Total brand experience requires a perfect blend of creativity and design thinking, says Matt Holt, chief strategy officer at Digitas UK.

“Brands are no longer simply what they claim to be, but are what people’s experiences of them are,” said Jaime Mandelbaum, the chair of the Brand Experience & Activation jury at Cannes Lions this month.

All too true – a point demonstrated by the work on show at Cannes. The Grand Prix winner in the category, Xbox’s ‘Changing the Game’ and Gold winners including IKEA’s ‘ThisAbles’ and Huawei’s ‘StorySign’ all demonstrated the power of experience in enhancing brand perception.

What stood out for me across the Cannes winners were two things. Firstly, it was noticeable how many brand experience entries were geared at promoting inclusivity. Secondly, I also noted how varied the ideas were in terms of ingredients and output. The diversity and the range of the winners was exciting but points to both the challenge and opportunity for brands in providing a system to encourage the collaboration required to produce great brand experiences on a consistent basis.

Which leads us to the concept of total brand experience. It’s noticeable that, due to company structures, there is all too often a disconnect between creative thinking – building memory structures and mental availability, which advertising does very well – and design thinking, which provides the empathetic, useful stuff that makes people’s lives easier.

In terms of C-suite responsibilities, you’ll typically see the Chief Marketing Officer taking charge of the brand communications, with the Chief Digital Officer overseeing the digital experience. Ideally, though, the two disciplines should meet, which means removing unhelpful, disjointed legacy approaches to technology and to marketing. Remove the silos and brands will have the opportunity to more readily combine the creativity and differentiation of brand thinking with the customer centricity and empathy of design thinking.

Indeed, Xbox’s Grand Prix-winning entry, with its Adaptive Controller to encourage people with limited mobility to play video games, is a great example of customer centricity and empathy in action. It designed the controller for use by more people, making it inclusive and also commercially sensible in terms of growing its potential user base. Genius. But it only impacted one element of the customer’s experience of the brand – the physical product. So it’s brand experience. But not total brand experience.

There can be no doubt that the Cannes Brand Experience & Activation winners are excellent examples of how to blend creativity and empathy to create distinctive experiences in one area of the customer journey, But I think there is a real opportunity to create total brand experiences that works across all touch-points – using media, brand communications and digital platforms including websites and mobile apps.

My favourite example of this is Nike. Just Do It is a brand platform in its truest sense, used to inform its point of view and communications but also the content, sponsorships, digital platforms and utility Nike provides – for instance through Nike Run Club. This demonstrates creativity and design thinking working together in harmony. The brand promise activated through what Nike does, not just what it says. The experience not only matching but enhancing the brand promise.

In the future, customer experience and brand communications needs to be more joined-up. So, let’s use the Cannes winners as inspiration to create total brand experiences across all areas of the customer journey that deliver longer-term impact. This will require not only a new approach but also the removal of silos to ensure the perfect blend of creativity and design thinking.

Let’s get to work.