Changing British consumer behaviour has never been more difficult. We are a nation of sticklers. We know what we like, and we like the convenience our certainty brings. That’s especially true in times of economic turbulence.
In the post-Brexit era, consumers are more cautious in everything they do, including their shopping habits. They are tending to stick to brands they know and are reluctant to change. Brands have a fundamental problem in how they can cut through this mindset and change behaviour. Consider a trip to the supermarket, either in-store or online.
What shopper doesn’t at least have a mental list of the food and drink brands that form their core weekly diet? The list will be based on habit and lack of time, with limited consideration of new brands or alternatives. New brands often struggle to get consideration either through lack of awareness or, more often, through consumer preconceptions and lack of understanding.
For instance, many people won’t consider buying a gluten-free product as they assume it will taste like cardboard. Equally, they won’t purchase an expensive domestic appliance if they don’t understand what it delivers for the money. Altering deep-set perceptions of products is one of the hardest tasks facing today’s marketers. But hope lies in the only medium that allows real engagement of all five senses: brand experience.
Brand experience suffers from an image problem of its own. Activity has a reputation for being an expensive method of giving away freebies to indifferent passers-by. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Driving sales is a key output of brand experience campaigns, and that’s thanks in no small part to the medium’s ability to change the perceptions of sceptical consumers.
TV advertising can create awareness and deliver a brand promise, but experiential is the physical delivery of that promise. It puts brands in hands in a more personal and tailored way. Brand experience also treats consumers as individuals rather than as market segments.
Brands still spend big on TV and digital advertising, and there’s plenty of money pumped into out-of-home and print media. But the most recent IPA Bellwether Report revealed experiential marketing was outpacing other disciplines in expenditure. This is due to marketers realising the important role brand experience plays in reinforcing brand messages and creating immediate behavioural change. To change behaviour, you need to understand who you are trying to influence and the best way to target them.
Six tips for creating great brand experiences
Making a memorable, perception-changing experience is all about building in layers of engagement that will deliver an impactful campaign. Here are six things to think about in the planning phase:
Be brave: This isn’t just about placing your bets on brand experience in the first place. It’s equally important to run a campaign that is bold and unique enough to capture the imagination of consumers.
Be relevant: Demonstrate an understanding of your audience and their needs. Great insight needs to be translated into an impactful experience supported by empathetic brand ambassadors who know all the facts about a product. When quizzed, they can respond with certainty to communicate the benefits of a brand and rid people of their preconceptions.
Create a unique space: Wherever the experience is planned, be it in a train station, festival field or high street, design is vital. Consider an attractive approach that’s going to stop people in their tracks, rather than make them grumble as they detour around the site.
Stimulate the senses: Getting your brand into the hands of consumers is a unique way of allowing them to touch, smell, see, hear or taste a product. Permitting them to try it out in an exciting, friendly environment will be the best chance you have of changing the way they think about your brand.
Reward people: Make it worthwhile for consumers to stop and engage by offering an immediate reward and an incentive to purchase. A personal thank you for their time can have a lasting impact.
Make memories: Digital and social media elements of brand experiences are becoming increasingly important. Activations that include a mechanism for consumers to share their experience, such as a photo booth or live video stream, are a great way to make the moment memorable and build positive associations with your brand.
From persuading people to make healthier choices to tackling ingrained opinions about a product or service, brand experience is the most powerful way of altering consumer perceptions. It delivers brand messages direct to the individual at the same time as their senses are engaged through live demonstration or sampling.
Success in altering people’s mindsets is thanks in no small part to the power of getting brands into people’s hands, allowing them to experience the quality and difference of the product.
Bruce Burnett is chief executive of i2i Marketing