing quite like the immersive power of experiencing something in real life. It is for this reason we are seeing, and will continue to see after the pandemic, more and more physical spaces investing in delivering an amazing experience on their frontlines.

A brand does not have to build an entire store like Apple to improve their customer experience – this can simply mean augmenting existing touchpoints to become more experiential.

In a world where 81% of people choose brands based on recommendations, according to Brand Love, businesses will need to unlock the potential of turning their existing customer base into their marketing department. The best advert of all is a satisfied customer who spreads the word.

Rather than fear digital technology, physical experiences should use it as a reference point. Businesses should ask themselves what value digital provides in their field and then look to provide a different experiential value with their physical touchpoints.

For a retail brand, digital technology provides amazing speed of purchase. A physical retail space should provide the opposite: a slower experience where customers can browse, try on the clothes, and be immersed in the brand’s identity.

For an entertainment brand, digital technology keeps us amused in the comfort of our own homes. A physical space, such as a theme park or an exhibit, should leverage everything we can’t do from our sofas: move us around, create an active and invigorating space where we experience and learn with all five of our senses.

The past few years have seen wonderful experiential innovation within airports as brands look to provide something different to the digital world:

Luton Airport – Christmas Activation Airport Experience
In the peak of Christmas holiday season, enhancing the traveler experience is high on Luton Airport’s agenda. In 2018, the airport created a package of seasonal treats including entertainment, children’s activities and themed Santa’s Helpers strategically positioned during the land-to-airside customer journey. The airport also had the world’s first Christmas lightshow featuring an A320, from easyJet, which was wrapped in Christmas lights.

Qantas – Frequent Flyer Pop-Up
In 2019, Qantas opened its first pop-up store, the Frequent Flyer Rewards Room, at Melbourne Airport’s domestic Terminal One. Members could shop a range of popular items in-store, such as Bose’s noise canceling headphones and the latest Fitbit and Lego sets, and earn 100 Qantas points just by walking into the store and providing their frequent flyer details.

Denver International Airport – Ice Rink
To raise spirits during the Christmas travel rush, Denver International Airport has an ice rink in their open-air plaza. Travelers can use the rink free of charge. The ice rink has previously hosted several special events including a movie screening of ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ and an ugly sweater party.

How can brands leverage the experiential future of customer experience?
There are three key components brands should consider when improving their customer experience:

  1. Audience – a brand should conduct research into its customer base to understand what they consider a good experience and what they want when interacting with the company’s frontline. So much of good strategy comes from the simple act of listening.
  2. Brand proposition – a brand should consider what it uniquely stands for in its market. For example, if a brand is the most luxurious company in the category, its experiences should continue to provide more luxury. If the brand stands for health, it should create experiences that help people become healthier.
  3. Touchpoints – finally, a brand should map its entire frontline to work out which touchpoints could become more experiential. Maybe it’s the home delivery, the in-store experience or customer service desk? Mapping out the frontline of a business helps to identify gaps that need improving.

The combination of these three considerations should allow any brand to create experiential customer experiences.

The next 12 months
As we move through 2021 and into 2022, it is likely the world will slowly begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. And it is likely consumers will rush back to real world experiences when possible.

The balance between our physical and digital lives will be restored. The challenge for brands is ensuring their frontlines are extraordinary enough to satisfy the raised expectations of their customers. Apple Stores show us the size of the prize for those willing to go the extra mile. The consequences for those who provide something sub-standard is customers leaving to find something remarkable.

Vaughan Edmonds is Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.

This article first appeared in Passenger Terminal Today on 23rd March 2021.

Categories
Articles Insights

The future retail experience must be extraordinary and experiential

Evolution is a slow process. Although the world around us changes rapidly, human beings remain relatively unchanged.

Our hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, wills and won’ts are fundamentally the same as they were thousands of years ago. The marketing world often forgets this and leaves behind the experiential. We can’t resist the next big thing – the must-use platform or the glitzy new gadget. We forget the fundamentals of what makes people tick.

When looking to grow a brand, rather than worry about Tik Tok or blockchain or cryptocurrency, think first about the golden rule of business. How can we provide a good customer experience?

On 19 May 2001, the first Apple Store opened in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. The idea of a tech company launching a physical retail space was seen by many as a huge risk.

“I give them two years before theyre turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” said Retail Consultant David Goldstein.

“Maybe its time Steve Jobs stopped thinking quite so differently,”  commented Business Week.

“Apples problem is it still believes the way to grow is serving caviar in a world that seems content with cheese and crackers,”  observed Joseph Graziano, ex-Apple CFO

Retail experience innovation

Some 17 years later, Apple launched its 500th store in Seoul, South Korea. Apple is now as much a retail brand as it is a tech company. What opportunity did it see that so many others missed?

