Brand experiences are like sugar

Is brand experience the new sugar?

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Right now, it feels like almost every brand wants to hook their customers on sweet moments that have them coming back for more. But is that what people want or have brands simply made high-energy experiences the new must-add?

Storyteller Colin Rowsell posted this on LinkedIn: “One of the most ‘delightful’ things I own is my Chromebook. It delights me by doing what I expect, without hassle, at a fair price. So does my bookshelf. And my bed. On the other hand, when overexcited designers and marketers try to stuff me full of delight like a candy-fed cow, I just feel irritated and look elsewhere, for things that don’t need constant sugary approval.”

Sometimes we just want things to be. They don’t need to earn us points, flip us stuff, give us a new take on the world. We don’t need to marvel at how clever they are, or love what they do for our ego or social circle.

The decreasing power of wow

The increasing difficulty for marketers I think is to let something do what it does without adding some level of artificial  enhancement. We are, as Sophie Heawood so delightfully put it, in danger of turning consumers into “everythingists” – the combination of perfectionism, narcissism and laziness that has people saying they want the benefits of what’s on offer, because they feel they now deserve it, and that they don’t want to miss out, whilst at the same time failing to make any reciprocal commitment based on what they have been served up. Just to give a sense of the prevalence of experiences, in a recent survey by Freeman and SSI, more than one in three CMOs surveyed said they expect to allocate 21 to 50 percent of their budgets to brand-experience marketing over the next three to five years.

As experiences become  the new normal, and brands settle into what feels more and more like an experience war, they are training customers to be wow-ed whilst running down the value of each wow as they do so.

As more brands look to enhance, pushing your brand to become more simple is a viable, alternative strategy

So what are the alternatives? If you’re a middle/upper market brand and you want to enhance loyalty and grow your top-line, what options do you have beyond trying to out-experience others? Certainly one is to head in the opposite direction. As more brands look to enhance, pushing your brand to become more simple is a viable, alternative strategy. As experience-focused brands seek to lock in more of consumers’ time and engagement, over 60% of consumers say they would pay more for brands that saved them time and that made things more straight-forward.  Yes, even that’s about experience at one level in that it’s about good CX and UX, but it’s also about using consistency, brevity, transparency, personality and empathy to cut friction and complication. As sectors become more complex, and decisions become more involved, brands that can express what’s on offer in ways that customers quickly identify with, and see benefit in, will look increasingly attractive.

Opting out of the experience race

The discipline now doesn’t lie in simply adding experiences per se but rather in being able to discern and filter when adding experiences is extraneous and will only serve to dilute what customers get. Making brand experiences that really count is hard. As the arms race for more content, more stories, more experiences and more journeys continues to ramp up, a powerful herd mentality has set in. The new FOMO for marketers is that their brand doesn’t tick these boxes, that it doesn’t keep up and that such shortcomings make it uncompetitive. There is a risk of that to be sure. But there is perhaps a greater risk that the brands that obsess on this are throwing a great deal of effort and resources at looking more and more like everyone else whilst telling themselves that they are somehow differentiating themselves.

My own view is that we will see increasing polarisation around experience strategies as more and more brands ask if there should always be a brand experience? Right now, a lot of brands are reluctant to embrace simplicity. But, as the pressure to delight consumers becomes greater and greater, the wish to explore options that are more minimalist and straight-forward will increase.

Updated: This article was originally published in June 2017 and was posted here and elsewhere under the title Is Brand Experience The New Sugar? A new, updated and extended version that includes more detail and discussion points was posted on this blog in July 2018 under the title Why Are So Many Customer Experiences Now Just Marketing Sugar?


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