Experience is the battleground where brands are competing today. Long gone are the days of one way, hard-sell advertising. We are in the age of living brands where they have to pivot, adjust and respond dynamically with consumers across channels and dimensions while staying consistently true to their DNA. Brands win today by creating multi-dimensional experiences that engage the consumer emotionally, physically and intellectually.
We are witnessing this with the decline of traditional retailers and the boom of pop-up concept shops and multi-purpose shopping malls (57.7% YOY growth) that draw consumers through engaging discovery and entertainment. We see the rise of co-creation and the importance of social media influencers in reinvigorating brands that could have lost touch (e.g., Lego, Chanel) as well as putting new brands onto the map (e.g., Glossier, Made.com). And the most successful and relevant brands can merge technology with personalized narratives to create and deliver experiences that provoke and delight (e.g., Nike, Sephora).
Many of the brands that top Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™ this year are companies that artfully drive customer loyalty and build stronger brand perceptions by creating multi-dimensional experiences. We see three tangible ways brands do this:
1. Crossing Channels
Many online players are experimenting with offline activation to engage with their consumers in a physically tangible way.
The online player, Taobao, holds an annual ‘Maker Festival’, an offline mega event that serves as a platform for store owners to share their concepts and products in-person with consumers. More than 1,000 products are showcased at the festival, spread across sections that cover street fashion, cultural heritage, technology, food and novel designs. By curating such a large-scale offline event, Alibaba provides a platform for consumers to physically experience, see, touch, smell and taste the creative products sold on its website.
Taobao Maker Festival (image source: cbnweek.com)
Another popular e-commerce platform, Xiaohongshu, further expanded its offline presence by opening two ‘RED Home’ retail stores to not only sell products, but also provide a space for the social community to meet offline and hang out with each other. Cafes and ice-cream shops are sectioned right next to the home goods area, where the most highly-ranked products on the platform are projected onto the large screens and customers can pull up peer reviews anytime to discuss over a cup of coffee or sweets.
Xiaohongshu RED Home (image source: sohu.com)
2. Crossing Categories
Not to be outdone and outpaced by these online players, offline retailers are also embracing the medium of concept stores that cross experiences traditionally defined by a certain category of product or service.
Shiseido created a new concept experience shop the ‘Beauty Method’ that features an unexpected pairing of culinary concepts and makeup. From an ‘open-kitchen’ and ‘dining table’, consumers can order makeup ‘off the menu’ and receive personalized advice from the ‘chef’.
Similarly, Nio is also creating a new experience by re-imagining what a car showroom experience is with their exclusive ‘Nio Houses.’ These clubhouses are equipped with a co-working space, cafe, daycare centre and event venue for members.
NIO House in Beijing (image source: sohodd.com)
Perhaps the best example for experience stores is Nike’s House of Innovation located in Shanghai, that merges the online and offline worlds into a single seamless customer experience. The first of its kind, the four-level & 41,150 sq. foot store not only sells Nike products across categories, but features unique experiences such as the digitally-enabled “centre court” that can be used for speaker sessions, workshops and digitally-led training sessions. Additionally, the various immersive displays throughout the store offer consumers the chance to get to know and experience Nike’s products first-hand.
Nike House of Innovation in Shanghai (image source: Nike)
3. Crossing brands
Finally, we are seeing more and more brands partnering in unexpected ways to deliver co-branded experiences that generate publicity and buzz among shared target consumers. The “1+1>2” effect creates a beneficial partnership when the surprise duo creates rewarding and unique content for the audience.
In 2019, NetEase Cloud Music partnered with Luckin Coffee to open a new music themed coffee shop in Shanghai named ‘Music Island’. The shop not only features the playlists provided by the Netease app, but also implements an interactive comments wall showcasing the app’s beloved community music reviews as well as selected comments by the coffee shop’s customers. Moreover, members of NetEase Cloud Music can claim a free signature drink at the shop. While both companies are known for their online businesses, this offline collaboration was a way to generate buzz and word-of-mouth promotion among their shared target consumer group.
Music Island Cafe by Luckin Coffee & NetEase Cloud Music (image source: youth.cn)
Westin partnered with Keep, an online training app, that aligns with its brand concept of well-being. The partnership created three special training courses to satisfy its business travellers’ demand for fitness and healthier lifestyle habits while staying at their hotel. In room, guests can watch the Westin x Keep fitness Channel. Around the hotel, guests can use the Keep running app. And in the gym, guests can follow Keep online training courses.
Westin x Keep fitness program (image source: ifanr.com)
In today’s world, consumers are craving more personalized and memorable experiences. They are no longer passive observers but interacting with brands that they have a closer relationship and affinity to. By crossing channels, categories and partners, brands are experimenting with experiences in new and fresh ways, continuing to delight their consumers, stay relevant and win.