Smoke, Mirrors, and Experiential Branding

Can everyone please get real?

It seems you cannot read any article about branding these days without someone saying that experiential branding is the Next Big Thing. That only experiential branding will appeal to the elusive Millennials. That it is experiential branding that allows a consumer to remember the brand better and more fondly than “traditional” branding.

Traditional branding?

The misnomer in all of this is the word experiential. The fact is that ALL branding – if it is done properly – has the end goal of engaging the consumer on an emotional level. If we do not care about the brand, then any kind of experience is out of the question.

I do not mean to bad-mouth experiential as a concept. On the contrary, I fully believe in it. Experience, direct physical contact with the brand, has a huge mnemonic value. If I hear something I have a slight chance of remembering. If I see it, my chance gets better. And if I touch it, it will probably stick.

The main difficulty in this is that I cannot skip over sight and sound to get to experience. A brand must follow a distinct path in order to be known. The ports of entry are firstly the eyes – we will see the logo, we will read the stories – and ears – we will hear about the brand from our friends. It is only once we have registered the brand cognitively that we can begin to have a feeling about it.

If the feeling is positive (meaning that your branding agency did its job!) then the experience of the brand is the next port of call.

I take issue with the hype about experiential branding (or marketing). By giving it a catchy name, the assumption is that this is a Great Discovery and a Band Wagon onto which we should all jump. The word will get bandied about so much in boardrooms and across café tables that suddenly everyone thinks that their “traditional” branding is not enough.

But what would happen if we were to strike the word “traditional” from that sentence? It leaves us with branding, and if that is not working then no amount of experience will help.

A well-developed brand, one that inspires love and sparks dreams, is one that everyone will want to experience first hand.

That’s real.

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