“Youve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology – not the other way around,” said Steve Jobs.

Apple understood the value of providing its customers with an amazing experience. Enough was enough. The previous model of watching commission-hungry salespeople push their products in drab surroundings was no longer good enough. The company needed to go to extraordinary lengths to provide a better experience for prospective and existing customers. The investment was worth it. The gamble paid off. Brand experience innovation won the day.

The American Society for Quality conducted a survey on customer loyalty. One question asked why companies lose customers:

  • Customer influenced by friends – 5%
  • Customer lured away by competition – 9%
  • Customer dissatisfied by product – 14%
  • Customer turned away by attitude of indifference by the provider – 68%

The results are significant. The experience provided by frontline staff is nearly eight times more important in maintaining customer loyalty than the actions of a company’s competitors.

A study by PwC told a similar story. The research showed 85% of brand opinion is driven by everyday interactions with the brand. Only 15% is driven by traditional comms. Put simply, the frontline of a business matters. Like Apple, companies willing to go further with their experiential platform to make the experience on their frontlines extraordinary tend to succeed.

An experiential future

We are living through a period of rapid change for customer experience. For thousands of years, all business was conducted face-to-face. However, the last 100 years have seen the development of a vast array of new technologies, which have divided most company’s frontline. People can now connect with businesses via their phones or emails, social networks, or chatbots. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has accelerated the uptake of several new technologies that puts even greater pressure on face-to-face experiences.

  • Why go into a bank when I can speak to an advisor over Zoom?
  • Why go to the cinema when I can watch a film on Netflix?
  • Why go to the shops when I can buy an outfit at the click of a button?

The answer to these questions is the same as the one Apple gave us when it launched its first store 20 years ago: Extraordinary brand experience innovation drives an extraordinary level of customer loyalty and advocacy.

While nobody is doubting the unparalleled level of convenience digital experiences provide, there is nothing quite like the immersive power of experiencing something in real life. It is, for this reason, we are seeing, and will continue to see after the pandemic, more and more physical spaces investing in delivering an amazing experience on their frontlines.

A brand does not have to build an entire store like Apple to improve their customer experience – this can simply mean augmenting existing touchpoints to become more experiential.

In a world where 81% of people choose brands based on recommendations, according to Brand Love, businesses will need to unlock the potential of turning their existing customer base into their marketing department. The best advert of all is a satisfied customer who spreads the word.

Rather than fear digital technology, physical experiences should use it as a reference point. Businesses should ask themselves what value digital provides in their field and then look to provide a different experiential value with their physical touchpoints.

For a retail brand, digital technology provides an amazing speed of purchase. A physical retail space should provide the opposite: a slower experience where customers can browse, try on the clothes, and be immersed in the brand’s identity.

For an entertainment brand, digital technology keeps us amused in the comfort of our own homes. A physical space, such as a theme park or an exhibit, should leverage everything we can’t do from our sofas: move us around, create an active and invigorating space where we experience and learn with all five of our senses.

The past few years have seen wonderful experiential innovation within the retail sector as brands look to provide something different to the digital world:

Vans – House of Vans

Situated in the former Old Vic tunnels in London, Vans has transformed the 30,000 sq ft space into a hive of cultural activity. Part skatepark, part retail space, House of Vans has become the poster child example for the experiential future of shopping.

Timberland – Best Then, Better Now

Timberland worked with renowned artist Tim Cockburn to create live ‘Best Then, Better Now’ murals in UK stores, promoting the chance for customers to personalise their Timberlands with bespoke boot art.

Charlotte Tilbury – Magic Mirrors

Charlotte Tilbury wanted to enhance the in-store experience at its flagship store in London. Customers now can access two touchscreen Magic Mirrors – fairytale-style screens allowing people to ‘try on’ each one of Tilbury’s 10 signature looks in as little as 40 seconds. No more messing around with tester pots and samples – now customers can layer on the look digitally and get a feel for what suits.

Fortnum & Mason – In-Store Events

Fortnum & Mason has a whole section of its websites dedicated to its latest in-store events. From a Glenfiddich Whiskey Distillery pop-up, where shoppers tour the famous distillery using VR technology, to the Midnight Food Hall Feast, Fortnum & Mason is using brand experience innovation in order to offer a more experiential retail experience.

How can retail brands leverage the experiential future of customer experience?

