This article first appeared on Warc and was written by our Head of Strategy EMEA, Christophe Castagnera
Between COVID-19 and rapid digital acceleration, the opportunities and challenges facing marketers on brand experience will lead to new inspiration and strategies for 2022.
For many sectors, the shift from product to service models will make brand experience a crucial tool in holding onto existing customers and winning over new ones.
After so much time lived virtually, people are seeking more ‘IRL’ experiences, craving unique leisure experiences that have shareability and kudos.
Captive, immersed and loyal audiences mean gaming experiences will continue to be cherished and explored by brands.
Why it matters
Between COVID-19 and rapid digital acceleration, the opportunities and challenges facing marketers on brand experience will inspire new inspiration and strategies for 2022.
With more and more brands experimenting with ways to use the metaverse to meet their marketing goals, the conventions are still being defined; it’s a great time to explore the possibilities. A shift in attitude toward store space has started to emerge – and with it, the rise of brand home retail as flagship retail spaces meld commerce, communication and brand home strategy. A new landscape of B2B events is starting to take shape. The frequency will change – people will attend less often – and tentpole experiences stand out amid fragmentation. An example of this is Shell's National Wholesale Conference held once every three years rather than annually, a premium event we helped them create that provides an immersive experience for their B2B partners. In many ways, we see 2022 as the ‘first of the next’ as we move from the pandemic pressures and associated shifting behaviours, to a world that seeks to recapture what we missed, in new ways and spaces – always with the overarching drive for sustainability and reduced impact.
Seven brand experience trends for 2022:
Sustainability is the pressing issue of our time. As the proportion of consumers seeking to reduce their impact on the planet increases, so do the most progressive brands who will lead that drive, reflecting the transformation of businesses to become sustainable and net positive. For many sectors, the shift from product to service models will make brand experience a crucial tool in holding onto existing customers and winning over new ones. This could be by simply being more transparent about the company’s sustainability initiatives or by creating experiences and services that enable customers to be part of making a positive impact, in partnership with brands. On the delivery front, expect to see demand growing for lower-footprint campaigns as consumers look beyond greenwashing to practical, tactical ways that brands are living up to promises. We see this already in businesses that are affected by climate change – the alcohol sector for example – and as brands have had to change their processes, they can bring that story to the fore as seen with Campo Viejo, the first carbon-neutral wine in Spain.
2. Paid-for brand experiences
We’re seeing an interesting coalescence of two effects of the pandemic: after so much time lived virtually, people are seeking more ‘IRL’ experiences and craving unique leisure experiences that have shareability and kudos. Alongside this, the hollowing out of the high street by lockdown and the shift to online and delivery means that there is excess real estate in a central location. Together, these offer opportunities for brands to make a play in the leisure/entertainment market – offering unique experiences that bring together leisure activities with the offer of recognised brands. By charging an entry fee, brands can offset some costs, attract a more targeted audience and achieve outsize brand effects.
Think the Ford Go Faster experience, where people paid for an extended stunt-driver themed test drive, to themed escape room-type experiences like Netflix Money Heist Experience and Monopoly Live.
3. Gaming and the metaverse
If the metaverse is an entire experience ecosystem, then gaming is the broader, more accessible version that people have been engaging with for some time. Captive, immersed and loyal audiences mean gaming experiences will continue to be cherished and explored by brands. Facebook’s announcement that it was renaming as Meta was the latest step in tech’s move towards making the metaverse a reality. The trend will be for much more of the metaverse and we can expect to see more brands experimenting and playing with it as it becomes more mainstream. While it’s still early days, we’re seeing more and more brands experimenting with ways to use the metaverse to meet their marketing goals – the conventions are still being defined, it’s a great time to explore the possibilities. For brands, there is a spectrum of involvement to choose from. For some, to dip their toe in, it might be an event within a game; the next stage is the brand creating something like BMW did with its virtual platform JOYTOPIA and the Coldplay gig; while for others, they have the option of building a virtual version of a brand home, their very own metaverse.
