Known’s Liz Hess describes a world where linear customer journeys have given way to a complex matrix of platforms and routes. Worse, attempts to map them too often fall short with internal misalignment.
In today’s fiercely competitive and optimization-obsessed market, understanding and enhancing the customer journey has emerged as a crucial aspect of success. Customers have come to expect personalized, proactive, and anticipatory experiences. Delivering exceptional customer experiences throughout the entire journey is the key to building strong relationships, fostering loyalty, and driving sustainable growth.
The customer journey has become a pivotal concept that empowers organizations. With marketers embracing the idea that excellent customer experiences can be the best advertisement for a brand, customer journey mapping has become an obligatory aspect of go-to-market planning.
To create the seamless experiences that customers have come to expect, marketers dissect customer needs and aggregate an amalgamation of data: marketing metrics to define the details of how customers have been acquired, user research for a step-by-step analysis of the shopper journey, market research gleaned by interviews with customers and survey data, and details on how a buyer persona uses a product. There’s also a treasure trove that can be gleaned from customer touchpoints including email interactions, social media engagement, abandonment of part-filled shopping carts, returns to the site after abandonment, or chats with sales or support representatives.
Welcome to the matrix
The customer journey, once linear, has been replaced by a complex matrix of touchpoints with the customer at the centre. Somewhere along the way, customer journeys have gotten so fluid that we’ve forgotten who and what we’re serving. Marketers need to strive for a dynamic, collaborative, and socialized customer journey that works harder and smarter.
As brand marketers, we often witness clients invest significant time and resources into (and apply painstaking detail to) defining a brand strategy, only to hit a crossroads when socializing the direction among other departments. They fall in love with a vision but struggle to evangelize colleagues with the same energy, vigour, and inspiration.
For companies to live up to their brand promise and keep up with ever-evolving consumer demands, they need to be aligned and involve each division and department. While completely breaking down silos isn’t realistic, a collective journey map can be an effective bridge to connect teams and disciplines. Still, there are a few principles to position the customer journey as a tool for internal alignment.
1. Make it universal
The customer journey shouldn’t live within one department. A customer journey is best used as a tool for building consensus, and a contract between each discipline as to what they’re ultimately working towards.
The map should provide the business with a common language and understanding of how all efforts intersect. All initiatives should stem from the journey by translating customer needs into business rationale.
2. Make it personal
A customer journey map should outline not only how disciplines intersect but also how specific individuals in the company support customers’ needs. This is particularly impactful in healthcare marketing, where it’s been shown that when employees understand how they impact patients’ lives directly, it leads to higher job satisfaction, employee retention, and overall marketing and sales effectiveness. Naming clear roles and responsibilities, escalation protocol, and internal systems creates a sense of collective ownership.
3. Make it actionable
Brand strategies can often fail in implementation. Your brand is everything that you do, so it’s crucial to thread foundational brand elements into the journey. Beyond characterizing your customer, you can also use a journey map to humanize the brand. For instance, we can imagine and define how a brand archetype would behave at critical moments that matter, based on its values and focuses.
4. Make it holistic
Remove the purchase funnel and think about what a customer is really doing before they’re engaging with or thinking about the category. Customers enter and re-enter the funnel at various points, and with different states of mind and needs. Designing these pre-entry points helps us to imagine what motivates a customer, and when.
At times, imagining a category-agnostic customer journey can help widen the aperture to identify moments and touchpoints that can bring a customer into the journey at various stages.
While there are many schools of thought, training courses, and step-by-step guides to creating customer journeys, marketers and brands looking to create a competitive advantage and win need to break convention in favour of utility. Want to create customer journey maps that are enlightening, inspiring, and effective? Flexibility is the key to success.
Feature Image Credit: Amirali Mirhashemian via Unsplash
The spot is part of a new brand campaign that will roll out across the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and a handful of other markets across the globe throughout the coming weeks.
It comes on the heels of the brand’s multichannel spring campaign, which spotlighted Rooms – Airbnb’s newly-rebranded offering of private rooms within shared homes – by telling the story of individual hosts from across the globe and the unique experiences that can come with a Rooms stay.
These and other Airbnb marketing efforts of the last few years evidence a broader paradigm shift in the way the brand aims to connect with and engage audiences everywhere. It’s a shift that began with the Covid-19 pandemic.
A strategic shift
When the pandemic upended the travel and tourism industry in 2020, Airbnb lost about 80% of its business overnight. As Brian Chesky, the company’s chief executive, told entrepreneur and ‘This Week in Startups’ podcast host Jason Calacanis: “We were staring into the abyss.”
Although the existential disruption may have easily sunk the business, Chesky and his team were determined to tackle the crisis opportunistically.
The challenge wasn’t in the remit of product, operations or finance alone. Marketing, too, would play a critical role. “It basically turned the company upside down – but it was also an opportunity to reimagine Airbnb a little bit and take a look at what the next iteration of Airbnb would be,” chief marketing officer Hiroki Asai tells The Drum.
The company’s founders, including Chesky, chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk and chairman Joe Gebbia, sought to make Airbnb “a much simpler company” says Asai – one that was “creatively driven,” with brand and design at the heart of the corporate story.
