- Brands have to leverage the power of experience to connect with customers, grow their competitive advantages, and, perhaps most importantly, create a happy, productive workforce.
- The smartest companies know the importance of cultivating employee experiences, right down to the people new hires will meet and the way they're greeted.
- To create a more engaging employee experience, start talking about it more often, find a partner and get your leadership team behind it.
As the world has become increasingly digital, intentional face-to-face interactions hold more power than ever. People crave these in-person exchanges – they're rarer, more memorable and more powerful. Brands have to leverage the power of experience to connect with customers and grow their competitive advantages.
Just ask the team at Disney. In a recent Game Developer's Conference talk, leaders from Walt Disney Imagineering discussed how the same experience-based strategies that have made Disney's theme parks so successful have bled into other areas of the company, including video games. "The qualities of making games so impactful and evocative are also the things that make our guests’ experience possible," said Creative Director Sara Thacher.
Experiences – intentionally designed moments of human interaction – are catalysts for desired change. Companies are getting on board with this movement, with a 2018 Bizzabo survey finding that 87% of C-suite executives plan to invest more in live events.
The Power of experiential thinking
In the world of marketing, brands collectively spend billions of dollars every year to tell consumers who they are: "We're trustworthy," brands say. "We're loyal, exciting and cool.” Think, though, about a few of your closest friends. You might think of them as trustworthy, loyal, exciting, or cool. But why? Is it because they told you they were? Doubtful.
Our most deeply held beliefs are the ones we develop ourselves. We believe our friends are trustworthy because they prove it to us. Perhaps there was a particularly stressful, difficult moment when they could've gotten away with something shady but instead supported you.
Moments like these stick deep in our brains, leaving impressions that can be almost impossible to shake – even in the face of claims to the contrary. This is how brands should view experiences.
Brands don't need to tell consumers what to believe; they intentionally design moments that allow audiences to develop beliefs on their own. By approaching every aspect of business as a potential experience, inspiring opportunities come from everywhere.
The most original, powerful experiences jolt people out of their comfort zone and into a completely new world – even if only for a brief moment. Research from Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello found a strong correlation between brand experience and customer satisfaction.
Red Bull, the most successful energy drink company in the world, has spent years building its reputation through experiences. The brand hosts everything from sponsored sporting events to its 2012 "Stratos" campaign to break the world free-fall record. These experiences create deeper beliefs in the minds of consumers – and those beliefs ultimately drive millions of sales.
Experiences matter at work, too
The smartest companies are investing resources in employee experiences that boost engagement and retention. Why is this happening? Because the workforce is changing, and workers’ expectations are changing with it. If you want to retain top talent, you've got to be on the cutting edge of amazing experiences. Otherwise, your employees will hear about what's going on at their friends' companies or read about something crazy that your competitor just did on social media.
If you want to make up for your lack of a compelling culture by paying people more, you’re probably wasting your money. Research suggests that Millennial employees would rather work somewhere they love – somewhere where they feel a connection with their co-workers – than make more money.
Think about it this way: If a talented 25-year-old employee has a choice between two companies, which one would he or she pick? A company that expects its employees to grind it out for 50 or 60 hours a week without any fulfillment, or one that’s committed to building incredible experiences for employees? The answer should be obvious.
One example of a business that successfully creates employee experiences is WeWork. Each year, the coworking company takes more than 8,000 global employees to “Summer Camp.” Over the course of a long weekend, employees enjoy concerts from headliners such as Lorde and Bastille and speeches from the likes of Deepak Chopra. In addition, Summer Camp includes workshops to inspire mindfulness, teamwork and connections. For a company whose employees are scattered across the globe, this experience is invaluable.
You don’t have to plan your own Summer Camp to inspire your employees, though. What about something as commonplace as an employee's first day? Savvy companies know the importance of cultivating employee experiences, right down to the people new hires will meet and the way they're greeted. Cloud computing firm Digital Ocean seeks to elevate new hires from day one, building an experience around the walk to a new desk that includes balloons, a handwritten welcome note, champagne, and branded company swag.
Weaving an experiential mindset
Talking about a radical change is all well and good, but how can business leaders actually get their teams on board with the power of experiences? Developing those transformative moments is not an easy task, and it's extremely hard to do if you're buried in the day-to-day of keeping a company afloat. Here are a few ways to stitch these paradigm shifts into your company's fabric:
1. Talk about it
As simple as it sounds, new ideas will never take off if you aren't willing to verbalize them consistently. That means educating yourself on experiential thinking first and then asking your leadership team to consider how experiences can solve problems.
When Mattress Firm's CEO was concerned about decreased sales and wanted to inspire its salespeople to get things back on track, he worked with me to take an unconventional approach. We scrapped the annual BEDTalks conference in favor of a "roadshow."
The CEO piled the company's executive team on a bus and visited dozens of retail locations across the country, getting time with employees and creating genuine inspiration to turn sales around. Every city they hit outperformed sales expectations as a direct result. Without throwing out the old rulebook and being receptive to new ideas, the Mattress Firm leadership team would never have achieved these results.
2. Find a partner
Few companies have someone on their leadership teams devoted to experiences. Instead, the people who create experiences are scattered throughout their companies without the necessary access to identify key opportunities or drive an agenda across departments. By working with an experiential partner, you can solve that problem.
After seeing the high value of experiences for B2B brands, GE wanted to create its own initiative, Healthymagination. The company partnered with agencyEA to build mock movie sets depicting everything from a clinic in rural Africa to a crowded emergency room in the U.S. These scenes inspired attendant doctors to share stories and connect with GE's healthcare tech in a more substantive way – something they would have struggled to accomplish without this unique approach.
3. Pull the leadership team out of their work
They might initially scoff at the power of experiences in the workplace, but your leadership team should consider how the world has changed so dramatically elsewhere. Think about the resorts and theme parks their kids beg them to visit on vacation or the way sporting events have evolved so dramatically in their lifetimes. Find ways to mimic those memorable moments in your brand experience.
Executives at Bass Pro Shops have embraced this notion. Through "Outdoor World" showrooms – complete with seminars on turkey hunting and professional fishermen showing off lures – entertainment has been interwoven with retail to create an immersive experience for every customer that steps into a Bass Pro Shops location. By seeing entertainment and experience as pieces of the whole alongside store design and merchandising, Bass Pro's team has made customer connection an essential element of the brand.
People want experiences. They dream about experiences. They pay for experiences. Customers remember and are personally affected by experiences in a stronger way than anything else. That is real branding power – if you know how to wield it.