There are three key components brands should consider when improving their customer experience:

  1. Audience – a brand should conduct research into their customer base to understand what they consider a good experience and what they want when interacting with the company’s frontline. So much of good strategy comes from the simple act of listening.
  2. Brand Proposition – a brand should consider what they uniquely stand for in their market. For example, if a brand is the most luxurious company in the category, their experiences should continue to provide more luxury. If the brand stands for health, it should create experiences that help people become healthier.
  3. Touchpoints – finally, a brand should map their entire frontline to work out which touchpoints could become more experiential. Maybe it’s the home delivery, the in-store experience, or the customer service desk? Mapping out the frontline of a business helps to identify gaps that need improving.

The combination of these three considerations should allow any retail brand to create experiential customer experiences.

The next 12 months

As we move through 2021 and into 2022, it is likely the world will slowly begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s likely consumers will rush back to real-world experiences when possible. It’s a key moment for brand experience innovation.

The balance between our physical and digital lives will be restored. The challenge for retail brands is ensuring their frontlines are extraordinary enough to satisfy the raised expectations of their customers. Apple Stores show us the size of the prize for those willing to go the extra mile. The consequences for those who provide a sub-standard retail experience is customers leaving to find something remarkable.

Vaughan Edmonds is Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.

This article first appeared in Talk Retail on 19th March 2021.

Categories
Articles Insights

This winter is the most exciting in recent memory for brand experience innovation

Brand experience innovation is changing the immediate future for experiential and all the benefits that come with it.

Crowds: a thing of the past and a distant sniff of the future, but traditionally a magnet for brands engaging in experiential marketing.

For the past 12 months, brands have been teased with groups coming back together only to see them quickly retreat under shifting guidelines. This has made it near impossible for brands who are largely experience-fuelled to find a physical platform to connect with their audiences. Or has it?

What’s changing?

The past year has taught us a great deal about the art of brand experiences. First, it has shown us the exceptional resilience of the industry and the people within it to keep the ball rolling during troubled times.

Second, we’ve learnt that brand experiences were never really about the environments they took place within. They are about people – brands augmenting their lives to make the every day a little more exciting. Just because the people weren’t on the streets didn’t mean the show couldn’t go on for experiences.

Where is everyone?

It doesn’t take the latest in-depth webinar series to know where people have gone. It turns out we’re adaptable. Rather than turning our back on the activities that were once only possible outside our front doors, we’ve brought our favourite past times into our homes.

According to data from McKinsey, we’ve seen a global increase in intent for activities such as cooking (+54%), at-home entertainment (+40%) and home improvement (+22%). Zoom’s daily user base grew from 10 million to 200 million in the initial three months of lockdown as working away from our offices became the norm. And, according to Shopify, there has been an 18% increase in e-commerce use in the UK for products normally bought in-store as a result of Covid-19.

The challenge for brands

These changes in behaviour have created unexpected new challenges for brands. The issues range from the very broad to the very specific.

For some brands, product trial may be the cornerstone of a marketing strategy. With the dramatic reduction in footfall in environments like commuter hubs and events, these brands now face the challenge of sampling efficiently.

For other brands, engagement may be the foundation of their approach. Content only goes so far – some brands need tangible interactions rather than passive absorption.

Then there are the brands with specific problems that seem almost impossible to overcome in the current climate. For example, the market for on-the-go products bought in convenience stores between the Tube station and the office. How can we address this most specific of problems?

The solution

The good news is solutions do exist for brands with these sorts of issues. Innovation is occurring that represents the immediate future for brand experiences and all the benefits that come with it. And the past few months have seen brands from all categories focusing their attention on reaching audiences at home to great effect.

Seedlip’s latest Dry January social sampling activity used targeted Facebook and Insta ads to allow users to request a sample can, which was then delivered to their home.

Camden Hells partnered with Hello Fresh to offer a profiled audience product samples to complement meals within their weekly recipe boxes, supported by social posts.

John Lewis & Partners offered Christmas virtual crafting workshops and sponsored alcohol-tasting sessions, while Blue Bunny’s “Ice Screen” driveway movies in the US invited neighbourhoods to use social media to request a doorstep visit from the brand’s promotional truck, which turned front yards into outdoor at-home movie theatres.

The common thread here is the continued brand desire to connect with their audience while recognising behavioural and cultural shifts.

Looking to the future

Despite a turbulent few months, this winter is the most exciting in recent memory for brand experience innovation. A few brands have pioneered the “at-home experience movement”, innovation that was necessary regardless of a global pandemic.

Whether or not we are back in festival mode or swarming to city centres, brands no longer need to be driven by these environments to interact with their audiences. The opportunity to engage with consumers in their homes exists. For those willing to grab that opportunity, the chance to stand out from the crowd and drive brand advocacy is enormous.

Lou Garrod is managing director of Sense London, a global brand experience agency.

This article first appeared in Campaign Magazine on 17th February 2021.