For Asai, who has been at Airbnb for about three and a half years, the approach felt natural. The executive began his career as a graphic designer before spending 18 years on the marketing team at Apple. A core focus on design and brand-level storytelling is in his DNA.
Pre-pandemic, Airbnb’s marketing strategy was primarily performance-driven, with much of the brand’s marketing budget dedicated to digital advertising. But when the pandemic flipped the business on its head, performance marketing wasn’t delivering what the brand needed. Asai tells The Drum: “The problem was that Airbnb wasn’t able to put its own message out into people’s minds and out into the market, so the messages were being driven by reactive PR and comms and basically what the world and what social media was talking about. Airbnb kind of lost control of the brand a little bit – and of the message and the narrative.” To regain control of the narrative, Airbnb decided to dial back its investment in performance marketing significantly.
Instead, Asai says, the plan was to “go back to the core of what Airbnb was about – which is about core hosts, primary homes and guests.” The brand poured marketing dollars into communicating this message with big, bold brand campaigns instead of performance-driven buys.
It was a much-needed strategic adjustment, in Asai’s view. “As Airbnb was growing, pre-pandemic, it was losing its differentiation. There were a lot of competing options for travellers out there and Airbnb … was losing its uniqueness. It was losing its sense of brand and who it was. So, coming out of the pandemic, the decision was to really focus on the core business and to focus on creating experiences, creating features and creating a product … to differentiate ourselves – and then to use brand to actually communicate and teach people what those differences are.”
Keeping product and brand in dialogue at all times
The brand began to invest deeply in developing and highlighting specific features and tools that set its product and experience apart. For example, a key focus of the last few years has been building out Airbnb Categories – classifications of home types, styles and locations that help users find inspiration, discover unique stays and narrow down their search. Last year, Airbnb launched a campaign showcasing its range of over 60 Categories to explore on the platform – from treehouses and off-the-grid cabins to private islands and luxe mansions. It told the stories of travellers staying in some of the platform’s most unexpected and exciting homes, like a giant potato in Idaho and a cave home in Utah.
As Asai explains: “At the core of what we need to do is to create a product and experience that’s different than any other service. And to do that, we need to innovate on the software, on the technology. And we want to use brand not just to advertise our values and what we’re about – we also want to use brand to help explain what these features are and how they make for a different experience.”
And the shift change has largely paid off. Following the decision to reduce performance marketing spend, Airbnb’s traffic levels reached 95% of what they had been in 2019 before the pandemic. Chesky said in 2021 that the brand would never again rely so heavily on performance marketing. And two years after the decision to reallocate marketing spend, the company reported its most profitable fourth quarter on record in February 2023. Revenue jumped 24% year-over-year, helping Airbnb reach an Ebitda of $506m for the quarter.
Since the strategy is proving effective, Asai and his team are only digging deeper into ways to communicate product differentiators through a brand-first approach. Airbnb’s Rooms campaign earlier this year, he says, has been a successful example. “Our approach is that product development and marketing should go hand-in-hand. We’ll work off of one central customer insight that then feeds what we do on the product – and that same insight also feeds how we market it and how we talk about it in paid media and in PR.”
With Rooms, the central insight was that many Airbnb users were interested in more cost-effective stays but were sceptical of staying in a shared home where they knew very little about the host. “The barrier that’s keeping [users] from booking Rooms is that they really don’t know who that host is and need some insight. That led to this idea of a Host Passport and adding more than just kind of dry facts [and instead adding] more insights into the space, who the host is, the hosting journey, why they’ve decided to rent the room, the story of their home. Then that same insight fed the advertising in a way that put the experience [front and center].”
The in-housing philosophy
Airbnb is able to keep product and marketing so tightly interwoven in large part due to the brand’s in-housing model, according to Asai. Not only is all product development and technology design done in-house, but so too is the company’s marketing and advertising. As the executive puts it: “What that allows us to do is to have a very, very tight system for all customer-facing things, from marketing down to product – and to work off of one insight in an extremely integrated and consistent way.”
Operationally, too, Asai says, in-housing makes sense for Airbnb as it helps the company run a tighter ship. “It’s so much easier to not deal with multiple agencies and to not deal with what the agency wants to do versus what you want to do – plus timelines, cost, just the layers of management you have to have to keep those relationships going. More importantly, I think you get a much better creative product when you have the people that create the advertising sitting literally right next to the people that make the product.”
It’s an approach Asai believes in wholeheartedly. “I’m really bullish on in-housing creative because I’ve worked on both sides of the fence – I’ve worked on the agency side, on the design firm side, then as an in-house creative and then ultimately on the marketing side. I’ve seen all ends of it and I really think people with a creative background get short changed working on the service side – I think amazing work happens out of agencies, but I think for creative to grow, they really need to be exposed to everything that happens upstream … and everything that happens downstream. Being in-house really gives you that visibility in that breath. Ultimately, it makes you a better designer, makes you a better art director, makes you a better writer.”
