Brands are increasingly being consumed as intermediate inputs for valuable experiences. However, they are still being sold as products clustered in categories designed to fulfil a unilateral need, whereas they operate realistically as a group of peers teaming up to fulfil a larger objective. It is time for brands to move away from the manufacturer’s perspective of being treated as linear categories and instead consciously become part of larger ‘experience alliances’ that lead to exceptional customer delight.
There are a few examples of how varying forms of such an alliance has been popular, described as ‘bundling’ in certain old-world retail counters. In the soft beverages category, the pairing of colas with foods has been institutionalised as key account strategy leading to much success and happy learning. In travel and tourism, the package tour is a fine example of a product geared towards a holistic outcome, unifying natural wonders with key conduits. Wedding planners unite all the key input services to offer a complete solution unconnected to specificity of product. In the airline industry, it is the concerted relationship between the equipment maker and service provider that forms the basis of the airline experience. In the entertainment industry, an orchestration of talented multi-disciplinary stars unites briefly to develop a movie while in the technology domain, every successful app is usually the culmination of multiple creator brands coming together to form a solution.
In every such case, the outcome is a distinctive and valuable experience that transcends the benefit from a single category instead of being derived from the intuitive or intentional blending of multiple products to create a far more significant finish line. In some cases, the outcome is a brand by itself, as in the case of technology and airlines, and in most scenarios, it is simply a human experience such as the Great Indian Wedding, which is brought to life by investment in various products and services that find meaning in its final fulfilment. It may be well be Taj Hotels, Manish Malhotra, Nirav Modi, Jawed Habib, Rolls Royce and so much more -- an alliance of maestros secured by design through the bespoke method or through the assistance of a service provider. What is true for luxury is equally valid for the mass-market as well; in both cases such relationships are originally reactionary by nature.
The opportunity for brand owners today is to craft proactive ‘experience alliances’ that will enable consumers to view their creations through an overall experience lens and not just evaluate such products and services from individual performance or isolated imagery unconnected to the ultimate outcome. As ever, it is easiest for the experience aggregator to be the pioneer in taking the lead. Every time the urban Indian goes for a family holiday, she is as picky of her clothes, accessories and luggage as she is of her hotels and airlines. It will be lucrative for yatra.com to hub an ‘experience alliance’ that also involves Amazon and Samsonite. For starters, it would be pricing a holiday package with wardrobe and travel inputs and creating unified social media platforms that amplify the multi-sensorial delight.
Every time alcohol is purchased for a party, it is simply a feeder to a larger social bonding. Completing the visible single-price alliance at the point of retail can be Al-Kabeer sausages, Gaana.com download package, Tong Garden Nuts and Uber promotional offers. In affluent metros, a New Year Party at a club means usually the purchase of new clothes, which is a perfect fodder for a composite transaction in the form of a beneficial gift voucher. While premium jewellery and premium ethnic clothing are formidable natural allies, to date there is no structured alliance that provokes the buyer in terms of creating a ‘stunner ensemble’ in association with footwear available at a single point that breaks the imposed barriers of luxury retail. For children, the possibilities are endless with clothes, toys, summer camps and more, converging to creating happy zones. As a branding entity, ‘experience alliances’ enjoy their white-label stature as the orchestration of distinguished inputs.
There was definitely a time when statutory and technical limitations made this concept simply theoretical and not implementable. As an outcome of e-commerce and multi-brand retail, the barriers to ‘experience alliances’ are gradually diminishing, except those that still exist in our minds. As a logical next-step, highest-level board room conversations must be initiated by complimentary brands to take due advantage of the culture of consumer demand fuelled by holistic experiences, as a new route towards retention and growth of market share. As a happy addendum, there can be significant savings in reach-out costs and also the pressure of ensuring customer delight being shared by worthy equals -- an occasional inadequacy in one compensated by an overdose of joy in the other leading to a first-class outcome.
While positioning and retailing remain the easy point of convergence, the ‘experience alliance’ can be born at a far earlier stage emulating a slightly-comparable best practice of the airline industry. In an age of vastly-dissolved entry barriers, ‘experience segmentation’ can become the principle for forming business models: an online holiday company merging apparel, accessories, hotel, airline and all else as discussed earlier; a brick-and-mortar pub chain like Social offering a consume-at-home experience by hawking cocktail kits, finger food and music via a legal online format; and a SUV maker designed for weekend travel partnering with Mahindra Timeshare to form an alliance available through Droom.com.
The age of experience is well and truly consuming us while we are still focussing on consuming products and services. A cocktail of courage, wisdom and smartness can help brands make this transition at the point of transaction by creating seamless ‘experience alliances’ that lure customers from the point of outcome and not just output. This simple act of re-booting access can be a lucrative source of demand generation with truly endless possibilities.
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