Experiencing the Experience

Over the years I have been part of a few corporate branding and rebranding exercises. The classic approach is to do a lot of discovery interviews with different stake holders to understand the history, the differentiators, relationship with customers, competition etc. Then come up with what is termed as the ‘brand essence’. This is translated into a visual identity- a logo, and a tag line- which is meant to explain what the brand stands for. Eventually the brand management team prepares a communication strategy that strives to convey the brand essence.  However most of the organization only looks at this as another exercise that is going to cost money to change all the signages and stationery!!

I always wondered if we should be approaching this in some other way…

A couple of months back, I went on a holiday to Sasan Gir with my husband and our 6 year old son. We wanted our son to experience a wild life safari. We stayed at one of the so called luxury camps. While the place of stay was great and one could tick all the check boxes on comfort, food, ambience etc., I realized that the entire experience was dependent on what happens with the actual lion safari. It was totally dependent on nature. If you spotted a lion you felt the trip was worth it and your stay seemed more pleasant and you were in an upbeat mood. On days when you didn’t spot lions, the whole mood was low. You could actually tell by looking at the faces of the people if they had spotted lions or not. So how can a place of stay create a memorable experience when the most important piece lay with Nature? I was amazed to see how the Camp had managed to do it – by making the place friendly and creating other experiences that made up for it. For example, on the day we didn’t spot any lions, the safari driver from the Camp took us through different routes in the forest, ensured that we learnt more about birds, so at the end of the trip we didn’t feel so miserable, but had learnt and experienced some new things. The focus was on creating a holistic experience…spotting lions was just one part of the experience.

During one of my visits to Paris, the HQ for the company I worked earlier, I went to see Moulin Rouge. I must have been the thousandth person in the queue that stretched and winded down many lanes. I was sure I wouldn’t get a ticket and there was no way the show would start on time given that all the people had to buy a ticket, go thru security checks, find a place to sit etc. I was sure, I had been too late. However just 15 minutes before the show time, the queue moved. With 5 minutes still to spare all of us were ushered in and seated. There was no counter to buy tickets or make any payments. I wondered how they were going to manage the payments. Next I see a guy with his portable card machine come over to my table, swipe my card and serve my champagne. The show began on the dot, and it was a remarkable experience from start to finish. The focus was on making it a smooth process and enjoying the show. All details were thought through and the entire process was a beautiful experience, not just the entertainment on stage.

Another encounter that comes to mind was a wine tasting experience I had in NAPA valley, near San Francisco. For wine tasting one generally goes to winery. There always is a dedicated place where several tasting wines are displayed with price. You choose and pay for the wines you want to taste. You get some notes on the wines. After being to a few wineries I encountered one that did wine tasting very differently. This particular winery put a lot of thought into their wine tasting ritual to make it an aha experience. They took only small pre registered groups. Everyone is received at the entrance. Given a tour. The history of the winery is recreated with great stories and by meeting people who actually make the wine. At the end, we all were taken to a beautiful room and were seated at a table. It looked like something one would see in a gourmet restaurant, table elegantly setup, wine glasses all precisely arranged in front of every person. The sommelier opened each of the 6 bottles with great finesse and with stories about each. All were given papers to make personal notes. There was lovely cheese and crackers that matched each of the wines. By the time we finished, they were able to create an unparalleled wine tasting experience and generate sufficient awe about their wines. We all left with a great affinity towards that wine brand.

Similarly I have noticed that where the brand experience is well thought through holistically, you walk out feeling more satisfied-be it at the beauty parlour, a café where I pick up coffee or the express hair cut salon I take my son to.

So I think, when one is working on a brand exercise, the important question to ask is “what is the experience we want to create? What is the experience we want people to experience?”

Defining what the brand “stands for” appears like a very inside-out approach. Whereas defining an “experience” is a more outside-in approach. It is much more real and has all the senses associated with it. Once all aspects of the experience to be experienced are detailed out, it becomes easier to translate that into a strategy that can be executed consistently. It will not limit people to think it is just a logo change, or a new brochure.

It can actually bring about a change in the way we live the brand bringing about a change in attitude and behaviour.

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