It’s safe to say, gone are the days consumers implicitly trust companies and products. They are savvier and more informed, quicker to reject cheesy sales tactics than ever before. Trendiness is not a selling point either. Instead, people would rather stick with a known brand than switch to an unknown competitor, even if they are more innovative or technologically advanced. Many brands are taking these things quite seriously and have shifted their entire marketing strategies to establish one thing: trust. DTC brands in particular are trying new strategies to bridge the consumer trust gap by producing experiential content.
What is experiential content? And why is it said to produce “trust”?
Experiential content is a fully-formed content experience that is housed separately from the brand’s other content. It may take the form of a publication, a microsite, a print asset or even a podcast. This content is focused on educating and entertaining consumers (vs. traditional content like a blog post or case study that is inherently branded).
My question here is not whether or not experiential content works, but what’s the right balance? I don’t believe abandoning one over the other is beneficial in the long-term. You need a clear brand to share and promote, or it will get lost in the noise and clutter of its competitors.
Scenario 1: The reason companies like Lush can make an experiential content strategy work, is because they have spent over 20 years establishing who they are FIRST. Lush focused on building awareness and a strong reputation through branded video content and promotion efforts that built a strong social following, giving them a competitive advantage. Their video content focused on how the brand supported ethical sourcing, social and environmental issues. Only once established as a unique brand with over 3.3 million followers on Instagram they decided to experiment with experiential, consumer-curated content.
Scenario 2: The DTC activewear brand, Outdoor Voices, quickly focused on experiential content. Their recently launched content hub: The Recreationalist, provides customers with inspiration to get up and get active. The Recreationalist provides city guides, playlists, stories and, for the launch, a limited-run zine. But do consumers make the connection between the content they consume and the brand? I say, all that they started was a general blog, and by the rules of branding and marketing they are creating trust in something, but in what? Not for the brand, but for a consumer generated blog focused on loyalty to community-focused stories, inspiration, and guides.
The question then is, if you are a new brand and the majority of consumers are unfamiliar with who you are or why you matter, then do you really exist? Can you even build trust?
Yes, humanize your customers. And yes, get real-life product reviews and avid followers. But first and foremost, ESTABLISH yourself by sharing what you do and offer with clear, straightforward (and yes if you choose to use this term, traditional) tactics.
It’s a slippery slope. As important as it is to adapt and jump on the marketing trends bandwagon with changing types of content, loyalty and identity – it’s also important to remember your roots. To firmly plant your feet on the ground and say “Hey this is who we are!”
In the age of CaaS, or Content as a Service, it’s the experiential content that brands serve that can set them apart and move the needle.