Asif Khan, Creative Strategy Director at Imagination, explains how differentiation, simplicity and flexibility are key to meaningful brand experiences.

It was just a year ago that LUSH made the bold and surprising announcement that it was quitting social media (and leaving over 12 million followers behind) to redirect some of its marketing investment to areas which they felt would better connect with their communities – in particular, experiences and events. Twelve months later, following a successful year with a fresh new focus on experience-led campaigns, LUSH revealed that while experiential events meant greater short-term investments, they plan to continue investing in experiences in 2023 and beyond.

Experiences have become a key asset in many brand marketers’ toolkits, with the opportunity for businesses to engage directly with their consumers on a deeper and more meaningful level. These experiences, whether in person, virtual or hybrid, are carefully designed to appeal to audiences through the delivery of uniquely creative, memorable interactions. Think of Travis Scott’s virtual concert in Fortnite, which allowed fans to watch the artist perform live in the game, or IKEA’s famous store sleepover, where 100 lucky competition winners got to experience a night at their favorite furniture retailer.

It’s a tactic that not only helps brands stay front of mind with consumers, but also helps drive growth. Although experiences were hit hard by the pandemic and social distancing measures, the channel has remained a key avenue of marketing spending, despite budgets being cut elsewhere. In fact, it was the only area that saw growth in marketing spend in Q3, with 22% of companies reporting they plan to increase spending on events in their budgets.

One way to maximize brand impact and appeal to mass audiences is to adopt a flexible, tiered approach to experiences. Nearly every industry uses some form of tiered offerings – from airlines’ multiple ticketing and seating options to software companies’ personal vs. business pricing. Why? Because people like choices.

In experience design, creating multi-functional spaces allows for the design of bespoke, micro-experiences that meet the requirements of a wider group of people, while still maintaining that personalized feel. This is optimal for brands looking to expand their reach and meet varied consumer needs, but it’s not as simple as adding on a few extras and hiking up the price for the different tiers. Instead, it requires careful thought and consideration to satisfy the needs of each audience segment.

Brown-Forman’s Old Forester Distilling Co. in Louisville, Kentucky is a good example of a layered experience. When our agency was invited to craft the guest experience for the bourbon distillery’s new multi-use brand home, a central tenet was to offer different ways for visitors to interact with the brand, with each level designed to create a unique interaction with the brand.

We’ve also seen it in the work we do for the Ford Motor Company, where at auto shows we offer elevated, VIP treatment for Ford owners as a way to thank them for their loyalty.

By opting for a flexible approach, brands are essentially running several simultaneous marketing campaigns, each targeting a different stage of the marketing funnel and catering to consumers with different needs and expectations.

Another industry that uses a multi-tiered approach to experiences is live sporting events, which range from general access all the way to VVIP, as with the recent World Cup in Qatar where the most high-profile fans enter the venue on a red carpet.

Many tiered experiences use a three-level approach, where the first tier is designed to help build brand awareness and brand loyalty. At a sports venue, this would be your general admissions, and a brand may offer various types of loyalty programs to try and ‘upsell’ these visitors to a more premium level.

At the next level you’ll find an experience designed for what’s often referred to as your core audience – a stage at which the brand can more successfully convert visitors into loyal customers due to the increased level of interest and engagement in the product. This tier often offers various add-ons to enhance the experience.

On a premium level, being able to offer bespoke and memorable VIP experiences can help boost brand equity and awareness, as these visitors often become brand ambassadors and help drive word of mouth and organic engagement for the brand.

The more relevant and enjoyable the experience is to your customer, the more likely they will remember your brand and want to engage with you again. That’s a win-win for brands and consumers.

Three key considerations when building tiered experiences:

  • Each tier should be distinct, offering significantly differentiated experiences at varying price points. Tiers that are too similar can be confusing to customers.
  • Don’t over complicate the design of the tiers; too many can make it harder for customers to make a choice.
  • Offering people the flexibility to choose their level of engagement is empowering and helps build trust with consumers. It also makes for a more enjoyable user experience that feels more bespoke.