Nonetheless, he acknowledges that in-housing may not be the appropriate model for every brand. He admits it can be “a very difficult thing to manage.” Airbnb, in his opinion, is uniquely poised to benefit from the model because of its roots in commercial creativity. “The reason it works for Airbnb is because we have creative founders and creative leaders. Our CEO was trained as a designer, so he has a unique understanding of the creative process and can champion it and make it work and he is really involved in the work.” But in-housing, Asai says, “is really not for everyone.”
Mapping out new frontiers
When it comes to the brand’s future, Asai is confident that the continued integration of product and marketing will be a boon to the brand’s success.
As it looks to the future, a major focus for the brand in the near- to medium-term is expansion into new markets. It’s a goal Chesky spoke about openly on the company’s latest earnings call earlier this month: “The next big focus for Airbnb is reliability. If we can make Airbnb even nearly as reliable in many markets as hotels, I think you’re going to open up a whole new generation of travelers to Airbnb.” In particular, the company is eyeing Asia Pacific, which Chesky says represents “a huge opportunity for growth.”
It’s a plan that Asai is eager to take part in, adding: “It’s also super exciting to be able to introduce Airbnb to whole new audiences and cultures.”
As the company aims to expand, a focus on brand-centric marketing will remain a key part of the growth strategy, with Chesky saying during that Q2 earnings call: “When you invest in a brand, when your brand’s a noun and a verb, and you have something unique, you get a lot of … benefits. And I think it’s going to be consistent and we’ll have pretty consistent marketing spend as a percent of revenue over time because of the strength of the brand.”
The 30- or 60-second TV spot – the ‘hero ad’ – has long been the prestige centre of ad campaigns. Is it time for that approach to die? PMG’s Scott Everett thinks so.
This might be controversial on the tailwinds of celebrating Cannes Lions, but it’s time to stop making hero ads the hero of every brand story.
The almighty 60- and 30-second spots that we have long revered as the centrepiece of every brand campaign are no longer the most important components of the marketing mix. That’s not to say that TV advertising and brand-building storytelling are not important, but it is time to acknowledge that advertising has fundamentally evolved. Today’s brands need a more nimble and data-driven creative model that recognizes live TV audiences are shrinking, streaming and social viewership are on the rise, and our creative canvas is exploding with opportunities to make advertising work harder and perform better.
Creatives have long put their faith into hero ads for building brands, but right now, we have an opportunity to embrace the power of integrated creative in telling stories and driving business impact. With audiences and engagement more fragmented than ever, customer journeys aren’t linear, and our creative strategies can’t be either. That means creative must be more unique, more complete, more agile, and in more places than ever before.
In media agencies, creative teams are benefiting from the innovation and inspiration that come from creative, strategy, and media working together. We are serving an increasingly complex and competitive marketing landscape, informed by new behaviours, artificial intelligence, and breaking through in new mediums ranging from Netflix to TikTok and Reddit.
Never before have we had more audience signals or indicators of intent helping us move people along the journey from awareness to purchase. Equally, never before has the journey been less of a straight path than it is today.
Mastering this creative flywheel is the hardest and most important job ahead of brands and creatives working together to build high-performing marketing strategies. Here’s how we can better align for the full-funnel future.
1. Build a flexible and robust story platform that fuels a high-performing media plan
Brand versus performance. Data versus instinct. Creative versus creators. Super Bowl spots versus Performance Max ads. It’s not either/or, and we all must embrace the healthy tension of building a plan together.
A flexible creative storytelling platform is a comprehensive, consistent library of stories that fuels a smart media plan, facilitating real-time iteration, optimization, and learning. When everyone is operating from the same blueprint and playbook, creatives can flex into any opportunity, planned or unplanned, and advertising works harder to deliver more for the brand.
2. Plan for speed and agility
While our creative palette for building cultural relevance has expanded, speed to market is critical. Everyone must work together across strategy, insights, creative, and media to adapt to where consumers are and what they expect from advertisers. Once everyone is aligned on the brand’s objectives, teams can be empowered to deliver impact in real time. This can be anything from partnering to accelerate the media and creative working hardest to leaning into emerging opportunities like AI, the metaverse, first-mover advantages with creators and platform partners, and any number of new ways of bringing creative ideas to market.
3. Embrace the white space between brand and performance
While TV ads are great for building broad awareness, product ads can be untapped opportunities for creatively engaging with a brand’s audience. Too many advertisers continue to bridge brand-to-conversion with discount messaging rather than creating a cohesive storytelling strategy around building brand and product love. The middle funnel is the creative frontier that makes all marketing work harder, and it’s beckoning us to think beyond the creative approaches of the past.
Technology advancements in this area are particularly exciting. For example, at PMG, we’re using AI to determine real-time creative insights that tell us what creative is performing best in any given moment, based on creative elements ranging from colour to product types to backgrounds or the use of models.
Once we let go of making hero ads the hero, creative can work harder across the full customer journey. Integrated creative can then truly become the hero of helping businesses meet their goals and accelerate into the future.
Cross-media measurement continued to dominate industry chatter in Cannes – but are we one step closer to solving the measurement puzzle? Nielsen’s Deirdre Thomas gives us the lowdown.
The advertising industry has been gunning for better attribution and cross-media measurement solutions. With consumers now moving fluidly across devices, platforms and media, it’s been a long time coming for measurement to catch up – but that change is hard.
