By Jan Ashdown,Senior Design Consultant at ptc.
The Experience Economy
Over the course of history, economic value has shifted according to developments in society. The transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy resulted in organizations gaining competitive advantage and charging higher prices for making goods instead of extracting commodities. The same process happened with the evolution from manufacturing to service economies; the next stage is set to be the experience economy.
If in the past, goods manufacturers added services to their offer to differentiate themselves, today we see organizations staging experiences to get ahead of the competition. Take Samsung’s flagship store in New York City as an example: It's a five-story building in a prime location, where you can’t purchase anything. The company describes it as the physical manifestation of the brand. Its only purpose is to provide experiences.
It is more than a place to test products; at Samsung 837, visitors can attend cultural, technological and fashion events, stop at the cafe or join interactive activities. There is a gallery to host technology-based art exhibitions, a DJ booth, and 4D virtual reality experiences, just to name a few examples. Samsung is investing prime square footage on staging experiences to demonstrate to current and potential customers what the brand is about.
Physical Environments in a Digital Era
In a digital era, one might think that online marketing should be the main component of branding efforts, but there is still need for offline initiatives. In fact, digital and physical environments complement each other in the quest for earning a share of consumers’ minds and hearts. Currently it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish the limits; experiences can start online and continue offline or the other way around or a mix of both.
All touch points are important and can serve different purposes. While a brand can be with its customer 24/7 online, it can differentiate itself even further by creating experiences in the “real world." Experiences in the physical environment allow the stimulation of all five senses. It is possible to translate the brand into environments and experiences that look, feel, sound, smell and taste like the brand. At the same time, they can encourage the customer to think, act and behave in a way that reflects the brand’s values. Therefore, staging experiences and designing branded environments is more than just sponsoring events or having your logo on every available surface of your office or store.
Using Urban Structures to Create Experiences
The raubdruckerin project, according to their website, “is an experimental printmaking project that uses urban structures like manhole covers, grids, technical objects and other surfaces of the urban landscape, to create unique graphical patterns on streetwear basics, fabrics and paper”. They not only create unique products but the manufacturing process itself is engaging. The products are created on the street allowing people passing by to interact with the process.
This idea could easily be adapted to create a city’s branded experience. Imagine how significant it would be for a community to have a “piece” of the street on their t-shirt or how fun would be to be involved in the manufacturing process. At the same time, it could be an opportunity for a city to promote their brand and engage with its community in a meaningful way. This concept could also be translated to other organizations. Retailers could embed on the architecture of their stores a signature pattern and later explore it by printing into merchandise products.
Art installations for Powerful Experiences
Cities often use art installations to create memorable experiences. The 2018 Chinese New Year celebrations in Sydney included installations representing 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. The huge lantern art installations were displayed across the city and served as an incentive for locals and tourists to join the festivities.
For instance, "Lunar Lantern: The Pig," a cheeky installation by the artist John Deng, had not only a strong visual appeal but also allowed people to touch and play with the 1,000 silicone pigs lit by LED lights. In China, the pig is known for having a lucky and happy character and a good sense of humor. In the western world, people say "when pigs fly." This artwork explored both eastern and western notions about this lovable animal.
Translating the Brand to the Office Environment
The Silicon Valley exports many business trends, including the idea of having creative office spaces. Google is pointed out as one of the precursors of the “fun” type of office environments. If someone asked what does Google’s office looks like, most people would picture an open office, with playrooms, colorful furniture and creative spaces. Even if they have never been there, they would be able to provide an answer, as Google’s brand is so strong that the internal culture exceeded the company’s limits and it is now part of the common knowledge.
Google’s philosophy is based on 10 principles, number nine being “you can be serious without a suit," which was translated into the environment in different ways. The London office has a Brighton beach theme, whereas the Tel Aviv office has a slide chute through the middle of it. The fact that the physical design resonates with the core brand characteristics is one of the reasons why this type of environment works for Google. This design approach wouldn’t suit the headquarters of a conservative brand.
The right experience
Branded experiences and environments can be designed to suit various stakeholders and by different types of organizations. It is a matter of understanding the brand and the power of connecting with your target audience in a deeper level.