For most of us, our connection with our favorite brands is not always rational or logical but often driven by emotions. We can’t really explain why we might favor Pepsi over Coke, Adidas over Nike, Apple over Samsung — and brands work tirelessly to foster this emotional response because it allows their products to be so much more than the sum of their parts.
Increasingly, immersive brand experiences are becoming an important step in fostering these relationships, and a growing number of brands in a diverse range of industries are using them effectively.
The most successful brands use immersive experiences as part of a broader strategy to connect with consumers in deeper, more meaningful ways. As such, these brands can provide a touchpoint for shared experiences and become an important part of how customers define themselves.
Emotional connections like these are vital building blocks to building a community around your brand because they bring together people who don’t just passively consume your product or service. Those that can successfully build a community can then grow their pool of brand advocates and strengthen their brand by deepening its links to popular culture and people’s identities.
What Is An Immersive Brand Experience?
While we’re used to films, TV shows, and video games boasting of immersive experiences, for brands, this is a relatively new term. Its use in entertainment is broadly used to describe those moments that truly transport the viewer (or player) to the world on screen — think films like 1917 with its unbroken single-take or the intricate production design of a series like Wolf Hall.
For brands, however, the term “immersive” can mean different things, depending on how it is applied and where.
Broadly speaking though, an immersive brand experience is any campaign that aims “to create a new, illusory environment for its audience” and makes “the participant feel part of what is being presented to them, pushing them to explore it with their senses.”
This can take the form of a real physical space that people can explore, virtual space or experience that utilizes augmented reality, or something more abstracted —including any brand experience that makes use of multiple senses or mediums to connect with the audience on a deeper, more emotional level.
3 Ways To Use Immersive Brand Experiences
Immersive brand experiences can come in many shapes and sizes and be utilized in different ways. So to help demonstrate just how diverse they can be and how broad the scope of their application is, here are some examples of their effective use from some recognizable brands.
1. Using Physical Spaces To Create Immersive Experiences
This is, perhaps, the most straightforward way that brands can create immersive experiences. TV shows and films (usually those with richly realized fictional worlds) rely on this method to further immerse audiences in the stories on screen and build buzz around new season launches.
Netflix has promoted a number of shows by bringing them to life and allowing audiences to experience them as interactive, physical spaces. Examples include a paid Stranger Things Experience in New York and San Francisco, a pop-up experience in a mall in Istanbul for the German-language series Dark, and an installation in Seoul to promote its hit-show Squid Game.
While this type of promotion is perfectly suited to TV, film, and gaming brands — they’re not the only ones who can get in on the fun of building real sensory experiences. Alcoholic beverage brands have been leveraging the physical spaces that comprise their breweries or distilleries for years to create immersive brand experiences that build closer connections with their consumers.
For example, The Guinness Storehouse at St James Gate in Dublin is actually more of a museum dedicated to the brand’s heritage and history —and is Ireland's most visited attraction. Bombay Sapphire’s distillery in Laverstoke, England resides on the site of a former paper mill and creates a sensory experience that helps maintain the brand’s illusory sense of Victorian heritage (it was actually founded in 1987).
Finally, the immersive brand experience is something that has been well utilized by fashion brands, as the rise of e-commerce has forced a re-think of what bricks-and-mortar locations are really there to achieve. Nike’s high-tech “Rise” store in Seoul, South Korea, where a three-story screen “displays real-time running stats from the local community”, is a great example of how brands are creating more immersive retail experiences to pull consumers into their physical stores.
Another great example can be seen in street-wear brand Supreme, which has mastered the art of using new releases of limited clothing, available only at select stores, to create an experience that encourages consumers to interact with the brand in a deeper, more emotional way.
“Much like obsessive fans of a sports team that ritually unite to support on match day, Supreme loyalists line up at its stores on ‘drop day.’ Each and every week, the brand will launch a limited-run of new products that are all guaranteed to sell out.”
Coming full circle back to the world of TV and film, Amazon Prime opened a pop-up store for the fictional brand Latrine (a parody of Supreme) in Los Angeles to promote its animated comedy show Fairfax, where customers could buy apparel and accessories related to the show.
2. Using Virtual Spaces To Create Immersive Experiences
An ever-wider array of brands have found effective ways to use apps, games, an emerging technologies such as virtual or augmented reality to create immersive experiences.
