by Christian Lachel
As seen on Forbes
Think about the best novel you’ve ever read or the best movie you’ve ever watched. What made it stick with you? Why might you return to it time and again?
Likely, the experience of going on an emotional journey with the main characters made you feel differently about yourself or appreciate the world around you in a new way. It touched your heart. It transformed you.
At a time when consumer attention spans are shorter than ever, brands are recognizing that experiential marketing and emotionally evocative storytelling can be a Holy Grail. They are powerful tools that viscerally connect audiences to a brand through experience and inspire deeper loyalty. Platforms such as brand homes, visitor/factory tours and urban brand experiences can engage, entertain and inform diehard fans and newbies by taking them on journeys through the brand’s story, products, process and values. When done well, guests leave with an emotional souvenir that can last a lifetime and, more importantly, drive future sales.
The tricky part is getting it right. If achieving audience transformation were easy, then every movie would be a blockbuster hit, every novel would be a best-seller and every theater production would win a Tony Award.
Clearly, it’s not easy. But there are six secrets that the most successful experiential marketers use to create experiences that matter to their audiences:
1. Start in the heart.
To create an experience that profoundly changes the way guests think, feel and act, you need to start with them. Take the time to understand what they want. What are their hopes, dreams and fears? What makes them tick and what do they value? We often work with consumer insight teams and trend specialists to help align the experience we’re creating with the intended audience.
People will tell you what you want to know if you ask the right questions and listen deeply. Use these insights to design experiences that deliver what they crave and that aligns with their values. When you start with the heart of the audience, amazing things can and will happen.
2. Know where you’re going.
Many brands know they want to transform their audiences, yet they can’t define in detail what specific changes they want and how to measure its success. It's critical to define the delta -- the change you wish to create -- between how a guest enters the experience and what you want them to do and feel when they exit.
For example, guests enter the Manufacturing Innovation Theater at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour as casual spectators. They find themselves transformed into Ford enthusiasts with a new appreciation for Ford’s ambitious customer-focused innovations and manufacturing techniques. They take this change into the world, recommending the tour and often purchasing Ford products. It pays to get specific, let your storytelling intention drive the narrative, and make sure you can measure the change.
3. Have a single theme.
Once you know your destination, boil your story down to one central idea in the guest’s mind. Make it simple, emotional and personal. It should leave the audience with a clear understanding of your brand story, what you want them to experience on the journey and ultimately what you want them to take away in their hearts and minds.
A great example is the timeless story of The Wizard of Oz. Although Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion are all following the same yellow brick road, each of them is experiencing their own personal journey and challenges. The main theme is, “Everything we need to realize our dreams is already inside us.” This helps create a thread that holds the story, journey and key message together, creating a universally loved story that emotionally connects with audiences decades after its first showing in movie theaters in 1939.
4. Create an emotional journey.
Being boring is the greatest sin any storyteller can commit. To avoid this trap, painstakingly orchestrate the emotional highs and lows you want guests to feel at every turn. This creates tension, excitement and anticipation and helps your brand story build to emotional crescendos when your audiences are primed and ready for them.
Like a great movie director, you must craft and orchestrate the journey using music, narrative sequencing, color and spatial design that best supports the brand experience you're creating. At the new “Power of Rock” experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the best moments from past inductions ceremonies are showcased in a boundary-pushing, emotional and kinetic special effects theater. This isn’t about rock and roll. It isrock and roll. Guests emerge exhilarated and changed.
5. Engage all five senses.
Unlike traditional media, physical brand experiences can be multi-sensory. Too often, brands focus entirely on sight without capitalizing on the opportunity to appeal to an audience’s senses of sound, smell, touch and even taste. Music can be artfully choreographed to set the mood, wafting scents can transform an audience to another space and time, guests can physically touch different finishes or textures or taste unique flavors associated with your brand. Sensory experiences can be created every step of the way, but they should be intentional, leaving guests entirely satiated and inherently transformed.
6. Be alive and create bond-and-connect moments.
Brand homes are dynamic experiential platforms. They should continually change and evolve with new experiences and new opportunities for people to interact through live events, performances and demonstrations. In fact, one of the most important secrets to inspiring lifelong loyalty is creating moments of interpersonal connection and interaction.
At the Jameson Distillery Bow St. brand home in Dublin, Ireland, for example, every guest's experience culminates in a communal toast that bonds them together and powerfully connects them to the Jameson brand. It’s a moment that memorializes the experience in the heart of the audience.
By using these six secrets of transformative experiential marketing as a guide, brands can build deeper connections with their audience, inspire brand loyalty and deliver a greater ROE -- return on experience -- by providing a transformative experience that celebrates the brand, the audience and the world we share.