“It’s not just the measurement and the metrics that have to change – it’s everything from the way companies are organized to the way tools are built, processes are run, and cultures,” says Deirdre Thomas, chief product officer at Nielsen.
The way that the ecosystem has developed historically has created silos where digital may be in one place, television in another, and social in another place. But if marketers want to enable cross platform measurement, all those things must come together.
“That’s really what marketers want – to reach their audience fluidly across all the places they consume media, and the dollars have to flow that way,” says Thomas. “So really, to bring the measurement that way, all the other pieces have to change as well, and it’s a really hard journey.”
To help marketers piece measurement together, Thomas offers two pieces of advice: “Build for what you want to get and organize for what you want to achieve. Organizing teams, processes and buys in a way that actually reflects cross-platform is really going to help push us there.”
The next is a bit more tactical: enable the identification of the digital and linear pieces of a campaign. “That notion does not necessarily exist and it’s certainly not scaled or identical across the ecosystem,” explains Thomas. “As an industry, we need to lean in and make it possible to understand the campaign in a cross-media way so that we’re not trying to piece things together. We need to have an identifier of some form to enable that scale.”
So where does measurement go next? Nielsen announced a tie up with EDO in Cannes to integrate its Nielsen One audience measurement data with EDO’s outcomes measurement, which will enable mutual clients, starting with Disney, Warner Bros Discovery and Mediahub, to better plan and measure the impact of campaigns.
“It’s really the next chapter for Nielsen where we want our measurement to flow out into the ecosystem to underpin all kinds of innovation and measurement, and really create interoperability for the ecosystem,” explains Thomas.
If you’re not already using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance your digital strategy, fear not. Tug’s Elliot Gray has you covered.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the media industry. It’s opened up a huge range of new possibilities for digital marketers, helping them gain competitive advantages and engage with customers in new and exciting ways.
Here, we cover seven things digital marketers can do with AI to speed up workflows, boost ROI on ad campaigns, and more.
1. Automate repetitive tasks
While the role of the digital marketer is forever changing, there are some repetitive admin tasks we haven’t been able to shake – until now. Sending emails, posting on social media, conducting research. AI can automate all of these, freeing up time for marketers to focus on higher-value work.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software like Zapier can integrate with 5,000 apps and platforms to create automated workflows, automating the process of lead-generation campaigns, for example.
2. Create personalized content
AI can also be used to create more personalized content. Businesses have utilized this for many years. In 2016, Starbucks used predictive analytics to create customized emails by leveraging loyalty card and mobile app data. By analyzing data about consumer behavior, AI can help marketers better understand what kinds of content are most likely to resonate with the audience they’re trying to reach.
3. Conduct audience research
Conducting audience research can be tedious, but AI can speed it up by collecting and analyzing data about potential customers. It can also support marketers in identifying new audience segments they might not have considered before.
At Tug, we use ChatGPT to help identify new audience interests to target on Meta when planning a campaign by feeding the platform as much relevant information about the company and its products or services as possible, then asking it to provide around 50 options. Admittedly, it can spit out a lot of nonsense, but by asking for a large list of options, you have a better chance of finding hidden gems.
4. Improve customer service
Digital marketers can’t be on standby for their clients all hours of the day. By using chatbots, businesses can provide their customers with 24/7 assistance, even outside regular business hours.
Chatbots can answer FAQs or give product recommendations. Implementing a chatbot can help reduce the time employees spend answering simple questions. When something more complex comes up that the chatbot can’t answer, it can escalate the issue to an actual human.
5. Analyze data
AI can assist digital marketers with collecting and organizing data from various sources, reducing the time spent on obtaining and arranging the data, as well as making the process more streamlined overall.
If we take something like ‘sentiment analysis’ as an example, a company might use AI tools to gauge customer attitudes toward a specific brand, product, or ad campaign. This can be done by reviewing social media posts, reviews, and other online feedback in order to help understand public perception and adjust accordingly.
6. Analyze performance
Even better, AI can be adopted to analyze the performance of campaigns across multiple channels. By analyzing data from multiple sources, marketers can better understand how each channel contributes to overall success and adjust their strategies accordingly.
7. Predictive analytics
AI can predict future trends and consumer behavior more accurately than manual analysis. Predictive analytics uses machine learning algorithms to analyze large customer datasets and identify patterns that indicate future trends. For example, AI can determine which products or services are likely to soon become more prevalent, or which customers could be more likely to remain loyal customers.
8. Automate media buying processes
Through automation, AI can make the media buying process more efficient. By sifting through consumer behavior and market trends data, AI can help businesses find the best deals for their media campaigns, preventing them from overspending on ad buys. For example, AI can identify the best times and channels to run ads in order to maximize their reach while saving on costs.
At the Google Marketing Live event, the search giant announced further plans for its AI tools, promising that it will ‘continue to shape the future of marketing’. Here are the five most important insights for marketers.
AI ads are launching in Search results
For marketers, the most interesting development is likely to be the integration of AI-generated ads into search results across Google’s properties, under the title of ‘Search Generative Experience (SGE)’. The ads, which take the user’s prompt or query and build out a few paragraphs of information with associated and relevant products, are set to be deployed across the US initially.
