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Brand experiences that engage and motivate

From gamification to playful content—here’s what brand leaders need to know to keep customers coming back for more

In competitive markets, brands are challenged to differentiate. And when many competitors are already delivering satisfying experiences, meeting customer expectations is no longer enough to drive success. Unique, fun, and compelling experiences can help brands stand out and maintain relevance. However, rather than differentiating in thoughtful and creative ways, too many brands are still adding to the information overload with generic messages, campaigns, and initiatives. They’re missing ripe opportunities to make a stronger impression, simplify the complex, make everyday tasks more fun—and win new fans in the process.

At Interbrand, we are constantly exploring innovative new ways for brands to create exciting experiences. It is our contention that as the marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, brands should be thinking about how to create more excitement throughout the customer journey and make the greatest impact at various touchpoints. 

Some brands are, in fact, succeeding in keeping people motivated and engaged. Here are a few of their strategies:

Gamification — Whether we’re doing the laundry or shopping for groceries, almost every task we perform involves brands—and therein lies the opportunity. Gamification of tasks or messages can provide an enjoyable escape—making mundane tasks more pleasant or fulfilling our desires for achievement, reward, and pleasure.

The Swedish amusement park, Liseberg, for example, has found a way to make standing in line more enjoyable. In an effort to make the wait almost as exciting as a ride on a new roller coaster, the park released a free gaming app that allows visitors to compete with each other while waiting—and skip the line if they outperform other players.

Other examples of gamification done well include FreeRice, which motivates people to feed the hungry via quizzes (“For every correct answer you choose, 10 grains of rice are raised to help end world hunger through the World Food Programme”), and Kahn Academy, which helps its consumers to fall in love with learning through gamified online education.

Branded playgrounds —Since traveling abroad is not a regular indulgence for most people, branded playgrounds can fulfill consumers’ need to step into another world, especially if fantasy and novelty are involved. In Hong Kong, Absolut Vodka transformed an art café into a dark, dystopian bunker with “Apocalypse Postponed.” The experience takes consumers out of their comfort zones and transports them into a scene out of a sci-fi story where artistic performances, installations, and obscure cocktails all add to the atmosphere.

Social context — Though we all seem to know it intuitively, research proves that experiences make people happier than things. Why? Because experiences often happen in a social context. The opportunity to meet new people, deepen existing relationships, and share stories can amplify the fun in many situations. Among the more exhilarating social experiences is meeting a fascinating new person for the first time, a fact that has not been lost on the Copenhagen airport. Tapping into that exciting possibility, the airport has connected solo travelers through a pop-up restaurant, hallo hello, which invites strangers to mingle, share meals together and strike up interesting conversations.

The unexpected — Surprise and mystery can also deliver memorable excitement. Consumers today have endless choices and, when it comes to marketing, they’ve pretty much seen and heard it all. Participating in a campaign or event that involves the unknown, however, can delight consumers with unexpected heart-beating fun. Many hotel sites, for example, offer secret excursions and mysterious weekend trips. Coffee chain Tim Horton’s has promoted its new blend in total darkness. Adventurous passers-by were invited inside to blindly taste the coffee, served by staff armed with night-vision goggles.

Playful content — Confronted with information overload and upsetting daily news items, many consumers want to escape the noise by diving into playful or humorous content. Given the viral success of comedy bits from TV (e.g., Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Degeneres, etc.), brands are taking the hint and partnering up with online hubs like Funny or Die and BuzzFeed to create entertaining content that engages audiences and promotes.

High-tech tools — Today’s sophisticated technology can help create truly novel and captivating experiences. Oculus Rift (virtual reality head-mounted display), augmented reality, and multisensory advertising are revolutionizing brand experiences. Inspired by Selfridges’ augmented reality-powered Fantasy Mirror (it allows shoppers to try on lingerie virtually), students of the Swedish design school Hyper Island introduced a shopping window that responds to movement. Passers-by are in control of the mannequin in the window-display, which enables an interactive brand experience in a public space.

Every brand delivers an experience. But certainly not every experience is exciting or changes our lives for the better. Current trends are showing us that we’re experiencing a complete shift in how we live, work, and play—turning things we “should” do into things we “want” to do, and making things we already want to do (or want to buy) even more enticing. From fitness and doing chores to cleaning up the environment or embarking on a shopping excursion—consumers are focusing on those brands that engage them or turn the mundane into something more memorable.

To deliver beyond expectations, brands need to bring their A-game and create experiences that are as emotionally thrilling as they are satisfying. Why does that matter? Because, when brands and consumers share emotionally rewarding moments, brand relationships are enhanced and brand value grows.

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