4. High street retail as brand homes
Brand homes are the older, richer sibling of ticketed experiences. The value they can bring to brands is considerable – in our research, we found that 67% of people felt more positive about a brand after a visit to a brand home and 49% bought the product more regularly after their visit. But as COVID-19 has ravaged high street brands, a shift in attitude toward store space has started to emerge – and with it, we see the rise of brand home retail as flagship retail spaces meld commerce, communication and brand home strategy. Flagship retail delivers a closer customer relationship for brands often distanced by third party retail channels – something M&Ms recognised some time ago with the world’s largest candy store in London, M&M World. Rethinking the store means ditching the idea that it’s about selling products and seeing it as a differentiated brand experience. It’s about retail changing and brands thinking about physical retail with a brand home lens rather than a store lens.
Events and experiences costs have been under the spotlight as physical options were curtailed. The knock-on effect is that there has been an increased focus on ensuring the right people are present, especially for brands targeting higher price points or trying to influence specific audiences – such as higher net worth individuals or B2B audiences.
The trend for micro-targeting leads directly into our next two trends, as it forms a virtuous circle with data capture and B2B thinking. Increasing focus on higher-value attendees will see experiences working much harder for brands in terms of audience quality rather than quantity. We saw this with Rolls-Royce being highly selective on slots for its luxury curated events for the new Ghost. Micro-targeting requires good data to market to the right people and convert; with poor data, a brand will struggle to get the right quality of attendees. COVID-19 has focused minds on getting the right invite list – and this requires collaboration and integration between CRM, data and events teams.
6. Data capture
So, while having good data is essential for micro-targeted experiences, in turn, experiences will increasingly be used as vehicles to capture data. This imperative grows as new rules on cookies means brands can’t easily track people’s online journeys. As a result, brands are going back to basics and looking for first-party data acquisition.
Because of the value exchange of a brand experience, they are natural sources of gathering data. Attendees are in-person, engaging in a brand conversation, there’s a degree of trust – it’s the ultimate automatic opt-in. People don’t visit experiences unless they are willing to engage with the brand. The conundrum is when to ask for the data. Brands must consider what touchpoints they will use and whether they need to integrate their web solutions or create a bespoke data capture mechanism. Giving away lollies may gain you lots of data, but if everyone subsequently opts out, it’s valueless. This trend is all about experience design. Gathering data can’t be an after-thought – it must be designed into the journey. With Ford’s Bring on Tomorrow experience we designed a light data capture mechanic to register, then people could play the game, and at the end, they received an email that let them go further with Ford in several different ways.
7. B2B experiences
The COVID-induced demise of B2B events has been overstated – but they will require more careful consideration of their core proposition to thrive, and brands will be reassessing their value with a critical eye. They are ultimately about great content, networking opportunities and, ideally, located in an attractive destination to tip over the desire to attend in a pandemic era. Does the experience stack up as a proposition that can convince CFOs of attendees’ companies that it’s worth them coming? For example, Web Summit returned to IRL in November and welcomed 45K attendees – this was down from its peak of 60K but given that business travel had dropped by more than 60%, the attendance it achieved vindicates its strategy.
A new landscape of B2B events is starting to take shape. Frequency will change – people will attend less often – and tentpole experiences stand out amid fragmentation. There will be a variety of solutions and tools to engage people on virtual platforms and overcome the Zoom fatigue and we’re seeing Facebook and Microsoft beef up their B2B tools in this space. Much will depend on where brands decide to invest. The coming year is incredibly exciting for experiences – in the face of adversity, COVID-19 pushed brands to innovate and explore different ways to engage with their customers. From that learning and experimentation, they can move forward with renewed vigour, knowing that people are ready and willing to attend, participate and enjoy brand experiences across multiple platforms and in a multitude of ways.