The ads will be distinguished from other search results and labelled as ‘sponsored’ in bold text.
It has been suggested by multiple marketers and analysts that search is set to be among the most thoroughly disrupted areas of marketing due to AI tools, explaining why Google is so keen to prove its existing search-based marketing options are compatible with the tech.
Human interaction is a must
Following that process, Google’s AI tech will generate a list of suggested keywords, images from both the company’s site or a stock library, and headlines for the ad. The advertiser will be able to provide feedback and fine-tune the ad before it is deployed into search. Ultimately, despite the hype around AI, it is being marketed as a tool that requires human sign-off before the ads are deployed.
Cheaper and faster
Despite the allure of the tech, the big selling point to marketers is around bringing the cost of advertising down. Maximizing marketing efficiencies are seen as a big priority for advertisers this year, so a large part of the selling point is around bringing costs down.
Google has stated that early adopters have reported 2% more conversions at a similar cost per conversion. Because the tool is integrated into the existing Search and Performance Max campaigns, there are no pricing differences for its use.
Generative AI images
In addition to the in-search ads, Google also announced that marketers in the US will be among the first to use its generative AI tool for product images. Noting that multiple images have an impact on the success of ads – generating up to 76% increase in impressions and a 32% increase in clickthrough – Google’s team also pointed out that it is costly to manually create those ads.
As a result, the new tool is designed to streamline that process, by using generative AI to create multiple iterations of an image on the fly with different backgrounds, colour tones, increased resolution and more.
Ahead of the curve
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has recently stated that AI-powered personal assistants will severely impact the business models of Google and Amazon in particular. Speaking at the AI Forward 2023, he said: “Whoever wins the personal agent, that’s the big thing, because you will never go to a search site again, you will never go to a productivity site, you’ll never go to Amazon again”.
Google, like most of the major tech companies, has been working on AI tools for years, and it already powers many marketing transactions behind the scenes. With the advent of consumer-facing tools like ChatGPT, however, the pressure has been on large tech firms to prove they are keeping pace with generative AI. An early demonstration of Google’s AI tool Bard was met with a negative reception due to a perceived error in one of its answers, and has in part led to concerns of safety and misinformation across the AI ecosystem.
For Google, then, the opportunity related to AI-generated ads with its search results is to demonstrate to marketers that it is still at the head of the pack with the new tech. By providing figures that demonstrate the cost- and time-saving nature of the tool it will be hoping to prove Bill Gates wrong and ensure that marketers continue spending on its owned and operated platforms.
When it comes to “brand experience,” harnessing the power of the five senses in your brand strategy will completely change how your customers respond to you. Here’s how.
Brand experience is a cornerstone of business, especially for those with a brick-and-mortar presence. Without a strong and consistent brand experience, it would be difficult to attract customers. So what are the individual building blocks of brand experience?
Let’s zoom out for a moment to consider what “experience” actually means. We humans “experience” life through our five senses. Right. Duh. But here’s the catch: Many brands fail to capitalize on all five.
As someone curating the physical experience of your brand, you can more powerfully impact customers by appealing to all five of their senses in your brand strategy. This multi-sensory approach to brand marketing and brand execution is referred to as “sensory branding.”
Let’s take a tour of the five senses from a branding perspective, and look at some ways that brands can expand their use of sensory branding in their brick-and-mortar locations which are, in truth, their theatres of brand experience.
Of all the senses, sight gets the most press, but typically the spotlight shines on imagery and iconography. The golden arches of McDonald’s. The green silhouette of the Starbucks mermaid. The kind visage of Colonel Sanders on a bucket of KFC fried chicken. These icons are so indelibly linked to these brands that they’ve permeated our collective imagination.
Let’s instead open up the hood and peek at the colour psychology that turns this engine. Just as soft lighting or harsh lighting can drastically alter the mood of a room, colours set the tempo of a branded environment.
The ubiquitous presence of yellow in McDonald’s branding conjures notions of sunshine, warmth and joy, making you think of childhood and smiley faces. The green of Starbucks and Whole Foods suggests robust health and a oneness with nature.
Recommendation: Use colour theory to your advantage. Understand what feelings your brand intends to evoke, then deploy colours in your environments like secret agents, tasked with covertly pacing the moods and emotions of your guests.
The sense of smell — the “emotional sense” — travels a unique pathway into the human brain which connects it deeply to memory. Brands that are successfully married to pleasant scents within their customers’ memories have an added layer of seductive ability.
Consider Abercrombie & Fitch. The garments that fill its stores are drenched in its signature fragrances, creating powerful associations between these fierce, outdoorsy scents and the brand, as well as the lifestyle that’s suggested by the brand.
Upon your escape from the Abercrombie store in the mall, you may be subsequently lured by another powerful scent emanating from Cinnabon. The aroma of cinnamon just happens to be associated with warmth, comfort and perhaps guilty pleasure.
Fitness brands — to be certain — lack this kind of natural olfactory advantage, but there are pre-emptive measures that can be taken to offset this. For example, a scent diffuser can be employed to pump the energizing smell of eucalyptus into a gym or the relaxing scent of lavender into a spa.
