5 Brand Experience Fails (and How to Avoid Them)

By Steve Milton, Chief Innovation Officer, Superfly

I recently attended a conference where a panelist asserted that “brand doesn’t matter anymore when it comes to experiences – it’s all about crafting something captivating that resonates with the consumer.” While this viewpoint seems to be increasingly popular among marketers, it warrants scrutiny. It’s true, traditional brand assets might be less influential among a younger, savvier audience. However, dismissing the role of brand in consumer experiences is a miscalculation.

In experiential marketing, the ‘brand’ retains significant importance, possibly more than ever. But, our perception of what constitutes a brand is changing. Contemporary brands must know how to articulate their brand expression beyond the basics. Despite best efforts and substantial investments, many companies stumble with activations and events which end up hurting (rather than helping) their brand. Here are some common pitfalls your brand should avoid and how to thrive in experiential marketing:

1. Tech for Tech’s Sake

Emerging technologies like NFTs, AI, and AR are enticing. Unfortunately, brands often embrace these technologies without aligning them with their brand narratives. This misuse can distort the intended experience, misdirecting consumer attention. Technology should enhance, not overshadow, the brand’s story in any experience.

An example of a brand using AI effectively is Doritos’ recent development of a “crunch-free” chip for gamers. Recognizing that 30% of gamers find the sound of snacks annoying, Doritos used AI to create a chip that minimizes noise. This allows gamers to enjoy the snack without the distraction of crunch in their often “noise-canceling” environments. While this may initially seem like social listening that weakens a brand known for its “crunch,” in recent years Doritos has arguably developed a deeper, more ownable brand widely recognized for its product innovation. They have developed different flavors, products, and recipes that define the brand beyond its crunch. By using AI to address a consumer need, Doritos strengthens its position as an innovator and creates a deeper connection through brand experience.

2. Overlooking the User (Experience)

A common blunder in brand experience design is overlooking the user’s experience when attending an experience. It’s essential to ask questions beyond aesthetics: What motivates a consumer to engage with this experience? What journey is unfolding and how does it relate to the brand? What feelings and impressions should participants take away, and how does this connect to the brand?

Questions such as this can be answered through a human centered design approach. In a recent study by PwC, 73% of consumers point to experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions. A brand experience then, is important and marketers would be wise to invest in the development of a comprehensive plan for the customer’s journey, ensuring each interaction is cohesive and resonates with the brand’s goals. If done well, the brand’s message will live consistently throughout the experience, forging memorable encounters that strengthen the bond with the brand.

3. Awkward Digital Integration

While the use of social media for audience engagement and community building is fundamental, what often gets overlooked is the seamless integration of digital behavior in an experience. When designing experiences, brands should create opportunities for organic sharing of content, avoiding unnatural and forced behaviors – which could dilute the brand’s authenticity.

With nearly 9 out of 10 event goers creating content and sharing it across social media, it’s equally important to consider the latest social and digital best practices – as societal behaviors evolve, so do interactions with the digital domain. For example, design considerations have progressed from crafting the perfect image for platforms like Instagram, to embracing the multifaceted user experiences on platforms like TikTok, where sound and other elements are now crucial. In order to do this consistently, brands need to be thinking not only about how their brand looks in certain environments, but theft should be developing guidelines for other forms of expression – from sound to motion and beyond.

4. Trend Chasing

When it comes to experiences, brands frequently succumb to the urge to impulsively chase trends, even when these trends clash with their intrinsic values or offerings. While the allure of embracing the latest trend to attract a broader audience is tempting, it can inadvertently erode your brand’s inherent message and values.

For example, while sustainability is something many companies are beginning to take seriously, we’ve seen the green-washing (too many to list) from brands across sectors – these often lack a strategic connection to the core brand or business proposition. Trend adoption should be strategic, ensuring that it supports and resonates with the brand’s foundational principles and broader experience strategy.

5. Prioritizing Visual Appeal

When developing a brand experience the first thing that marketers are concerned with is, what will it look like? And while the visual aspect is important, consumers seek more than just visually captivating activations; they want to have meaningful and impactful experiences. Therefore, rather than what will it look like, perhaps we should be asking, what will it feel like? One way to answer that question is to consider multisensory design.

The senses are the gateways to unforgettable experiences – by leveraging the science of the senses, we are able to design experiences that will tap into emotions and provide consumers with a substantive and meaningful experience. Research shows that a multisensory approach to experience design, can offer brands a chance to enhance the memorability and the emotional connection of an experience. Companies like Chanel, Lysol, and Tesla are all examples of those who are creating consumer experiences that go beyond the visual and offer a broader expression of their brand by engaging multiple senses.