Three tips for becoming an experience-based brand

Execs from McDonald's, Comedy Central and the Royal Bank of Scotland took the stage at Adobe Summit to share their journeys toward being experience-based brands.

Execs from McDonald’s, Comedy Central and the Royal Bank of Scotland took the stage at Adobe Summit to share their journeys toward being experience-based brands.

For his 25th birthday, the son of Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayen wanted to see Kobe Bryant play one last game before he retires from the NBA. Narayen was able to book a flight and hotel, make restaurant reservations and buy tickets to the game, all while sitting on the couch, watching House of Cards.

According to Narayen, his son’s birthday is “the experience era” in a nutshell.

“The Lakers lost, but from beginning to end, it was a magical experience for my family,” he said, delivering the opening keynote at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas yesterday. “So many companies are coming out with great digital campaigns, but if that’s all we talked about, we’d be missing the point. Digital experiences today have the power to transform every aspect of our life, change the way we travel, spend our money, do our jobs, and even relate to the entire world around us.”

As technology has evolved, experiences moved from the physical world to the digital world and now they’re moving back.

With innovations like smart cars, in-store mobile commerce, and even augmented and virtual reality, digital is now complementing offline experiences.



To thrive in this “tradigital” environment, marketers have to make sure they’re experience-based. Here are three tips from some of the biggest names out there:

1. Be practical: look to the little things

McDonald’s is in the midst of a resurgence, going from a well-documented millennial problem to having its highest-ever stock prices. That turnaround is due, in large part, to the brand focusing on the little things. (Also, all-day breakfast.)

“In digital, there are a lot of shiny toys. People are like, ‘Are you doing this? Are you doing that? Did you see what Starbucks is doing?'” says Deborah Wahl, CMO of McDonald’s. “We had to step back and focus on the idea of timing and balance.”

At South by Southwest, McDonald’s had VR happy meal boxes, following a successful implementation of VR in Sweden.

For Wahl, more practical things are what really builds the business. For example, the localized messaging in a contest to build what will be Texas’ signature McDonald’s burger resulted in a 350 percent increase in clicks.


“There’s so much incremental power in those little things, versus the really sexy stuff,” says Wahl. “The bigger gains will be in that practical, day-to-day optimization and that’s what builds the business.”

2. Be omnipresent: If your customers are someplace, you should be, too

Comedy Central’s main audience has always been 18- to 34-year-old guys, one of many demographics that watches less and less TV on an actual television set. Therefore, the network can’t afford to be seen simply as a network.

“We’re on Hulu, we’re on Amazon Prime, we’re on Roku, we’re on Xbox, we were one of the first brands on Snapchat Discover,” says Walter Levitt, CMO of Comedy Central. “Linear TV has been our bread and butter for 25 years, but our content is now anywhere millennials are.”

Levitt’s goal is for Comedy Central to evolve from being a network to a brand. To do so, it must follow its target audience all around the internet, putting out compelling content wherever it may be. One way Comedy Central ties that online content with the offline world is by using social media posts to drive viewers to its programming – however they choose to consume it.

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3. Be inclusive: Involve everyone in your analytics

Giles Richardson, head of analytics at the Royal Bank of Scotland, thinks the bank – which was founded in 1727, making it older than the U.S. – manages its digital experiences well. But he points out that wasn’t always the case, noting the “firework culture” of the past.

“We’d light up a new experience and just launch it. And then 10 seconds later, an email from the [managing director] would come through and say, ‘Congrats guys, this takes us through our strategic aims,'” recalls Richardson. “But had it? We didn’t know; we didn’t really measure anything.

“Superstar DJs are amazing. They’re constantly creating new content and pushing it out, and within milliseconds, they know whether it’s working or not,” adds Richardson. “If it’s not, they pull it back. They’re very cognizant of audiences and segments.”

What good is an experience, though, if you don’t know what it did for the brand? Now RBS measures and tests everything, with those superstar DJs in mind. But rather than hiring a million data scientists, the bank has involved everyone in measurement. Its ranks are filled with “journey managers,” all of whom were trained to become literate in analytics.

Leaving Las Vegas

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of the three executives’ main takeaways from Vegas.

  1. Be practical. It’s good to stay on top of the latest, coolest technology. But it’s the more ordinary, day-to-day practices that really grow a brand.
  2. Be omnipresent. You may not think your brand fits on, say, Snapchat. But if your audience is there, you need to be, too.
  3. Be inclusive. Experiences are great for customers, but they’re not great for you, if you’re not sure how they’re performing. Get everyone involved with analytics.

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