Doing more with less seems to be a common challenge agencies and brands currently face. However, the pressure to gain market share equals the need to prevent attrition in a world where loyalty and a “cancel culture” can ultimately drive or damage, respectively, the success of emerging and heritage brands. In recent years, brands have increasingly fueled their marketing initiatives with extravagant experiential pop-ups and digital immersive experiences.
But now, these brands are being challenged by a new cultural paradigm with the power of influence now in the hands of the consumer, the community and the influencers who cultivate loyalty versus overnight fame. For example, SHEIN and H&M were once the pulse of accessible, fast fashion. However, they’ve recently faced backlash for business practices that no longer align with the globally- and ecologically-minded generation of consumers.
As a result, the conundrum now facing experiential marketers is how to create unique, exciting and exclusive experiences to attract new “fans” while continuing to reward the loyalists through access and reassurances that their loyalty retains significant value.
To that end, brands are shifting their focus toward loyalty programs that can connect communities of peers, curate meaningful cultural opportunities and foster authentic relationships within different cultural and economic ecosystems. Experiential marketers cannot rely solely upon media and industry consulting firms for their research, strategy and tactics to fuel their business value. They must become active, valued and engaged community members in order to best understand the needs, interests and social landscape which influences the tides of culture in an effort to cultivate this all-important loyalty.
3 communities of culture
While anthropologists recognize three levels of culture: international, national and subculture, in the brand ecosphere, experiential marketers look to cultivate brand loyalty within communities that are built around three entirely different cultures:
Artificial Intelligence is a controversial hot topic that has divided creative, business and technology communities. There are those who believe that AI is the start of humanity’s demise and an art/creative industry killer and those who believe it is an empowerment tool for creativity. The fear of unknown technology, intellectual property violations, economic implications and the human existential crisis are clear dividing lines for both sides.
Regardless of one’s point of view, AI is being leveraged by brands and marketers. So how can a marketer communicate and develop experiences if they do not utilize the technology or actively engage in discussion groups and the communities that create, educate and consume?
AI is a tool that can be used in problem-solving, creative thinking and production. Rather than speculating, marketers should actively engage with the tools and the various AI communities such as OpenAI or Reddit’s AI. It’s the means by which hyper-personalization is proposed to be delivered virtually and in real life.
Consider organizations that advocate for AI as a human empowerment tool, such as AI For Good Summit or FB AI Art Universe. They unite in sharing their learnings, creations and encourage the advancement of responsible use. These communities have established an ecosystem built on more than consuming a product and assisting others to benefit from shared learning experiences.
Likewise, those who are of the opposite opinion like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk equally advocate for regulation, mitigation and limited access.
Experiential marketers must pay close attention to how brands associate with this technology regardless of their personal point of view or risk serious backlash from consumers, or worse, be seen as irrelevant in the workforce of the future.
Here are a few examples of how marketers can better form an opinion and understand both perspectives:
- Host virtual or live panel discussions and invite technologists, human resources, creatives and marketers.
- Attend Generation X, Y and Z summits, networking and learning events.
- Create opportunities to unite communities of similar values across different geographies and industries through workshops, and partnerships with education and nonprofit organizations.
- Become a creator. There’s nothing more valuable than knowledge. Learn about the technology history, trends or create something that harnesses the power of your own human intelligence.
Luxury brands have staying power and continue to thrive in all economic cycles. Heritage, legacy and craftsmanship have long been pillars of their credibility and influence. Through the influencer era and the growth of the creator’s economy, luxury brands continue to cultivate loyalty and connect communities of celebrities, influencers and non-influencers alike. They do this through credible content and curated social and cultural experiences that elevate and further distinguish their legacy while also stirring the desire for access and the associated prestige.
Luxury industry marketers are keenly aware of the etiquette, value metrics and the way these experiences and content must look, feel and be managed.
This loyalty toward luxury brands is measured by spending power and the ability to influence action (versus visibility alone). Because the spending power of their loyal communities transcends traditional marketing tactics, the relationships and influence that these brands cultivate are prerequisites to an invitation to their cultural communities.
3 Art & Design
Historically, art and design have been culturally integrated into the fabric of luxury brands. However, they also are at the heart of AI and technology conversations. As a result, brands and marketers should be mindful of how these technologies can facilitate how art and design can influence communities of consumers to take action, while also allowing the influencer to create and curate, manage and sell to those communities that they influence. The design process and inspiration are forms of artistry now empowered by AI and other technology – with consumers using this same technology to create, curate and influence the communities they belong to.
For example, the Opensea.IO, Instagram and Community Tokens are platforms and mechanisms that allow creators and their communities to promote, connect and create value with fans, followers and collaborators. OpenAI’s generative art (Dall-E 2) and language-oriented tools (ChatGPT) are different community tools but equally influential due to their rapid adoption. These very different tools appeal to different mindsets and users so it is critical for brands and agencies to understand why creators might gravitate and use one versus the other.
A brand’s influence requires access to these communities as a valued contributor to its ecosystems. Loyalty and authenticity rankings are key metrics of influence metrics, less so than followers. A brand’s successful experiences will need to be curated, conceived and designed by those who are active members of the communities with whom they wish to leverage, elevate and establish relationships.
Michelle Collins is president and CXO of A\N/A A Non-Agency®, a NYC-based consumer experience marketing design consultancy. A\N/A A Non-Agency has worked with luxury and global brands such as Richemont North America, Van Cleef & Arpels, Phillips NY, Kate Spade and Delta Airlines to develop and deploy their first experiential marketing strategies and installations and has received numerous awards. The firm ranked #413 on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies for 2020, and in 2022, among Inc. magazine’s Regionals List for the Northeast.
If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter on Marketing Innovation. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.