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Top Four Brand Experience Takeaways from Experiential Marketing Summit 2017

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Tanner Harp
Tanner Harp

Director, Marketing


Everything you need to know: the CliffsNotes version

This article originally appeared on

As always, the talent, education, and networking at EMS proved to be top notch. The experience was amazing (kudos to the organizers) as the Windy City proved to be a fun and formidable host for some of the most innovative minds in brand experience.

With so much rich information from a jam-packed three days, where do you start? Have no fear — we combed the lessons for the main themes and extracted them here for you.

1. Focus on the customer

Sounds simple. It’s not. Maintaining a maniacal focus on the end user — one single user at a time — was a theme by many of the top marketers.

This includes personalization. As Deb Curtis from American Express said, “Put the customer at the center.”

Following that theme, Colleen Bisconti from IBM said, “Start with wide appeal, then put the customers in the center of the story.” For example, an activation with wide appeal was free beer. The personal side? Enter some of your information about what you do and don’t like, and the AI engine Watson would give you personalized drink recommendations. 

2. Focus on your brand

Although this sounds counter to the first point, this is a big deal. Here’s how to unpack it:

With the myriad options available for spectacular activations, how do you know what to choose?

Look to your brand. Examine your organization’s goals and objectives. Does this idea or activation align with those goals? Keep the ones that do, and ditch the ones that do not.

This message was big enough to be in all four of the keynotes:

Deb from American Express mentioned it in her keynote as the very first key to experiential marketing: “Be true to your brand. Know your core.”

As did Helen Stoddard of Twitter. “Make sure your experience is unique to you. If your competitor can do it, you’re not telling your story.”

And Colleen from IBM: “Use brand design to make it real. It’s about more than technology.”

For Alex Amado of Adobe, this means changing the world through digital experiences. It’s Adobe’s mission statement, and the brand uses it as its North Star. He made sure the lesson sunk home with his summary of creating great experiences. His first point: “Never lose sight of your mission.” 

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3. It’s not always about technology

Don’t get me wrong — technology is fantastic. But, as we’ve said time and time again — tech for tech’s sake is at best a spectacle, and at worst a distraction.

The goal is the experience.

So if technology enables your customer to have a better experience (see point 1) and it’s true to your brand (point 2), then by all means go for it.

Colleen from IBM is a huge proponent of technology. She uses Watson to enable many of IBM’s industry-leading activations. And even she warns against getting carried away with technology that doesn’t serve the brand and the customer.

Only a handful of sessions didn’t mention this theme. If this idea wasn’t on your radar before, make sure to zoom in on it now. 

4. Take advantage of every touchpoint for a seamless experience

Here’s another seemingly simple but profound lesson if used well. Think through every step of a person’s journey. How can you connect with them? What happens just before and just after the touchpoint? Can you connect again there?

This is how you create the elusive immersive experience we’re all aiming for.

As Alex from Adobe put it, “You don’t run an event. You design a series of experiences.”

So go out and design a series of experiences that are true to your brand and focus on the customer.

For more big picture perspectives, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience.

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