"An Involving Brand Experience"

David B. Polinchock, Chief Ideator, Creative Strategies

"Tell me and I will forget, Show me and I will remember, Involve me and I will understand." -- Confucius

In today's economy, the biggest risk that companies face is having their products or services turned into commodities, with consumers using price as their only criteria for selection. The internet and other emerging technologies can make this situation even worse, by allowing consumers to shop across multiple stores at once and to compare prices for the same product before purchasing.

However, we've seen over and over again, that companies who compete strictly on price are rarely the survivors. And think about your own buying experiences. Sure, sometimes price is the only thing that you are concerned about. But aren't there other times that you're more concerned about the total experience you are receiving and price becomes a secondary consideration?

The Internet has always been about 'interactive,' and while we discuss these issues as if they are new, the Confucius quote that we use on all of our materials and is below in my e-mail, really sums up what needs to be done to make these mediums successful -- involvement. And involvement is something more then opt in e-mails, cookies that track your online movements and data mining to predict future behavior. It has to do with creating authentic experiences that provide real value to the user. You shouldn't be asking your audience for permission marketing, they should be begging for you to market to them!

Having started in the interactive advertising space in 1991, developing fully immersive, marketing programs using virtual reality, I've seen all the latest and greatest in emerging technologies. Unfortunately, even today, I still hear people speak more about the technology then about the fundamental need to create compelling stories and experiences! I always like to ask the question, "When was the last time someone recommended a book to read by telling you about how the ink was put on the paper?"

The battle cry today is that online advertising will work when broadband and rich media are ubiquitous. Wrong! We see ads touting the ability to watch commercials on our computer. Bull! That's not what this industry is all about. Nor, should it be about simply porting existing experiences and dropping them online.

In our work with clients, we focus on several issues:

  • Brand Storytelling. It's not about the technology; it's about the story you tell. As long as you are true to who you are and what you stand for, you can build a compelling story and/or experience to reach your audience. One of the exercises that I use is to have people describe their company as if it was a blind date. What would they like? Where would they want me to take them? What kind of people would they hang out with? This really helps people focus on who their company is.
  • Authenticity. Create authentic experience for your audience. Having cookies simply recording what people are doing online and then regurgitating that information back to them does not create a real experience. Look at the impact aspects of offline experiences and determine how you can reposition those elements in the online experience.
  • The Experience. Technology must enhance the brand experience from the customers' point of view, not the companies. We've all dealt with endless voicemail and voice recognition systems, only to never be allowed to speak to a person. New CRM technologies should be outlawed if it is only being used to lower costs and add to the bottom line. They should only be used to enhance what the human staff can do to help customers.
  • Technology. Our work with a number of topline facilities, most notably the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU, gives us a great look into the possible futures of interactive technologies, especially as they relate to brand storytelling. Knowing what is possible will help identify paths that clients should be taking. However, there is a big difference between telling your story with technology and substituting technology for the story. Understand how technology can speak for your brand and when it will speak against your brand as well.
  • Sociability. No matter what we in the industry think or what technology will be able to do, nothing will ever replace our need to have real social experiences. Just look at the Internet industry -- we have more cocktail parties then any other industry on the planet! Why, because we like to actually speak to people; shake their hands; see their reactions. That's not changing in the near future!
  • Our Human Nature. Despite all of the tremendous strides that technology has taken in the last few decades, human nature just doesn't change that fast. Stop thinking that the technologies that we are creating today will change people tomorrow. Yes, they will eventually make changes in human nature, but those changes take a long time. I'm not sure that I cam come up with any really massive changes in basic human nature that have been caused by the Internet.
  • Online Privacy and Consumer information. Who doesn't like to go to a store or restaurant where "everyone knows your name?" In fact, how many times have you paid more for something or driven further to get it, just because a particular place gives you better service by "invading your privacy?" Don't we consider this a positive experience in the offline world? In fact, we get such a warm feeling from the invasion of privacy, that we usually make sure that we take our friends there, just so they can be impressed when the bartender or store clerk knows our name!

    We should be focusing our efforts on how can we bring a value to the consumer that translates into a better online experience? What will make the consumer feel as though everyone just called their name when they walked in? How can we create an experience where the 'owner' comes out to greet each visitor and thanks them for being there, while pointing out that they know what the consumer likes?

    You see, all too frequently, branding is screaming and yelling "Hey, you gotta' use us, we're the best!" and all too infrequently on creating involving experiences that that make people really want to be with our brand. And more and more today, wešre letting technology take the place of an engaging experience. The more we lose real touch with our consumers and replace it with "data mining," the more we risk losing the brand completely. After all, many items we consume today are commodities, only separated by the experiences that surround that product. If we homogenize the experience, we can't help but devalue the brand through that homogenization as well.

    So, start looking at your company or brand as a blind date and decide why one of your friends would be interested in going out with them. Make colleagues in your company take the "Blind Date Challenge" and see if everyone is describing the same person! Then have a few customers do it as well. Once you know who you are, then you can truly build involving experiences both online and offline, that will truly bring your brand to life, engage your audience and create the brand loyalty that is so frequently lost today.

    © 2001, Location Based Branding, Inc.

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