Five Experiential Dimensions Marketers Should Leverage to Create a Compelling Online Brand Experience
Written by Lisa Marie Bauer
Establishing measures to create an online brand experience for consumers becomes increasingly important as it serves as a means of differentiation and increases consumer satisfaction and loyalty (Pine & Gilmore, 1998; Brakus, Schmitt & Zarantonello, 2009).
But how can holistic experiences be created in a virtual environment on a brand website?
This blog post will introduce the antecedents and the concept of online brand experience (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013) to answer this question. It includes a discussion of the dimensions of online brand experience on a brand website and practical examples to serve as illustrations and inspiration for marketing academics and practitioners.
In the last decades a shift in consumer behaviour towards hedonistic consumption has been observable. Consumers make emotional and hedonistic buying decisions, driven by their pursuit of fun, feelings, experiences and self-fulfilment (Schmitt, 1999; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982). The brand experience theory recognises this behaviour and acknowledges that consumers are searching for branded products and services which deliver pleasurable experiences (Schmitt, 1999). Thus, brand experience refers to the individual consumer’s responses, such as feelings, sensations, behaviour and cognitions that are elicited by stimuli linked to the brand. These cues can occur in various forms, such as the brand’s design elements, communication, store environment or brand website. (Brakus, Schmitt & Zarantonello, 2009; Tafesse, 2016).
Online brand experience on a brand website
If the experience is a result of brand related stimuli provided through the internet, it is referred to as virtual or online brand experience (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013; Luo et al., 2011). The consumer responses can be caused by various virtual touch points, including the brand website or social media page. Despite the increasing popularity of social media, the brand website remains a powerful instrument to create an online brand experience. The reason is that in contrast to social network pages whose design possibilities are limited, a brand website can be fully customised to include a high degree of media richness which enhances the online brand experience (Luo et al., 2011). This is confirmed by studies which show that the brand website is the most important digital touch point for the creation of online brand experience (McKinsey&Company, 2015; Integration, 2012).
But how can brand experiences be created in an internet environment?
Real-life brand experience can be implemented using events, brand museums, theme parks or flagship stores. They include a sensory-rich environment and immerse the consumer (Brakus, Schmitt & Zarantonello, 2009; Bird, 2016). In contrast to this, online brand experience utilises electronic devices to function as surrogates for real-life experiences. But they only allow transmitting limited stimuli (Li, Daughty & Biocca, 2001).
Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to provide insights into how an online brand experience on a brand website can be created, including measures to face the above limitations. Therefore, the academic online brand experience framework by Simon, Brexendorf and Fassnacht (2013) will be introduced and explained. Thereby, this post aims to make a contribution to academics’ and practitioners’ understanding of online brand experience by providing not only the theoretical foundation, but also practical implications and examples to inspire marketers for their work with brands and brand websites.
5 dimensions to create an online brand experience
The online brand experience framework by Simon, Brexendorf and Fassnacht (2013) encompasses the following five dimensions which represent facets of an online brand experience:
These elements were developed by building on the brand experience frameworks by Schmitt (1999) and Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello (2009). In the following the five dimensions will be explained, supported by examples for the implementation of stimuli on a brand website to trigger an online brand experience.
This dimension suggests to include distinctive visual and audible cues into the brand website to stimulate the consumer’s senses (Schmitt, 1999). Ideally, both sight and sound senses are addressed to produce a rich online brand experience. This makes it more memorable and effective (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). The elements should be combined that an overall harmonious aesthetic and distinctive brand website appearance is achieved. Videos or animations are recommended because they show a high degree of vividness which attracts the viewer’s attention (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). Additionally, interactive features of the brand website can increase the sensory online brand experience (Yoon & Youn, 2016).
As stimuli are transmitted via electronic devices there are no possibilities to address the touch, taste and smell senses. However, visual or audible stimuli can be used as surrogates for touch, taste and smell (Luo et al., 2011). This can be achieved by adding taste or scent descriptions on the brand website. Moreover, the touch sense could be stimulated by providing virtual catalogues or an avatar which can “try on” clothes.
The Gaggenau online showroom includes three different 3D-like animated rooms, where the consumer can zoom in at the kitchen appliances via mouse click. Further animations increase vividness and give the viewer the impression to walk through the room. This is enhanced by the sound which matches the specific room environment, thus creating a harmonious and multi-sensory online brand experience (Gaggenau, 2016a).
This online brand experience dimension covers the emotions, feelings and moods the consumer shows as response to the brand website. Any emotion is initially triggered by a stimulus which can be visual, such as an emotional text, image or video (Schmitt, 1999; Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013, Luo et al., 2011).