This is, of course, the natural home for brands already operating in this space, so it's unsurprising that the world’s most valuable media franchise, Pokemon, was one of the first to realize its potential. Though the franchise has diversified its offering to include toys, trading cards, theme parks, and TV shows — its original product offering was video games, which are a naturally immersive experience simply because they are interactive.
However, this didn’t stop the brand from innovating and becoming one of the first to utilize augmented reality in a way that not only caught on but became a global phenomenon. By allowing players to catch Pokemon out and about in parks, cities, and suburbs, players enjoyed a more immersive version of the gameplay mechanics found in its 1996 Gameboy classic.
Pokemon Go arguably revitalized the brand and propelled it back into the mainstream across the globe, demonstrating that immersive experiences aren’t just for those already interested and engaged with a particular Intellectual Property (IP), but also new audiences eager to get involved in the fun.
Fortnite is another big gaming brand that has utilized immersive brand experiences but is noteworthy because of the way that non-gaming brands have collaborated with it to achieve a presence in its virtual playgrounds. From Balenciaga to countless film IPs such as Dune and Star Wars to the NFL, these collaborations allow brands to piggyback on the immersive experience of the game and become a part of it.
In 2020, Epic Games arranged a groundbreaking in-game Travis Scott concert that allegedly earned the rapper $20 million. Head of brand at Epic Games, Phil Rampulla believed that the event’s success showcased “the viability of digital performances” adding that “the landscape is changing…You’ve got to bring something that’s awesome. Otherwise it’s ‘That’s just an ad.’ And those things are just getting glossed over.”
Back in the world of beer, Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn proved to be well ahead of current trends, demonstrating back in 2016 how immersive experiences can help fuel connections with brands. Their Immersive & Gunn experience allowed customers in selected venues to view a short film via a VR headset while they drank. By doing so they hoped to enhance the taste and create a more personal and unique experience that really drew on all the senses.
3. Using Emotional Experiences To Immerse Consumers In Your Brand
Creating an immersive brand experience is not just about realizing a physical or virtual space that audiences can explore or interact with, though these are often the most common. It’s arguable that any format that connects with us via our emotions helps to immerse us in brands, and does so in ways that go beyond our typical transactions with them.
Spotify Wrapped, the music streaming service’s hugely successful personalized rundown of every users’ top songs and artists, has become a viral sensation. Simply by revealing its data in an engaging and highly sharable way, Spotify creates an immersive experience beyond its usual service that increases the value of its brand.
Even celebrity “collabs” could be defined as immersive experiences because they expand the emotional impact of the product and force customers to confront it in a new way. By teaming up with contemporary stars such as Saweetie, BTS, and Travis Scott to create Celebrity Meals, McDonald’s enhances the emotional experience of their products, allowing customers to connect with their favorite artists in a new way, while simultaneously showcasing the universality of the McDonald’s brand.
These campaigns delivered an impressive surge of 10 million downloads for the McDonald’s app since they began and helped the brand get the attention of digital natives on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, where the bulk of their promotion took place.
Lauren Hockenson, product marketing manager at Sensor Tower — a tool that tracks app downloads and ad spend — outlined that “it’s very clear that McDonald’s is using celebrities to drive the younger generation to its app as a great touchpoint for engagement.”
The Benefits Of Immersive Brand Experiences
As previously mentioned there are numerous benefits to creating an immersive experience for your brand — they allow you to build emotional connections with consumers, can help your brand adoptnew positive brand associations, and can allow you to access new audiences who might not have considered your offering before.
There are also some cold, hard numbers that support their importance too. 61% of surveyed consumers said they would “be more likely to buy from a brand that uses immersive technology” while 47% said “immersive technologies make them feel more connected to brands and products.
Finally, it is vital to remember that anything that gets your brand seen and heard is an invaluable tool. Consumers’ attention is more divided than ever and, while there is a wealth of different platforms available that can serve them ads, the chances of your brand cutting through the noise and being remembered are slim — unless you do something different, engaging, and fun.
To that effect, immersive brand experiences are essential simply because they’re different and, when done right, consumers won’t feel like they’re being advertised to or even that they’re engaging with a brand, but that they’re just enjoying a unique experience.
Creating an immersive brand experience is a chance to really let the creative juices flow and to think outside the box. Though it might seem like you have a truly blank slate to start with, you can approach it like any other campaign — which means analyzing your audience and building something that’s tailor-made to resonate with them.
Brand monitoring software can act as your compass here, giving you a more detailed picture of what excites consumers and what they’re already engaging with — and how you can utilize this to deliver an immersive experience that builds a stronger relationship between them and your brand.