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Experiential Marketing and Genuine Human Connections

Return on Investment (ROI) Requires Return on Emotion (ROE)

There has been a lot of chatter from brands and agencies alike about the post-pandemic future and the importance of connecting with consumers in a more human way – to see beyond the data and truly understand what motivates them in order to develop deep, emotional connections with the people we design for – so that they will fold the brands they love into their own personal brand. For me, it is really about changing the conversation to focus on Return on Emotion (ROE) as the best path to achieving Return on Investment (ROI); to profoundly affect how consumers think, feel, decide, and behave as they go through their journey with us as brands, particularly in the world of branded experiences.

Experience, understanding, and meaning for people is a result of our body and brain interactions with the world they inhabit. As humans, we understand things the way we do as a result of the tools of perception we have: the bags of skin we walk around in (touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell) paired with the fundamental mechanics of our brains and unconscious mind (all that good hippocampus stuff).

To successfully design branded experiences for people, we first have to understand them. Makes sense, right? But how far can the data take us? Pretty far, but perhaps not far enough. Data can uncover large, cultural movements that affects our consumers, absolutely. Taking the time to dig deep into their unconscious mind goes a good bit further in understanding what will motivate them and in turn develop a branded experience that leads to brand love; an engagement that truly taps into what motivates them to act.

Over the course of my career, I’ve studied the effect design has on us and the role of human perception when developing branded experiences. It’s fascinating! For example:

  • Ceiling heights. Did you know that there are certain functions of our brains that can only be accessed through our long- or short-view? Big, creative thoughts and memories are accessed through our long view. Accuracy and repetitive functions are accessed through short vision. That’s why when someone asks you a question and you are searching for the answer, you will either look to the furthest point in a room, or the closest point (you’ll catch yourself doing this now that you know!). When you are designing 3D spaces, consider ceiling height – what kind of brain function are you looking for in this space?
  • Biophilia. Humans need nature in a deep, primal, and fundamental way. Exposure to nature reduces stress, improves cognitive performance, and even healing. This does not mean that you have to include plants and grass in everything, but curvilinear form, colour and texture can trigger the brain in the same way. Fun fact: doctors are now prescribing time in nature for people to help manage their mental health. When working on a medicinal cannabis project, my team and I discovered the deep-rooted fears people had of this product – the positive and negative frames they had in their unconscious minds. To mitigate the negatives and reduce feelings of stress, we designed a store that took advantage of biophilic design to great success. The people we were designing for embraced the store and the product fearlessly. Consider the feelings you wish to promote in your design – if calm, safety, or healing are part of it, consider how you can inject “nature” into your design.
  • Creating new memories with scent. Scent is the best path to creating new memories, believe it or not. If you can find a way to pair a scent with your branded experience, that scent will forever trigger that positive memory with your customer. You see, the olfactory bulb has a direct path to the amygdala (emotions), and the hippocampus (associative learning/memory), creating that (hopefully) positive new memory. It’s the most overlooked sense, but perhaps the most important, in terms of forging a real, unconscious bond with your consumer. For my Canadian readers, what brand to you think of when you smell new tires?
  • Focus. Complexity is like taxes and death. It’s inevitable in the world we live in. Good spatial design provides a clear and coherent idea or offer that solves a fundamental problem that your consumer faces. Consider the wine category; it’s extremely overwhelming and intimidating if you are a new or moderate user. Peller Estates Winery understood the need to clarify the category in their owned retail stores in order to allow their customers to feel more confident in their purchase decisions. My team and I stripped down the traditional merchandising and communications and provided clear category and product descriptions that aligned with the language customers use when describing wines: bold, fruity, bubbly, etc. This broke down emotional barriers and the customers loved it, rewarding Peller with sales and loyalty.  By understanding what motivates your audience, applying sharp focus on solving their problems and designing to that, you will have their undying appreciation and loyalty.

Now is the time to think beyond data alone to inform the design decisions you are making for your branded experiences – add a layer of humanity and you will see real, valuable engagement and brand love in return. Dig in to your consumer’s true motivations, understand what they are bringing to the relationship and work toward seamlessly fitting in with their life from their perspective.

If you do, you will get the ROE that feeds your ROI and a whole lot of true brand love.

Written by Public Label’s Sr. Account Director, Marjorie Mackenzie

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