How to recognise an experiential brand


Share on LinkedIn

Day 4 - Magic KingdomPhoto by Loimere –

It’s very cool to frame your brand as an ‘experience’ these days. But what does it actually mean? And can an experience-led brand exist without necessarily having a physical presence to bring the brand alive?

I find a useful way to recognise an experiential brand is to see how it passes a few basic tests:

Differentiation Test – when a brand describes its features and benefits, does it rely on ‘what’ it does or also include how you can feel the difference? For example, 600-threadcount Egyptian cotton may be the gold standard for bedlinen, but so what? Is it crisper, cooler or softer to the touch? Does it make you feel pampered? Or perhaps if they’re environmentally-friendly, you feel worthy instead? Appealing to the emotions and senses is a clue to experiential value. (example: Parachute bedding)

The Promise Test – many brands make guarantees to replace or refund if a customer is not happy. But they are usually underwritten with clauses – company rules that restrict the value of the pledge. An experiential brand frames its promise around the individuality of a customer’s life, rather than the company small print. By doing so, such brands encourage its customers to teach them how its products are used, and where they may not always come up to scratch. It builds a bond rather than stresses it. (example: Osprey backpacks)

The Dynamic Test – it’s often said that great customer experience requires consistency. But this can too easily lead to a ‘static’ experience – one that focuses on delivering a fixed, finite, rigid service or product. That’s a clue that a company is inwardly focused. In contrast, an experiential brand will seek out ways to make its offer respond to the situation. How does an outdoor venue react to unexpected weather? Or a hotel to a change in circumstances? Dynamism in a brand demonstrates an attitude, a willingness to adapt to what’s needed by its customers. The brand becomes something that lives and breathes…and moves accordingly. (example: Zappos customer service)

The Relevance Test – the start of brand building was traditionally taught as being about awareness. How can you buy from us, until you know who we are, right? Experiential brands have moved this on, starting their relationship by trying to make themselves relevant rather than simply known. The clue here is recognising that the journey to becoming a customer is part of the experience, even at its earliest stages. A favourite example of mine here is Key to the World Travel – a travel agent dedicated to Disney World holidays, and in particular enabling families to get the most from their trip. Their unofficial Walt Disney World Prep School website and service is a great way to start a vacation relationship.

I hope this blogs encourages more brands to be experience-led. As the examples above show, being experiential does not require razzmatazz and showmanship. Indeed, neither does simply attracting attention with noticeable activity guarantee an experiential brand. Instead, each of the tests above have their roots in being customer-centric – of putting customers’ interests first and building the brand around them.

Best of all is when customers feel they are an intrinsic part of the experience, be it the atmosphere of being in a physical place, sensing how a product responds to their personal use of it, or the feeling that their feedback is not only acknowledged but valued and impactful.

Rick Harris
For over 20 years, Rick has helped businesses and organisations to develop their employee and customer experience, making their brands more innovative, engaging and competitive. His experience spans a wide range of industries and international markets, with a particular focus on the retail, leisure and healthcare sectors.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here