Optimizing Branded Experiences: A case for greater empathy

By in Experience Design + Management, Thought Pieces

Thought Piece by RPMC’s Chief Strategy Officer Adam Salter

A leading solution for engaging stakeholders

Branded experiences can be, when designed and executed correctly, a leading solution for engagement. They provide brands with an empathic source for immersing stakeholders in all that is the brand and what it represents in order to enhance their level of commitment and inspire action. The author Simon Sinek sums up the importance of this immersion, as according to his research: “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it; and what you do simply proves what you believe.”

It is my belief that these experiences help to foster deeper and more authentic relationships with stakeholders, which result in growth on a number of levels, such as revenue, brand equity and employee performance.

However, brands are failing to understand that just as with ‘human’ relationships, whether they are personal or professional, successful experiences are to be first and foremost mutually beneficial. It is imperative that they are built upon a shared acknowledgement and understanding for one another, what they stand for and want to gain from the engagement.

This is a concept that brands and their agencies struggle to understand and actively apply. This is evident from many of todays branded experiences where it seems that antiquated ad-world rhetoric continues to dictate, resulting in amongst others:

  • Brand monologues rather than relationship dialogues – an unhealthy polishing of one’s own interest;
  • The assumption that awareness alone is enough to drive purchase;
  • Brand managers scrambling for ROI tools after the event to justify investment, rather than investing in insight and foresight upfront to determine what experiences will actually drive growth

But then again, this may not surprise many when it was this same rhetoric that created the infamous quote that “advertising is a tax you pay for unremarkable thinking.”

Screaming out for Innovation

Branded experiences are screaming out for innovation and this is only further amplified by the fact that faced with disruptive markets, shrinking budgets and a more savvy stakeholder, today’s brands need these experiences to have far more of an impact on their growth objectives.

Empathy: key to optimizing the value and effectiveness of branded experiences

“How can you know what things are worth if your hands wont move to do a days work?”

This lyric, taken from a song by The Editors, has always stuck with me for a number of reasons, but above all it reinforces the need for greater empathy, both on a personal and professional level. Nowadays, it is ever more present given my role and the company’s focus.

With a focus on developing experiences to optimize strategic engagement, a greater level of empathy enhances our ability at RPMC to generate a more robust and holistic understanding of context, which therefore enables us to identify and provide solutions that drive growth for our clients’ businesses.

One of the key principles I subscribe to is that optimizing engagement with stakeholders doesn’t begin with ideas; it begins with contexts. Understanding such contexts unearths why stakeholders are open to these experiences, and in addition, what they expect to gain from them, which is the part of the equation that is far too often forgotten or miscalculated.

For example, as humans, stakeholders from all generational cohorts value experiences as they provide a mechanism for fulfilling a developmental need, such as the development of self, both on a personal and professional front. As Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels and current head of hospitality at Airbnb states:

“People want a curator for their life…they want others to introduce them to remarkable experiences”

If this is the case, how many of today’s branded experiences truly are achieving their growth goals by helping stakeholders to advance themselves personally or professionally?

Design Thinking: The Missing Ingredient?

Spearheaded by visionaries such as Tim Brown and Roger Martin, a compelling approach to defining, designing and delivering branded experiences is through design thinking.

While very much a regular practice in the world of innovation consulting, it is a concept that has received heightened awareness in recent years and is also being internalized by organizations such as P&G and Target. What design thinking teaches us above all is to approach and find solutions with everything in mind, not just a brand’s agenda; in other words empathy. Applied effectively, this results in business growth through creating value for target stakeholders.

In my current role and organization, design thinking is not only a tool but an inherent culture that helps us to build engagement models for clients that incorporate not only the objectives for the brand, but why target stakeholders will want to engage with them and when they do, what they will expect. As a result, we are able to leverage this knowledge of context to ideate and design innovative experiences that drive value for both the brand and its stakeholders.

A Call to Action

There is no doubt that the importance of branded experiences, be it for internal or external stakeholders, will continue to grow, especially given the appetite of the Millennial and Centennial generations.

I therefore believe that it is our responsibility as client partners to challenge norms and break down rhetoric in order to create meaningful solutions that really do propel business and society forward.

Empathy is core to this approach and goal.

I encourage others to take the same position.


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