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The Key to Successful Brand Experience (That Many Brands Are Missing)

By Kestrel Lee


  • The way people buy is changing — and brands should change too
  • Personalization is key to make experiences meaningful and memorable
  • Millennial and Gen Z are becoming decision makers with strong buying power
  • Audiences need to be a part of the holistic brand experience

Brand marketing can often feel like you’re standing in a large crowded room, yelling to get everyone’s attention — all while everybody else is yelling too.

Because it can be so difficult to reach a target audience with relevant brand experiences that stand out and get noticed, many brands scattershot their efforts across too many channels, hoping that something will stick.

As it turns out, there’s an easier way.

Instead of clamoring to get an audience to listen, what if marketers started listening instead?

The way people buy is changing

Marketing has never been easy, but it used to be a lot more straightforward. Now, marketers are facing a maze of possible routes to get to their audience. There are more channels than ever, more data than ever, and more touch points than ever.

And more importantly, how people make decisions has changed.

Typical marketing wisdom focuses on the funnel: The customer slowly becomes more aware, intrigued, and engaged, until finally, they commit to the sale. However, in today’s information-saturated world, this is no longer a straightforward, linear process. The tried-and-true funnel is now more like a series of loops, in which buyers continually seek new data points from a variety of sources before settling on a purchase.

Here’s an example:

A 42-year-old mother of two is in the market for a new car. She likely starts out with some brands in mind, including the brand of car she already owns. However, she’s also asking her friends what they would recommend, and they mention some brands she hadn’t considered. As she gathers information (both online, via third-party feedback, and possibly even from some in-person test drives at different dealerships), she adds and discards options while she moves closer to (and sometimes, further away from) a final decision. Even once she has narrowed her choices down to two options, there is still the possibility of a new contender catching her eye, which could cause her to start the process all over again.

With this new reality, it’s time for brands to start thinking outside the funnel.

The good news?

Even if a consumer is on the verge of making a purchase decision, brands can still insert themselves into the conversation and make themselves eligible for consideration.

Make it Personal®

How, then, can an intrepid brand become contenders in this new, circular decision-making process? It comes down to a surprisingly simple concept: Make it personal®.

This applies in two ways:

  • The online landscape has exploded. Something as “simple” as choosing between social media channels is now a daunting task. Add in the multitudes of other apps and websites that give people the opportunity to interact, not to mention the internet-enabled devices and personal digital assistants in our homes, and it’s impossible for marketers to cover every possible channel. Instead of chasing channels, brands need to chase customers.
  • In B2B marketing, it’s easy to focus solely on the needs of the company and how your brand can answer those needs. However, every company is made up of people. And it’s vital to understand the people who are making those decisions. A 30-year-old CEO in Singapore may go through a VERY different research process than a 57-year-old CEO in Chicago.

For those two reasons, brands need to focus on their audience on a personal level, creating memorable and interactive experiences at multiple touch points.

One great example of knowing an audience and understanding how they tick is Sungard’s “Zombie Survival Kit.” The company, which sells enterprise-level disaster recovery solutions, knew that today’s C-suite tends to be less buttoned-up than in generations past. So, they capitalized on the popularity of zombie lore and created a “Zombie Apocalypse Recovery Plan” e-book that combined practical solutions with a fun story.

Another memorable experience was the pairing of IBM Watson with couture house Marchesa for the 2016 Met Gala. Not only did Watson suggest colors, fabrics, and styles for a new dress design, but the dress itself was integrated with LED lighting, connected by a web application. As people tweeted about the dress, Watson analyzed their words to determine the overarching mood, and the web app changed the lights on the dress to a color that Watson determined matched the mood. In essence, each tweet became a part of the dress, offering a memorable experience to the individual and useful data to both Marchesa and IBM.

The influencers: today’s young decision-makers

As mentioned, today’s C-suite is loosening its tie, and with good reason: more and more Millennials and Gen Xers are reaching positions of major influence. Many are business owners. Many others are in middle-to-upper management.

The influence of these generations also extends beyond the boardroom. In Asia, for example, Millennials have an incredible amount of buying power. And even though Gen X comprises only 20 percent of America’s population, it holds a staggering 31 percent of its spending power.

These 30- and 40-something decision-makers are very different from their Boomer parents, however. Less formal and more cynical, they’re happy to talk to brands, but on their terms and on their turf. They want information and entertainment, not sales.

What does this new way of interacting look like? Again, it gets quite personal. Brands are speaking with a human, singular voice and engaging in regular, one-on-one conversations via social media with their followers. Instead of promoting their products, brands are answering questions, providing information, making quips, sharing memes, and generally interacting on a personal, human level. This approach has prompted younger decision-makers to grow fiercely attached to a brand before they even think about buying the product.

Holistic branding: creating a better brand ecosystem

Successful brand marketing isn’t simply about telling your story; it’s about making your audience a part of the story at every touch point along the way.

Remember that large, crowded room we talked about? Instead of loudly talking about themselves to anybody within earshot, smart brands are working the room, listening to conversations, and figuring out where their audience is hanging out. From there, they join in, ask questions, listen as much as they talk, and then get their audience excited about and engaged with the exciting story they have to tell.

This theory was put into practice at the Beijing premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Instead of a standard red carpet/premiere experience, fans became a part of the story (which, as any Harry Potter franchise fan could tell you, is a dream come true). The Beijing Mall was transformed into a place of mystery and magic, with interactive AR applications, a scavenger hunt hosted on WeChat, 3D paintings, photo ops, and more, prompting massive amounts of social shares and 150 cover stories by press and online media.

Another reason why this event worked so well? It was a “third space.”

What is a third space? It is a place that is neither home nor work, where people can relax, congregate, and interact socially.

In casual terms, it could be considered a “hangout.” Instead of a traditional storefront, third spaces focus more on an immersive, welcoming environment where people can experience a brand in an entertaining, informative, but low-pressure way. This dovetails nicely with how today’s consumers prefer to interact with brands online: in a relaxed, informal, non-salesy way.

How people interact with and consider brands is rapidly changing. Brand experiences need to evolve as well, using data and careful listening to determine where their audience is, what they want, and how to reach them on a personal level.

By focusing on the audience as real people instead of just segments, and by aiming for meaningful conversations instead of one-way speeches, brands can succeed in this exciting new environment.

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