Recommendation: Face it — to some extent, your brand probably smells already. Assess whether that can be amplified for your benefit or whether other scents should be deployed as defensive agents.
Sound is often thought of in terms of music. Along these lines, brands like Starbucks use playlists like audio wallpaper in their locations, suggesting certain moods and lifestyles to be associated with their brands.
But sound impacts brand experience in a number of other ways. As audio engineers and good architects know, the reverberance levels of interior spaces can significantly affect the quality of one’s experience in that space.
Speech intelligibility is significantly impaired in highly reverberant spaces. If you can’t understand what your dinner companions are saying, you likely won’t take them back to that same restaurant. On the flip side, if there’s too little reverberance in a dining space, there may be a creepy feeling of closeness with surrounding tables. It’s all about striking the right balance. Depending on the kind of environment you’re looking to create, elements can be added to either absorb or reflect sound.
You can also flip the script on bad sounds. For example, Planet Fitness features “Lunk Alarms” on its walls. The net effect here is that by incorporating an occasional alarm sound into its brand experience, it deters certain other sounds that it explicitly doesn’t want in its brand experience — namely, the beastly grunting and loud weight-dropping of “lunks,” common to other gyms.
Recommendation: Go to one of your competitor’s locations and sit quietly for a moment with your eyes closed; take note of what you hear — and also what you don’t hear — then apply those thoughts to your brand. Is the banging of the metaphorical pots and pans something you want to hide or emphasize for energy’s sake? Dealer’s choice.
Often overlooked, the sense of touch can have a powerful impact on brand experience — ranging from feelings of temperature comfort and the texture of furniture to the use of hands-on experience with products or even other humans.
Consider how Apple deliberately has a very hands-on experience in its retail locations, intended for you to have the tactile experience of feeling the newest iProduct in your hands, manifesting its attachment to those very hands — until the next model comes out, of course.
Recommendation: Think about what textures people will encounter as they interact with your brand and the duration of time for which they will be interacting with them. Be consistent with your temperatures, your furniture and your high-fives.
Admittedly, taste is the sense most often confined to a single vertical — food service. However, outliers exist. Consider Ikea, famous for furniture, but also the Swedish meatballs you’re likely embarrassed to admit you love. These are indeed part of the Ikea brand experience, rolling a touch of savoury Swedish kindness into the mix.
But getting back to food service, strategic freebies can go a long way in the taste department. If you go to your local Friendly’s or DQ, you’re likely to be offered free samples of different ice cream flavours, activating your sweet tooth — and shortly thereafter, your wallet.
Also think of the warm, soft, unlimited signature breadsticks you get after ordering your meal at Olive Garden. After stuffing your face with those, odds are high that you’ll be taking half of your entrée home, but also that you’ll be returning to the OG.
Recommendation: Consider ways that you can intertwine the sense of taste into your brand experience; but if you’re offering to put something in your customer’s mouth, please be sure that it tastes good. In other words, if you’re an oil change franchise serving coffee in the waiting room, be sure that the coffee doesn’t taste like your motor oil.
Final thought: ‘The 6th sense’
Lastly, one overarching bit of advice pertaining to your sensory branding efforts: Be knowledgeable, be intentional and be consistent!
Certain brands that master the weaving of all five senses into the mosaic of their brand experience can capture that elusive “sixth sense” — the clairvoyance of being in the presence of the master touch.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor. Business Development Executive at Northeast Color. Pete Lankarge is a business development executive with Northeast Color, where he works with franchisors to create consistent brand experiences for brick & mortar. He is also the lead singer of Pete LaGrange & the Ghost Riders, who have appeared on a Grammy ballot.
While we’ve recently lost some high-street retail brands, many are still kicking. How are they surviving – and how will they flourish amid continuing permacrisis? We asked 7 commerce aces from The Drum Network.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was plenty of well-justified concern about the continued existence of brick-and-mortar retail. Since then, we’ve seen evolutions in the shapes of (and footfalls in) towns and cities; accelerated hybridizations like smart stores; and, despite an IRL bounce-back, continued shifts toward online retailers.
What are the features of this evolving environment that marketers should be paying the closest attention to? In the long run, is brick-and-mortar dead – or an indelible part of life? Read on for our experts’ answers.
Martin Ryan, vice president of retail, EPAM
Retailers must urgently adapt physical spaces to meet current and anticipated sales demand. This often involves a multi-year effort due to lease inflexibility.
The future will see the development of new store formats, heavily edited store assortments, and some closures. This includes fewer but bigger stores that mix product and experience; a proliferation of smaller stores in convenient locations; and, for some sectors, automated and cashier-less stores and collection points. The store mix will be designed to work on an omnichannel model.
Retailers will continue to experiment with live-stream shopping and remote advisory to ensure the attention of new customer demographics.
The shift from physical to less profitable online sales will cause retailers to scrutinize marketing spend that promotes these channels. They will seek compensating benefits, like retail media revenues. Understanding store conversion rates enable marketers to compare online and offline ROI and build a mix of advertising spend.
Retailers will adopt customer data platform projects, implementing technology to survive in a post-cookie world, where tiny signals from consumer devices and behaviour are processed by AI models to provide probabilistic knowledge about individuals.
