More brands are ramping up their investment in experiential marketing by establishing a bricks-and-mortar main attraction for consumers that can serve a number of purposes, from helping the brand communicate its origins, values and innovation to wooing tourists and fans to visit their headquarters and home quarters to see where their favorite brands started—and are headed.
BRC Imagination Arts is one of the leading firms helping create “brand homes.” Since 1981, when founder Bob Rogers was hired to create a series of shows for General Motors’ “World of Motion” at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, BRC has been at the forefront of the growing wave of creating interactive, innovative brand experiences, in addition to working on museum and cultural exhibits and projects.
The experience design and production agency’s roster of brand activations is impressive, including The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta; The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin; the Jameson Experience at the brand’s distillery in Ireland’s County Cork; The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam; and The Ford Rouge Factory Tour associated with The Henry Ford Museum in metro Detroit.
Forget a musty corporate museum or dull archive—these sites demonstrate how heritage brands can celebrate and tell their own story, creating multisensory, multigenerational, multifaceted and engaging experiences attracting millions of visitors each year. And yes, taste-testing is often part of the experience, but that’s not the only attraction.
“We are and will see more of an increase in this trend,” Christian Lachel, vice president and executive creative director with BRC Imagination Arts, told brandchannel about creating an emotional and dynamic brand destination. “Think about the evolution of how brands engage in their audiences. Historically, a lot of corporate headquarters would have a visitors center and small corporate museum, and that did the trick for a long time.”
“Now there’s a greater interest in brands wanting to tell their story. There’s an audience for it. People want a deeper experience. They tie a lot of these brands to places around the world, such as Guinness in Ireland. There’s something about a place where these brands represent a larger idea about identity of a place or nation or city.”
brandchannel talked with Lachel about how brands are creating living histories to keep their past alive and their future vibrant:
bc: How do you bring a brand’s history to life and make it relevant and interesting to people today?
Christian Lachel: It’s always about the audience. Whenever we’re working with any brand globally, we start with what that audience might be interested in and work from inside out—the deepest emotions, desires and interests—and try to craft an overall immersion experience that will bring people into that story in a dynamic way.
We use all the different senses. Studies show that when you tell a great story but enhance it with a bit of brand theatrics and add things where people get to participate, it’s better. So (Jameson’s) visitors try some barley and taste the whiskey—and those stories become incredibly stickier. On top of that, you’re spending time in the brand home with people. They’ve opted in and they’re primed to have a relationship with that brand. It’s the best brand advocacy platform you could have. And people just generally love it.
The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin won an award as the No. 1 attraction in all of Europe in 2015, beating out Buckingham Palace and the Colosseum (in Rome). Young people are interested in learning more about where things come from and the company’s values. What are they doing to make a difference? And that also works with the global aging population, people over the age of 60 who are lifelong learners. So we see everybody.
bc: The World of Coca-Cola offers a mobile app, for example. What role do digital and interactive tech play?
Lachel: We think the best technologies are the ones that are magical and physical. We are a big supporter of people bringing their own digital devices in. So we have opportunities for people to do things of interest. But for the most part, we find that people put their phones away because it’s so engaging and we do things with them. We use technology to enhance the experience but we never make it the experience—unless, of course, it’s a piece of technology that the client wants to celebrate.
bc: What themes do you play up: innovation, authenticity, trust, leadership, openness?
Lachel: They really need to be a reflection of the brand. With Ford, innovation was the thread line. That’s what The Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company have in common—and Ford has led innovation forever. But with a company like Jameson, it’s about originality, authenticity and being real; something like a whiskey takes a long time to make.
bc: How do you attract visitors to experience it?
Lachel: We work on a thing called the five “E’s”: how we entice people, how do we look at that entering experience, what do we do to engage people along the way, how does that create emotional souvenirs and how do we extend? We look at a whole cycle of things that are related to social, digital and offline communications. We develop a strategy with the client and/or their digital agency and platforms they’re working on. We do a lot of physical planning.
With The World of Coca-Cola, they’re always doing little enticements—a lot of things are happening on social platforms. That’s a huge part of brand homes. People are booking trips online. There’s that fear of missing out.
bc: To play devil’s advocate, why bother? Don’t consumers just care about what brands can do for them today and tomorrow—or do they care about yesterday or how they got here?
Lachel: The past informs what we do in our present and our future. We’re not limited by it. And most of these brand homes don’t purely rely on history, but it does play a small part. Most of the times they’re focused on what’s now and new with the brand today—they’re living and agile brands. History provides some context and branding. It’s there to remind us of that and take the best of our values to our future. It’s about a contemporary brand not about being limited by its history. But it’s OK to springboard off of that history.