Let’s start out by defining the experience effect. How consumers feel about brands is completely shaped by the interactons they have with them. As we define the meaning, think of your own experiences with brands you have incorporated into your life. That will help us to create a meaningful, practical definition to guide the process.
If we consciously analyze our own experiences with brands in our lives, we’ll witness the experience effect in real time, both positively and negatively. I’m sure if you stop and think about it, you could easily pick a few of your favorite or not-so-favorite brands that you interact with on a regular basis and break down your feelings about them. Maybe it’s a luxurious skin cream or the car you love driving. Or the brand that you keep saying you’ll never buy again yet somehow find back in your life again and again.
I have to admit that I hate business definitions because they are always so theoretical. Like the classic one that comes up in job interviews all the time: Define leadership and explain how it is dif¬ferent from management. Only a professor could possibly answer that off the cuff! Show me a good leader who also has great man¬agement qualities and there’s the definition—live and in person. It’s the same with marketing. You’ve probably read a bunch of def¬initions for marketing in your time, many of which are filled with buzzwords.
I’ve known several great businesspeople who can’t seem to talk about marketing unless they are using buzzwords. They string them along in sentences that end up all over the place. Something like: “Let us all gain alignment around the deliverables set forth in the action standards that the sponsor presented to the steering committee for the integrated marketing initiative that will require full collaboration from all key constituents.”
No buzzwords here. Just plain English.
For me, the definition of marketing is simple: creating demand for a product or service by fulfilling a specific need for consumers in a way no one else can. When marketing is done well, the product becomes a brand.
Fortunes and careers have been made on developing a decisive strategy, breakthrough creativity, and effective media selection for brands. The direction of the brand, the creative look of the brand, the messaging, and how and where to connect with consumers in their busy lives—these are the areas where marketers need logical advice and a thorough process to accomplish their goals.
Marketers need these elements to build an experience effect.
So when I am asked to define the experience effect, here’s what I say: The “experience” is the connection the brand makes with consumers. It should be unique and consistent each time. The “effect” is the impact those consistent brand experiences have on consumers’ lives. The impact should add value.
The experience effect connects the expressions of the brand together across all the elements of the marketing plan, over peri¬ods of time. It can be linear and follow a straight and narrow path where every single interaction is essentially the same, which may indeed make perfect sense for a brand.
This linearity is what McDonald’s certainly strives for from location to location and from item to item. From the start of the brand, the advertising and promotion have aimed for this. Linear means entirely consistent from element to element, exactly what consumers would expect from McDonald’s.
Or maybe not. For McDonald’s the brand experience is not quite as linear as the company thinks. The advertising and the website are similar to each other, but they are completely different from most of the restaurants. I believe that the advertising sets up a certain expectation about the restaurants that they just do not deliver. The website too depicts an experience that is very differ¬ent from that of the restaurants, at least the ones that I’ve been in lately. The advertising and the website portray a clean, friendly, wholesome place where happy children dip apples into a healthy sauce while Mom sits across an immaculate table munching on a garden-fresh salad in a clean environment where people are gen-uinely interacting with each other. Not to get cynical here, but that has not been my experience in the “real” restaurants, which are often dirty, unfriendly, and anything but wholesome. While the food is certainly consistent from location to location, it doesn’t stack up to the beautiful and healthy imagery shown on the web-site and in the advertising.
Now McDonald’s has done an amazing job revamping the menu to appeal to both kids and their parents (particularly with new salad options, McCafe premium coffees, and healthier options in the Happy Meals), but I would maintain that the brand experience in the restaurants is not consistent with that in other parts of the marketing mix, so much so that it’s hard to imagine that it’s the same brand. The food and the service portrayed in the advertising and on the website look like one brand of McDonald’s, while my less-than-ideal experiences in the restaurants look like another brand of McDonald’s. But there should be only one con¬sistent brand experience.
Just to illustrate the point, check out the synergy between the McDonald’s restaurants and their website versus that of Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants and their website. Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants are clean and simple, with clearly stated menus that guide consumers through the food selection process. The website has the same feel, but is loaded with information. In addition to compelling content such as videos, desktop reminders, screen savers, and ingredient information, the Chipotle Mexican Grill website also has a data-capture mechanism to build relationships with consumers who frequent the restaurant. The brand captures this data either directly from the website or from click-throughs from search engines. This is excellent marketing and a great vehi¬cle to extend the brand experience, completely consistent with the healthy food choices and clean environments of the restaurants.
By registering on the Chipotle Mexican Grill site, loyal con¬sumers can save time by preordering and prepaying for food to either pick up or eat in the restaurants. They can also save their menu favorites to make ordering even easier next time, either through the website or through an iPhone app. The food menus and photography are exactly as they appear in the restaurants, so there is clearly a consistent experience from website to restaurant, much more so than with McDonald’s. Of course the content is all provided with a unique Chipotle Mexican Grill brand tone and character, making for entertaining navigation while exploring the brand. You can even watch a video of avocados ripening, which is consistent with the delicious guacamole in the restaurants and with the brand personality.
While some brand experiences like McDonald’s attempt to be linear across marketing elements, others are more fluid, with deliberate twists and turns. These brands offer more of a spectrum of experiences with their marketing mix. Some interactions create an experience that is deeper or more robust, while other interac¬tions are planned to be relatively superficial and quick for the con¬sumer. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s intentional and coming from the same brand. It’s actually smart marketing. For Chipotle Mexican Grill, the iPhone app is meant to be quick and easy, while the website is meant to be filled with a variety of rich and extended experiences. Yet they are both within the same brand character.