Martin LeBlanc, architect & principal partner at Sid Lee Architecture
From a design perspective, brick-and-mortar retail spaces in 2023 need to centre excitement. What’s the incentive to visit? What sort of memories will be created? For Concepts in New York City, for example, we designed a VIP store-within-the-store to offer guests an experience that wouldn’t be possible online.
There are plenty of opportunities for retail spaces to be both reflective of and supportive of the communities they’re located in. This means the prioritization of accessibility but also the inclusion of elements that reflect the city and its people. Something as simple as integrating the work of a local artist goes a long way in cultivating a sense of connection, which is of course the goal when competing with the digital world.
Carly Johnson, vice president, group director of strategy (North America), Momentum Worldwide
The volley between in-store and online has crystalized how shoppers want to shop. Hybridized shopping has become the sweet spot for most, leveraging the convenience and reach of online with the speed and experience of in-store. There’s a tremendous benefit to mastering this hybrid approach: educate and inspire shoppers online, then convert them in-store where it’s much harder to ‘leave their cart’.
The experience in physical retail cannot be underestimated. Emotion drives behaviour; brands and retailers must create experiences that illicit emotions first. Emotion AI is a form of artificial intelligence that marketers should be paying attention to; it allows us to better understand human emotion while shopping through text, speech and facial expressions. When done responsibly and thoughtfully, it can deliver a more personalized and tailored experience.
E-commerce plays an influential role in driving store footfall. Readily available reporting tools allow marketers to connect the dots between online and offline. And leading ad networks have released a slew of products designed to drive consumers in-store.
Marketers can propel their brick-and-mortar stores forward through pivoting marketing efforts and leveraging the right tools: ingesting store visit and sale data into ad platforms; rolling out local campaigns in search; and adjusting automated bidding strategies to optimize to omnichannel performance KPIs.
Marketers must recognize the importance of online adverting to influence consumers’ offline behaviour. The sooner you start connecting the dots, the sooner you’ll reinvigorate brick-and-mortar stores.
Chris Dowse, strategy director, Jaywing
It’s a funny time for brick-and-mortar stores. During the pandemic, there was a longing for the freedom of shopping in person – something we didn’t know we’d missed until it was taken away. However, as lockdowns become a distant memory and household budgets become squeezed by cost-of-living increases, expect to see physical retail dial up its experiential role and become more of a wrapper for ‘event’ or treat purchases to bring cheer among the economic gloom.
With the steady increase of workers returning to city centre offices, there’s value in the benefit and convenience of hybrid online and offline services such as in-store click and collect, rather than gambling on being at home for deliveries while on endless Teams calls. The brands that will thrive will be the ones who truly understand their value and the role they play in customers’ lives: convenience and reliability or indulgence and experience.
Becky Simms, founder and chief executive officer, Reflect Digital
The common thread in any commerce setting is the customer. Their needs and desires for a personal approach do not change depending on the setting; their need to feel valued and connected to a brand is constant.
Retailers need to double down efforts to know their customers and personalize experiences, whatever the setting. Thinking about how they can connect a customer journey with in-store tech and provide a rich, personalized experience based on data (that the customer understands they hold) is an exciting prospect. The much-loved loyalty card schemes from retailers like Boots and Tesco place those brands one step ahead. The key will be in the execution.
Holly Ford, head of consumer communications, Evoke Mind + Matter
Covid-19 changed the nature of retail, catapulting e-commerce forward faster than all expectations. In 2021, the UK high street experienced an average footfall decline of 38%. As consumers were forced online, retailers responded by doubling down on their online business and contracting their brick-and-mortar retail footprints.
Lockdown may be over, but the genie is out of the bottle. While certain demographics will always want a physical connection with their favourite retailers, the most successful brands will evolve to a ‘phygital’ approach, offering an optimized blend of experiential and e-commerce to drive equity, loyalty and long-term growth.
Arguably, the last couple of years have taught us more about the digital world than ever before. Changes around data, privacy and consent have forced technology to evolve, encouraging a shift toward a mature and future-proofed approach.
As we move into a cookie-less future and adapt to the ever-changing social landscape, strategies must be agile to keep pace with change. Here are five opportunities to optimize your marketing in 2023.
1. Transition to GA4 and prioritize privacy solutions
Data has been at the forefront of our minds for several years, with new tracking modes slowly becoming the default. Google has now announced an official date (July 1, this year) for the disabling of Universal Analytics, when businesses will need to move to the data-driven model in GA4.
Using the available tools to fill the gaps in broken user journeys is more important than ever as businesses battle with the decline of cookies. One of the many innovative developments born from this shift is Google Signals. To implement effective modelling, the platform holds data on users logged into a Google account on their mobile or desktop devices if they have consented to ads personalization.
Making the shift to GA4 and getting comfortable with these new tools is crucial ahead of 2023’s 1st July cut-off. Implement as much data as possible, and sculpt the platform around your business needs, to get the most out of the innovation.
2. Evolve your strategy with technology and automation
Automation has become increasingly relevant for businesses to manage day-to-day tasks. Changes around consent and cookies have forced shifts in how we optimize and report on campaigns, as well as how we measure their success.
