Retail Executive

SEP-OCT 2017

Retail Executive is the trusted advisor to top retail executives from the industry’s most profitable retailers. We help retail executives succeed in their job role and grow their business via exclusive, actionable, peer-driven content.

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Page 33 of 43

it is almost impossible to separate the corporate culture from the brand culture, one of the unique traits of immer- sive brands. The brand transcends both the customer and employee culture, bringing them together as one with the product or service, thereby becoming a means to the brand experience. All of these companies are connecting with customers at the highest emotional level, becoming an important part of people's life stories. These brands understand the power of storytelling and how that helps customers connect with them, derive meaning and purpose, build experiences which they can share, and recruit like-mind- ed customers through word-of-mouth marketing. Em- ployees are a critical part of the brand storytelling and are treated as important — sometimes more important — than the product itself. Immersive brands almost always spend less money on marketing and advertising, have limited or no discounts, and instead invest in the brand experience through cus- tomer engagement. So how do immersive brands build these environ- ments? They all have a functional level grounded in log- ical connections, and the expectation of the customer is that the product will work the way they expect it to. Like every other brand, they have a basic promise they are "selling" and sort of a nonnegotiable position the product or service is expected to deliver. They build brand marketing and advertising campaigns that reflect the emotional connections between the cus- tomer and the brand. What is different and unique is hav- ing a brand purpose driven by a desire to change some- thing for the better — to right a wrong, so to speak. The brand engages the hearts and minds of their customers and employees on a mission to make the world a better place. It's that sense of purpose and tribal, cult-like com- munity that creates an immersive environment. Immersive brands trigger a deep sense of love for the brand and what it means in the customer's life. These brands occupy a special place in a customer's heart and mind that is uplifting to the human spirit. Their trust, expectations, and advocacy for the brand can be so high that customers reach a point of vulnerability. In today's hyperconnected, social media-driven society, immersive brands can be born overnight. Equally, with- out strong leadership, understanding, and experience, brands can also quickly unravel. The most important el- ement in building a lasting, immersive brand is ensuring the organization has a sense of purpose, values, and be- liefs appealing to a cause higher than what you are sell- ing. By listening to and encouraging customers and em- ployees for constant feedback, leaders can remain good curators of the brand, best serving the brand community and helping change the world for the better. R beyond the functional level and creates emotional con- nections. More than what these products do for you (functional), it's about how they make you feel (emo- tional) when using the brand. The emotional brand level elicits feelings the customer associates with the brand and the product and is where most brands strive to be spending a significant amount of time and mon- ey positioning brand communications to trigger those feelings in the customer. Brands like Bounty or even Walmart try to stand out in what can be viewed as commoditized categories. Most of these companies spend significantly on media to deliver their message, build loyalty, and sell their products. Emotional brands have connected when cus- tomers begin reciting their brand messages whenever they see the brand logo or hear the brand jingle. Most brands recognize the value of building deep- er connections with their customers beyond meeting functional needs. They strategize and develop ways to reach the customer on an emotional level with service, product exclusivity, environment, or other benefits that can be intangible, making the customer feel the brand is a better choice than the alternatives. They win by leveraging emotional connections through adver- tising and marketing and conveying their brand as a uniquely better choice. Emotional brands are generally "stickier" than func- tional brands, becoming preferred choices for cus- tomers and lessening the influence of functional ben- efits such as price and convenience. In fact, building a more emotional connection often allows a brand to have higher pricing because the customer believes it is worth more. Building an emotional connection releases feelings toward the brand much like people experience with friends or family. It also helps make the choice more comfortable for customers, as they believe they are getting more than just a product or service. IMMERSIVE BRANDS AND THE MEANINGFUL CX The third and highest brand level is an immersive brand. More than what they do or how they make you feel, they actually help define who you are and what you stand for — like a badge of honor. These are brands like Disney, Nike, Apple, Patagonia, lululemon, Under Armour, and Starbucks — often classified as lifestyle brands viewed as premium in their category. These companies build meaningful experiences with the customer, immersing them into their brand. The brands have solid functional products and services that satisfy customer needs, create positive feelings for the customer, and, on top of that, they immerse their customers in a sense of purpose — some- thing meaningful the customer believes in. These brands have employee cultures that are equally as immersive as the customer brand connections. In fact, RETAILEXECUTIVE.COM SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 34 BRAND EQUITY Innovation By C. Hermann IMMERSIVE BRANDS: THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF BRAND EQUITY

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