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Designing Experiences

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As marketers have become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to identify and target refined demographic and psychographic segments, markets have grown and matured. Consumers have been been given more choices, and store shelves have become more crowded. Communicators struggle to break through the clutter, bombarding us with an overwhelming number of unsolicited and unwelcome messages.

Advocates of a brand-centered approach, which has been billed as the answer to the limitations of traditional marketing methods, suggest that can brands act as signifiers of abstract attributes like “authenticity”. But this approach to engaging audiences can only take us so far.

Traditional product development and marketing methods are based on a rational, predictive and analytical view of consumer behavior, when in fact individual consumers behave in ways that are irrational, unpredictable and utterly dependent on context. The evidence indicates that consumers resent marketing intrusions and instead seek rich, rewarding experiences from those brands to which they grant their attention, money or loyalty.

People develop emotional responses to brands through a rich mix of sensory and cognitive activity that is deeply subjective. In other words, people create mental models of brands based on experience.

In the past few years, a spate of articles and books on “experiential marketing,” “relationship marketing” and “permission marketing” have appeared. It is in the highly competitive retail, entertainment and hospitality industries, however, that the staging and management of experiences are probably best understood and typically best realized.

Published in materials for the AIGA national conference in Las Vegas, 1999

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