Perspective: Equity is all About Building, Bonding and Renewing Consumer Relationships Through Unique Brand Experiences

Marketing today is just not what it used to be and if you are not personally and emotionally connecting with your target audience, you are losing ground in this fast paced and growing consumer landscape.

When branding first made its presence felt many years ago, the marketing landscape was different. In Nigeria for a start, the number of brands and the choices that consumers had to make were limited and the initial thrust of marketers was simply to make the brand available to match the huge potential this market offered. As the Nigerian marketing landscape evolved and picked up pace in tandem with the growth in the middle class, many more brands became available. The marketing emphasis changed to include promotional elements that were designed to entice consumers to try new brands instead of the old tried and tested products. These methodologies were relatively simple and effective but in the process have helped create a more cynical consumer.

From an Exp perspective, this is what we now refer to as ‘Demand Activation’ and in today’s market:

* there are many products and services with little real differences between them;
* We have an overcrowded environment with multiple messages;
* consumers face exaggerated claims and promises;
* the promotional element tends to be exceptionally short term driven;
* The market is highly competitive with many brands offering all sorts of gimmick incentives.

As a result, the consumers, who are now more pressed for time and often in need of assistance or reassurance, have become more cynical and they often lack brand commitment. When the consumer needs help as regard to new choices and options, where does the help usually come from? He resorts to referrals via friends, relatives, business associates and more importantly nowadays social media. This suggests that the importance of Word-of-Mouth has not decreased. As a result, the initial and every touch point, thereafter, with the consumer are critical to ensure that the correct information and context is communicated. Since consumers influence one another, every consumer that the brand connects with is potentially a brand’s next ambassador. Depending on the category of the impact, this referral can vary from 20% to 60 % (1) on consumers’ final decision.

The principle requirement of making a brand available and creating awareness remains the same.

The difference is that awareness is no longer enough to activate demand. Research (Butch Rice & Jan Hofmeyr) shows that consumers generally only see advertising of brands they already use! Common sense also tells us that it is difficult for brands to achieve the impact and penetration required by the ATL Media Strategy in a communications landscape so littered with advertising messages.

Having made the brand available and with a degree of awareness supporting it, the brand needs to move to the next level. Building bonds with consumers is an “inch wide, but mile deep” strategy. Campaigns need to BUILD, BOND and RENEW long term brand relationships. Bonding can only take place on a personal basis. Personal bonding cannot be achieved through the presence created by promoters, promotions, wet demonstrations, simple discount or free product samples alone. The mechanics of field marketing are designed to achieve specific short term objectives.

For a brand to bond with consumers, it needs to personally connect with targeted audiences through BRAND EXPERIENCES that are relevant, appealing and meaningful to their lifestyle. A brand that is pushed in your face as a sales promotion is of little value to building, bonding and renewing lifetime relationships. However, a well constructed experience that is built around creating relevance in an unexpected way, takes the consumer on a journey, where they are able to internalize the benefits of the brand and do the mental projection and put themselves into the consumption moment. This for Exp is the essence of creating the Brand Experience and building lifetime relationships with the brand, where the end point of an emotional connection with the brand is clearly defined.

Exp's proprietary Six Sense methodology looks at all the intersects of behaviour, motivation and sensory elements to ensure that the experience is crafted in such a way that it makes the reason to believe more compelling and the decision to purchase more a function of gratification. The consumers absorb the brand into their lifestyle because it adds value to their lives on a cognitive and subconscious level.

The brand experience should not be one dimensional in its approach, but rather a holistic experience that covers as many of the six senses (see, hear, touch, taste, smell and that vital sixth sense, the emotional one) as possible in its execution; driving brand-in-mind to brand-in-hand to brand-in-heart.

Hiring people and sound systems and making brand noise ends up creating just that - “Noise”- making the consumer even more cynical.

Building, bonding and renewing the brand connection through unique and emotional brand experiences is what has made Exp a world class service provider and a communications partner to most of the world’s major brands.

Brand experiences are part of today’s brand building challenge and must be treated - strategically - as such. Success in today’s competitive brand and marketing environment is to a large extent dependent on the quality of the experiential element of the campaign and as a result this element should lie at the very heart of the total communication strategy.

1) McKinsey Quarterly Report April 2010

Mr. Boon is the Group Director, Marketing & Strategy; Exp Experiential Marketing Agency.
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