Several solutions are now widely available within Google Ads, such as Smart Bidding, Dynamic Search Campaigns and Performance Max. All of these are free for everyone to use.
The accessibility of these tools has levelled the playing field, highlighting the importance of supplementing them with your own insights and first-party data to get the most out of the technology.
3. Prepare for the multi-modal world of search
This year has seen a rise in CMS systems such as Shopify after Google implemented the multitask unified model (MUM) update in 2021, taking a more multi-modal direction. The update aims to provide thoughtful answers to searches, using AI to consider the nuances of requests and reduce the number of searches required.
As well as understanding information across text and images, and eventually video and audio, MUM is trained across 75 different languages and many varying tasks at once, allowing it to develop a more comprehensive understanding than previously possible.
Apps like Google Lens have also gained popularity, highlighting the importance of optimizing websites and content for a variety of media that users are searching for.
TikTok, meanwhile, continues to boom and will be more present than ever in 2023. The video platform’s popularity has started to reflect when topics have entered the public eye and conversations are happening globally.
4. Make the most of audiences’ response to personal and value-led content
Personalization has become more prominent than ever this year. Google’s Ads Creative studio has gained popularity across industries, encouraging a shift toward more hyper-personalized content and aligning with where customers are on their journey, and what they expect to see.
With value-led content, companies are pushing personal messaging around what matters to them, as opposed to strictly what they do. This move toward more personal and conscious content resonates with audiences looking to buy into brands as a personality rather than solely a service.
5. Adapt to the changing social landscape
2022 showed that everyone and everything needs to be adaptable to change. Marketing shifted dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic and strategies were flipped on their heads.
The social landscape is arguably more changeable than ever, with the cost of living dominating the news. These sensitive topics affect how marketers communicate with their audiences. Journalists are also looking for more practical content around saving money and resources, which is important to consider in your PR and content strategies.
Out-of-home (OOH) is often considered a paid media buy with ad agency-led creative. However, for PR agencies OOH is just another channel we can leverage to start a wider earned conversation around a campaign.
Creative OOH has long been a tool in the PR armoury. It’s like a comfy pair of slippers. We know they have been used to death, but we still pull them out.
OOH is a (comparatively) economical method of implying the bravery, scale & intent of an advertising campaign, without having to buy all the media spots. If done well (and some are not), one OOH media buy alone can be enough: the tenacious publicist and social media team will do the rest.
Captured with a bit of creativity (ideally some interaction from a blindsided passer-by i.e. someone from the office), the assets can then be used in paid, earned, shared and owned channels.
The average Joe doesn’t know that it was just one OOH site on a residential street that cost very little.
The PR filter
Creative OOH with a success metric of ‘talkability’ needs to be run through a PR filter. Is it meaningful to the consumer? Is it provocative? Does it add to a cultural conversation (or respond to the news agenda)?
There are two or three examples a year that really get the ‘I wish I thought of that’ respect of the industry. The first ones that came to my mind were a few years old, which goes to show their memorability (and the fact that their iconic status hasn’t yet been surpassed).
If PR-led OOH campaigns were Spice Girls, they would be…
1. Interactive Spice
These are the OOH activations that invite the audience to participate.
PrettyGreen once worked on a campaign to amplify billboard-size peelable cards for 10 free Nando’s meals. The promise of free Nando’s got many fans up ladders, peeling off the giant velcro vouchers Free Nando’s is news, as were the fans up the ladders.
Think Relate’s wonderful ‘Joy of Later Life Sex’ campaign. Rankin’s shouldn’t-be-taboo-but-totally-were-images of older people getting it on were daring, beautiful and stopped people in their tracks when displayed on giant billboards.
Similarly, Muslim dating app Muzmatch saw Birmingham Bachelor Muhammad Malik use billboards to seemingly “save me from an arranged marriage”. Media interest was huge, because it was seemingly an authentic story which tapped into a cultural insight – of course, it was later revealed as a PR stunt for the app.
3. Activist Spice
These are OOH activations used by brands to convey a punchy opinion. Nothing does that better than making it a big shouty 48 sheet billboard.
Brewdog is a dab hand; the latest Qatar World Cup shaming ad is a recent example which has since drawn criticism for being inauthentic, but the initial interest was there and their opinion adequately spikey.
Similarly, ‘Wave of Waste’ from Corona x Parley For The Ocean has its place in the OOH hall of fame. The 3D installation was a work of art and a sobering image of a surfer surrounded by plastic, showing Corona’s commitment to the marine pollution cause.
4. Newsjacker Spice
These are the campaigns that know exactly what is on the news agenda and respond accordingly. We have not been short on these this year.
Butterkist’s ‘Here for the Drama’, complete with a large demonstration outside 10 Downing Street during the Partygate controversy was low-fi and so on the money it got talked about.
There aren’t many brands in this category: they demand consumer attention because of brand affection.
Marmite Dynamite fits in here: a Marmite lid smashed through a car window to launch the new chilli variant. The interaction of the product and its surroundings was funny, but not all brands would have garnered the same attention with the same activation. Marmite has done the hard yards to gain brand love. As it turns out, PR-led OOH is actually quite a science.