Commentary

Enhancing Travel Destinations With Brand Experiences

I talk about brand experiences ad nauseam in my quarterly contributions and this entry will be no exception. During 2016, we activated more brand experiences than any year past. With each new activation, I dwell on the symbiotic relationship between brand experiences and their locations. When planning said experiences, its success theoretically hinges on the location, but I’m beginning to think the relationship is more mutual. What I’m suggesting is that locations need brand experiences just as much as brand experiences need locations, and here’s why.  

Value

Executed well, brand experiences generate consumer value which manifests as entertainment, empowerment or simply just free stuff. Consumers plan travel according to the inherent value a location provides them. Locations of higher perceived value will become priority travel destinations. Ergo, when brand experiences add consumer value, the locations equally benefit. 

British Airline’s “Flight Simulator” experience is a straightforward example of bolstering a location through value creation. In Victoria Station’s main concourse, consumers were challenged to pilot a virtual BA 777 aircraft and free plane tickets were given away every 15 minutes. This drove consumers in masses to Victoria Station. Some even came solely for the experience and a shot at free British Airline’s tickets. Benefit for brand, benefit for location!

Visibility

Part of the brand experience allure for marketers is that they’re shareable. Given our modern tools of social media, key performance indicators often include online impressions and engagement. As consumers share their experience, the location is the backdrop for these online memories. Supported by hashtags and geotags, they’re not only advocating for the brand, but location as well. In an industry where travel destinations fight to be top-of-mind, consumer advocacy is king. 

Times Square definitely doesn’t need any help with visibility, but World of Warcraft’s “Warlords Axe” gave the iconic location another big online push. Whether consumers knew the display was for World of Warcraft’s latest release or not was a non-factor. If they see a 15-foot axe crushing a taxi, they’re going to take photos and share it. Coupled with notable press pickups, a simple brand experience produced over 43 million earned media impressions for Times Square.  

Branding

Any marketer selecting a location for a brand experience must consider the brand alignment. Is the location representative of the brand’s values? For example, a luxury automotive brand wouldn’t activate at an outlet mall. The location doesn’t match their target demographic or brand values. The same applies for a location’s brand image. When a brand and location share the same values, the experience creates mutual benefit. 

An exciting example of brand alignment is Mission: Impossible’s “Agent Challenge” experience. Making the excitement of the franchise come to life at the Hollywood & Highland Center, consumers from all over the nation took on an action packed secret agent obstacle course. Entertainment of this class perfectly aligns and supports Hollywood & Highland Center’s brand as it’s key for consumers to view them as not just a destination for shopping, but entertainment, too. 

Reasons to Visit

Flipping the script a bit, travel destinations can be created by brand experiences. When a brand holds stronger brand equity than a location, brand experiences become the driver for consumer travel. These experiences are typically events like concerts, screenings or parties, creating one-of-a-kind memories for consumers they won’t want to miss. 

Quite possibly the best example is Bud Light’s “Whatever, USA” experience. Transforming a small off-season Colorado ski town into a massive Bud Light party, 1,000 consumers watched free concerts and let loose on a specially created beach. As a result, local business owners reported increased sales, making up a good portion of the estimated $2 million boost to the local economy. This extended even further as Whatever, USA was used as a means to create Bud Light marketing content that was used during the Super Bowl.  

Although brand experiences are primarily about achieving performance goals, they can equally benefit locations and travel destinations. When executed properly, the consumers benefit the most. So the next time you’re planning a brand experience and looking for the right place to activate, consider these points.

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