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How to use experiential to embed rich memories

By Richard Barrett, Managing director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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February 28, 2020 | 6 min read

For our experiential focused whitepaper – Live Amplified – we collaborated with a number of industry experts to explore why experiential is essential to a brand’s authenticity, and how to get it right. The power of experiential to embed rich memories, and the importance of telling a powerful story, are two of the factors we identified as being crucial to truly impactful experiential.

Hot air balloons

Tell a powerful story

Data abuse and other forms of digital malpractice hide in the shadows; consumers want brands to step into the daylight. Experiential shows you’re eager to let people get up close, explore your story from all sides and test it for holes.

Because the channel is intrinsically human and interactive, it’s the perfect platform for communicating your message with power and conviction. Stories are an integral part of how we define ourselves and others. How can storytelling in experiential sharpen your brand’s identity and give it greater emotional heft?

  • Employ best-in-class techniques. Create experiences that are genuinely two-way: seize every opportunity to get the audience involved and make them feel they’re co-creating the story. Mix storytelling with storydoing: find original ways to bring your brand’s beliefs and behaviours to life.
  • Capitalise on the time available. While activities like sampling demand quick, frictionless interactions, experiential often gives brands the luxury of extended time with their audience. Exploit this by building dynamic narratives that span the archetypal story arc: anticipation (the call to adventure); exploration (the journey of discovery); and resolution (the challenge successfully accomplished).
  • Stand up and be counted. Bring a strong opinion and express it clearly. For instance: New Zealand cider brand Old Mout proves its passion for sustainability via Kiwi Camp, discrete areas at festivals built with environmentally friendly materials. The Camp runs upcycling courses, and recycling schemes help fund endangered species…including, of course, the kiwi itself.

One of our collaborators, Jo Bennett from Camp Bestival/Live Nation, emphasised this last point: "Consumers connect with brands who make them ‘feel’ something and that care about the same issues - so we’ll start to see more experiential with meaning as these concerns trickle down from the public consciousness into how brands express themselves".

Experiential lets brands tell authentic stories via multiple voices. Ambassadors at the event are essential to ensuring your message remains strong and involving. Partners can add new dimensions and depth. So too can influencers, so long as they feel true to the brand and play a relevant role.

Embed rich memories

Utilising experiential to embed rich memories can be incredibly impactful. As one of our other collaborators, Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro-Insight (UK) Limited, puts it: "Our brains have evolved to remember real-world events that impact us personally and powerfully. That’s why experiential can create such intense brand memories."

The human brain does a great job of making the most of its storage capacity. What we actually remember are more like ‘snapshots’ than videos. Our memories consist of a finite number of individual moments in time; the brain then essentially makes up what happened in between in order to construct the bigger picture.

Incidents of high emotional intensity create the most powerful ‘snapshots’. Because it’s first-hand and often involves an encounter with the new and unexpected, experiential can achieve this intensity more effectively than any other channel.

How can brands maximise these emotional peaks?

  • Stimulate all five senses. Many communication channels are audio-visual, but only experiential allows you to engage all five senses simultaneously. Bring your brand to life via touch and taste. Pay particular attention to smell: it’s directly connected to the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory and so can be highly evocative.
  • Challenge people’s comfort zone. We all forget the everyday…but we all remember the first time we tried something different. Give people the opportunity to step into the unknown; properly handled, there can be real benefits in taking people out of their comfort zone.
  • Build to a climax. A compelling multi-step story is much more likely to be encoded by the brain. Create emotional peaks at key junctures throughout the narrative but save your best till last. What is the climactic experience that best summarises your brand message?

By creating moments of heightened intensity, you’ll not only increase engagement; you’ll embed powerful memories that can be triggered by follow-up activity that recalls the original experience.

Heather from Neuro-Insight uses the analogy of a 'brand room' to explain the way the brain gathers and stores brand information it receives.

"In our heads we carry networks of associations for the things that we encounter in our lives. As we gather new information about brands, our associative memory links it to our existing knowledge and our brand networks grow. We can think about these networks as 'rooms' in our heads, with one for each brand we come across. Some of these rooms, for familiar and loved brands, will be well-decorated and furnished with lots of associations, and the feeling of the room will reflect all our experiences and impressions about the brand. Rooms for brands that we know less well will be more sparsely furnished."

Experiential, being such a potent medium for storytelling, plays an important role in helping to furnish or re-decorate brand rooms. Providing the brand is clearly associated with the experience, this association will be triggered by any future encounters with that brand, serving to 'light up the room'.

Our brains are hard-wired to remember real-world events of high intensity. Design your experience to deliver a series of emotional peaks that build to a climax and create long-lasting memories via experiences that touch all five senses, encourage playful behaviour, and take people out of their comfort zone. Do all that and you’re on to a winner.

Richard Barrett, managing director at Initials.


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