The latter are favourable because the human mind processes content in form of videos faster than text, as text is processed with cognitive effort while videos are not. Additionally, videos are more powerful to evoke emotional reactions because they are sensory-rich and vivid (Margalit, 2015). Furthermore, audible cues like music are suitable because music has the power to evoke memories and strong feelings. Another option to trigger emotions is to involve the consumer actively, for example with games, because playing causes affective responses (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). In general, affective consumer responses are not only beneficial for the online brand experience, but also to build an emotional bond between the brand and the consumer (Yoon & Youn, 2016).
The Burberry brand website contains short, repeating sequences of videos, which capture the viewer’s attention and evoke emotions. The videos change depending on where on the navigation the user stops the mouse, which makes the page interactive. The brand website further includes fashion show and brand history videos which trigger feelings through the synergy of emotional images and sound (Burberry, 2016).
The cognitive online brand experience dimension is based on the belief that consumers do not only seek product information and entertainment, but also value being intellectually stimulated. The consumer’s intellect can be addressed in different manners, ranging from education to engaging his/her problem-solving skills or creativity (Schmitt, 1999).
Various forms of content on the brand website lead to consumer education: Information about functional product attributes, expert tips or content about societal or environmental topics (Tafessee, 2016). Competitions, such as games or quizzes, are appropriate to challenge the consumer’s cognitive abilities. Encouraging user generated content by arranging creative contests or co-creation activities does not only activate the consumer’s creativity but also fosters engagement with the brand (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013).
The Adidas miadidas customisation website engages consumers in a co-creation activity by giving them the opportunity to create their individual pair of shoes. Consumers can adjust the colours of different shoe parts and integrate a personal text. The selection of matching colours and material stimulates the consumers’ creativity and cognitive thinking (Adidas Int. Trading B.V., 2016).
The relational part of the online brand experience goes beyond the individual consumer and describes him/her with regard to his/her social context (Schmitt, 1999). Being a member of a social group helps the consumer to express his/her social identity and creates a sense of belongingness. A company can address these desires by facilitating brand community-building through the brand website (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). The brand community refers to a group of socially related people which is formed because they share a strong common interest in a brand (Muniz & O’Guinn, 2001). The community membership creates a bond and sense of belongingness, not only between members, but also between consumers and the brand (Schouten, McAlexander & Koenig, 2007).
Including discussion boards and comment functions on the brand website permits consumers to discuss with each other and to establish relationships. Furthermore, engaging in multiplayer online games or joint consumption leads to closer relationships between consumers. Generally, social networks are suitable to strengthen consumer relationships and build communities (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). Marketers could therefore adopt social media elements on a brand website to improve the relational dimension of the online brand experience.
Nike+ implements this successfully: The brand uses sports as a common consumer interest to establish an active brand community. The platform on the brand website leverages on the advantages of a social network: Members can set up a profile, track their sports activities and compete against their friends from the Nike+ community. Thereby, they can express their self-identity and establish relationships to peers (Nike, 2016).
This online brand experience dimension describes interactions among consumers and between the brand and consumers. Engagement strengthens the brand-consumer relationship. It includes the production, sharing and “liking” of user generated content (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). Companies should use consumers’ willingness to share their admiration and enthusiasm about brands (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2010) when implementing engagement measures.
On the brand website contact forms, chats with employees or discussion boards provide the possibility to get in contact with the brand. Furthermore, encouraging user generated content results in an intense level of consumer engagement which strengthens the online brand experience.
The Lego ideas platform on the Lego brand website enables consumers to create and upload their own Lego set. In the virtual community users can comment on and vote for the sets developed by others. If enough votes are reached, Lego possibly produces and sells the set in stores. This activity builds strong engagement with the brand and the Lego community, while additionally leveraging the other online brand experience dimensions (Lego, 2016).
Conclusion and future of online brand experience
In conclusion, the five dimensions above illustrate components of an online brand experience on a brand website and can serve as guidelines and inspiration for its implementation. In order to generate experiences not all elements need to be equally well implemented, however a holistic online brand experience comprises elements of all five dimensions (Schmitt, 1999). In addition, online brand experience is not limited to the brand website. It can be implemented using different digital platforms, taking into account specific platform characteristics and capabilities. For example relational and engagement experiences could primarily be established on social networks due to their interactive and collective character (Simon, Brexendorf & Fassnacht, 2013). Furthermore, it is crucial to ensure that the real-world and online brand experiences are integrated and consistent and that they fit to the brand (McKinsey, 2015). If this is fulfilled a memorable online brand experience can be a differentiating aspect and positively impact consumer satisfaction and loyalty (Pine & Gilmore, 1998; Brakus, Schmitt & Zarantonello, 2009)
The future of online brand experience will be shaped by social media trends, consumer behaviour changes and technological progress and innovations. The latter may significantly alter the possibilities to create an online brand experience (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). Virtual reality, for example, can be expected to become accessible to and adapted by ordinary consumers within a few years. This would generate new opportunities to create powerful sensory and affective online brand experiences in the future (Cramer, n.d.).
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