Immerse yourself in the future

As featured in Research Live

What people expect of brands is influenced by the whole world around them. The changes in society at large, plus advances in technology and improved customer service across various different sectors are all elements that inform an individual’s expectations. Progress, change and realignment impact customers’ views of a brand.

As IBM’s Bridget van Kralingen said: “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for experiences they want everywhere.”

Brands need to embrace this degree of complexity and influence to grow and succeed and this requires brands to consider immersive branding to make them fit for the future – however it may evolve.

How we’ve created brand identities in the past is not enough to meet the demands of today. Immersive branding goes beyond 2D visual design and includes visual, sound, touch, sensory and behaviour. But beyond the presentation layer, immersive brands create personal experiences built upon rich data platforms and personalisation, providing users with a ‘total’ experience.

Immersive branding is the next logical step following the culmination of the way brands have had to adapt to survive. In the past, to thrive brands needed to simply meet category motivations better than others – to be the most refreshing drink, or the most reassuring insurance company.

Over time this developed so that we expected them to be distinctive, with clear positionings and with a corresponding coherent identity and distinctive assets. From there emotions were introduced; we wanted to engage with brands emotionally – we looked for identities with personality. And as substance became more important, we were attracted to brands with a clear story or narrative, and more recently with purpose.

Over the past decade the pace of change has accelerated. The digital revolution requires brands to give us seamless digital experiences across a suite of assets and with distinctive user experiences. As omnichannel has taken hold, it has led to experiential brands, where brand experience principles and a full range of sensory assets have been required both on and offline.

Look at Audi: this design-driven business successfully employs brand storytelling across platforms and media – especially in digital and experiential. From its own simulated electric engine sound to a single, consistent typeface echoing its shape language, it even has an online brand centre that has user experience at its core.

In this data-driven age, it has enabled brands to be intelligent – to respond to their context, to adapt to time, audience, mood or season to be interactive and personalised. We like to call this cognitive marketing.

In the case of Google, it has increased its immersive branding game as it moved from purely digital to physical – using human-centred design with products such as Nest devices and wearables, all conveying the Google experience and keeping it front of mind.

As brands continue to develop, technology accelerates and people’s expectations increase, we must evolve the very fabric of how we build and express the brand to meet those demands. It’s time for brands to adapt again, to something that can connect every available platform and experience into one.

This may manifest in multiple ways. It could mean logos that adapt and respond to their touchpoint; typography that can suit any environment; animation that scales from storytelling to UI interactions; responsive haptics, sound palettes and a voice platform to accentuate the brand.

Starbucks stands out in this regard. It works at a distinctive and emotional level, splitting its brand experience principles around need – functional and expressive. It has created a rich, flexible design system with multi-layered brand storytelling instore, online and in social that feels centred around customer needs.

An immersive brand uses full sensory engagement including visual, sound, touch, sensory and behaviour – enveloping the customer and user in a total experience. To get to that point requires crafting of traditional foundational analogue assets, fine tuning digital assets, as well as the addition of on and offline experiential assets.

This isn’t about throwing away what brands have already established, but rather working intelligently to modify, repurpose or add to the suite of assets they have, to build the immersive brand they need to be to thrive in the future.

Our suggested steps to consider for immersive brands to drive growth are the following:

  •        Diagnose customer needs and expectations
  •        Define brand strategies and growth platforms that deliver
  •        Create and build identity systems, experiences and communications
  •        Embed, activate and manage change throughout the organisation