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Engaging consumers through a broader experience

Over the last decade the consumer's relationship and engagement with brands has extended way beyond the merely transactional, explains Giles Calver, planning director at Sedley Place creative agency

Giles Calver Sedley Place

In 1973 when James Pilditch wrote his book ‘The Silent Salesman’ he was writing about packaging at a time when most consumers’ engagement with a brand was ‘transactional’. A consumer bought a brand and then drunk, ate it or used it in one way or another. People’s engagement with brands was often limited and promotional strategies were primarily aimed at pushing products at consumers through advertising, PR and point of sale.

Over the last decade consumers’ relationships with brands have extended beyond the merely ‘transactional’. The growth of ‘pull’ strategies in marketing, the hegemony of social media, the role of digital platforms and the impact of inspiring and engaging content, the developing trend for story-telling, the involvement of brands in events as organisers (like Red Bull) or participants, and the physical expression of brands as environments, spaces and pop-ups now means that brands have deeper, richer and more complex relationships with consumers.

For example; consumers visiting the Mercedes-Benz World can not only appreciate the brand’s heritage and product line-up but experience one of its cars at full throttle. Dunhill’s clients can enjoy its brand ‘home’ at Bourdon House in London and luxuriate in a sophisticated world of personal grooming and tailoring that engages both their minds and hearts. Coffee lovers venturing into Nespresso’s flagship London brand store find themselves surrounded by the brand’s unique and poly-sensorial take on the world of coffee. Customers at Puma’s Redworld can not only indulge in a bit of retail therapy but interactively experience the brand.

The progenitors
Interestingly the drinks world was one of the first to embrace the idea of engaging consumers in a deeper relationship. Distillery tours and visitor centres have for decades being introducing consumers to the distilling process and leveraging the visual drama and craftsmanship associated with whisky production to sell more product, tell individual brand stories and demystify the language of this spirit. The new Kingsbarn Distillery is a recent example of this. Opened in December 2014 it features not only the distillery itself with its beautiful wash and spirit stills, distillery tours, an exhibition, an ‘aromatron’ (pictured at bottom of page), tasting room, tutored whisky tasting sessions, a shop and café.

Brand embassies
Over the last decade or so the experience offered by ‘traditional’ distillery tours has found new expressions. The harbinger of this approach has to be the Guinness Storehouse, designed by Imagination. Based in a historic building in St James’s Gate, Dublin, and now “Ireland’s number one visitor attraction”, the seven-storey Storehouse takes visitors on “a magical journey deep into the heart of the world famous Guiness brand and company”. The scale of the experience, memorable components like the Gravity and Connoisseur Bars, the exhibition spaces, and the conference and training areas epitomise the ambitiousness of the project.

The immersive element of the Storehouse has been recently matched by Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Houses in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Seoul. These celebrations of Johnnie Walker have been designed, by the agency Love, to introduce consumers in the Far East to the brand’s world and all it stands for. Beautifully designed and artfully constructed, the spaces tell the brand’s story in a deeply involving and inspiring way, using the spaces themselves, the displays, the visual delight of the tasting rooms and exclusive limited edition blends to reveal a compelling story of provenance, craft, taste and luxury. Diageo describes the houses as whisky embassies and the term reveals its intent, as they celebrate and inspire in equal measure. For those consumers lucky enough to be invited to one of the ‘whisky embassies’, the houses also have select areas where members can relax and unwind with friends and business associates.

Brands & bars
Bars and brands have been inextricably linked for centuries, as Manet’s famous painting ‘A Bar at The Folies-Bergère illustrates with its depiction of Bass Beer bottles, and the bar world is seen as an important place for brands to engage with consumers, often in partnership with bartenders and mixologists.

The Blue Bar at The Gleneagles Hotel (pictured below left and top of page) illustrates a brand taking this relationship one step further, by owning a unique drinking space. Designed by Sedley Place, the Blue Bar is a showcase for Johnnie Walker Blue Label. It’s an invitation only, al fresco space where hotel’s guest can enjoy a warming dram on a crisp winter’s evening or chat long into a summer night. The bar includes a number of features which embody the brand, such as lighting employing the brand’s characteristic square shape and monogrammed rugs.

The value of the Blue Bar to Johnnie Walker is that it not only provides a place for hotel guests to enjoy the fine whisky but that it creates memories that guests will cherish and inextricably link with the brand.

Sensory Perceptions
The relationship of the drinking experience to place and atmosphere was explored by The Singleton’s brand team at Diageo. Working with Condiment Junkie, the Brand Team set up a pop-up in London’s Soho, entitled ‘The Singleton Sensorium’, which blended scientific research with a sensual experience. Three immersive ‘sensory’ worlds were created where sound, scent, colour, décor and textures were combined to highlight the different flavours of The Singleton 12-year old malt. Guests were invited to take a glass of the malt between the rooms and notice how the different environments influenced the balance of flavours in the whisky.

Personalising the experience
The digital world has enabled brands to engage with consumers in a multitude of ways. Using dynamic media, such as video, the platform has allowed brands to tell compelling stories, invite participation in a brand’s world, and to inform and inspire different target groups with information about new variants and serves. In the process it has helped brands target consumers’ hearts and minds in ways unimaginable before the advent of the internet.

The digital world has also enabled brands to offer highly personalised experiences. The Glenfiddich Gallery (pictured below) is a perfect example of this. Designed by Purple, the Gallery offers consumers the opportunity to personalise an on-line purchase - whether for themselves or as a gift - so that both the drink, made up of the brand’s rare whiskies, and its luxury packaging is unique to them. What’s more, the website has been designed for both novice and aficionado alike. Clever design features enable them to demystify the language of whisky and help novices select a taste profile that suits them, before going on to design bottle labels and individual box cartons to their own liking.

Morereasons to talk

Many brand owners target aficionados of whisky with limited editions. These editions are designed to leverage this audience’s knowledge, connoisseurship and collecting behaviour. In developing markets these special editions have also tapped into the gift-giving tradition, although there have been some brakes on this developing market as certain governments crack down on what they perceive as abuse of this seasonal activity. Suffice it to say limited editions play an important part in the on-going ‘dialogue’ between brands and consumers.

5 May 2015