The global market is seeing a shift in consumer behavior as customers are transitioning away from simply accumulating goods to seeking out products that provide them with an emotional connection or lasting memory. People today would rather spend more time and dollars on doing things rather than buying things, so knowing how to build a brand that offers a customer an experience in addition to a product is key to being successful in this competitive marketplace.
The session “The Brand As Experience” held Thursday morning at the Shutterstock Stage featured a panel of some of the best leaders in creating brand experiences. The panel was moderated by Kristina Bennin and included Jerome Hiquet, CMO of Tough Mudder, Kenny Mitchell, Head of Consumer Engagement at Gatorade, Howard Handler, CMO of Major League Soccer and Spencer Baim, Chief Strategy Officer at Vice.
According to the panel, when content and products offer experiences, users becomes fans and with fandom comes brand loyalty. Creating experiences in today’s world means bridging the gap between the physical and the digital so that the brand is immersive, interactive and accessible.
Hiquet said Tough Mudder is bridging this gap by offering content that allows users to build community and make the feeling of comradery, adrenaline and achievement of the event day last even when it is over. The company has content dedicated to nutrition, training and live stream features so users can stay connected. Tough Mudder also offer smalls bootcamps where people can train together and immerse themselves in the Tough Mudder experience prior to the big race day.
Tough Mudder’s who have participated in multiple races call themselves Legionnaires. According to Hiquet, there is an authentic give and take between the company and these fans. They listen to their needs and Tough Mudder takes them into consideration when working to improve the overall consumer experience of the brand.
Like Tough Mudder, Gatorade is also putting forth efforts and campaigns to build an immersive concumer experience.
“To our consumer, the competitive athlete, experiences are critical to them,” Mitchell said. “They value that one-to-one connection with brands.”
Gatorade offered a brand experience called Fuel Lab where athletes were allowed to customize their own Gatorade solution based on how their body works and whether they are a light to heavy sweater. The company toured the country and connected with 11,000 athletes. Gatorade also works closely with influencers such as coaches and trainers in formative experience projects where they talk to kids about the importance of hydration and fluid. These efforts often result in brand loyalty and increased consumption of the product among young athletes.
According to Baim, VICE is expanding its user experiences through its travel content, telling cultural stories from all over the world and also offering loyal readers the opportunity to come along, whether digitally or physically through reward trips.
“We’ve been making a shift from talking at them to creating interaction,” Baim said.
VICE also has a Vice Impact button that allows users to react to stories. If they read a story about Syrian refugees and are moved to take action or get involved, the Vice Impact button offers them options. They can sign a petition, make a donation or join a protest.
When it comes to fans of Major League Soccer, the community is strong at both the global and local level. Handler said the biggest and probably most obvious way Major League Soccer creates memorable experiences for its customers is by building stadiums.
“We build a stadium, which is like a blank canvas,” Handler said. “It’s colored in my supporter culture.”
According to Handler, Major League Soccer fans are excellent at organizing themselves, and it’s what they enjoy most about the soccer experience. They create their own chants, their own game-day rituals that make the three-hour experience of attending a soccer game personal and memorable.
Off the field, Major League Soccer has major presence in digital, both in online content and videogames like FIFA. Collaboration with FIFA is one of the ways Major League Soccer is bridging the gap between the virtual and the physical. The two companies allow fans to vote for a member of the All-Star Team through game play.
By creating brand experiences, companies are able to bring their brands to life in innovative ways that drive more sales while showing customers they are valued. Experiences result in a deeper connection with a brand, one that is emotional, memorable and something a consumer will want to maintain throughout the future.