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The experience imperative

If ‘experience’ was best described as a social trend impacting brand communication when RPM was founded in 1993, a new Kantar Futures report outlines why it has become a critical ingredient in the growth of modern businesses.  

We live in starkly political times and amidst the daily assault of news channels a world is unfolding in which the old rules of business and marketing will have to radically change.

Kantar’s report, The Third Age of Consumption, argues that as resources approach “the limits of planetary capacity”, so too we see human cognitive capacity stretched by the limitless information delivered by new digital channels; all while global economic capacity reaches a long-term plateau of slow growth.

This has destabilised the foundations on which many of the world’s biggest businesses have been built.

People respond to cognitive overload by striving for simplicity in their lives. This can mean reducing their retail repertoire, phasing out advertising with ad blocking tech and diving deep into their passions to the exclusions of others.

Younger people have grown up only ever knowing a planet struggling to maintain our demands on it. They are already schooled in a reduced existence that minimises environmental impact - many own fewer material possessions and seek to offset the impact of travel and experiences. Earlier generations who burned their way around the world on planes, swallowing up everything the high street had to offer, are having to adapt.

An increasingly politicised society brings expectations to its interactions with brands – this is arguably the phenomenon driving the current vogue for brands entering political debates. In response to Trump’s Muslim travel ban Starbuck’s promised to hire 10,000 refugees and Airbnb offered immigrants free housing.



Speaking to FastCo Design, Base Design’s Geoff Cook claims brands need to take sides in politicised times - though they may risk alienating some, the gains in loyalty elsewhere compensate.

Wolff Olins’ New York Head of Strategy, Melanie McShane says, “With the rise of political authoritarianism, brands will face fundamental choices about whether to take a stand on issues that offend them and their users, risking the wrath of politicians and their acolytes. Or stay quiet and seem complicit.”

Increasingly we expect purpose behind the things that brands do in the world and we judge brands by their behaviour, not just the promises they make in advertising.



The Kantar report goes even further, claiming the nature of consumerism is changing fundamentally. They characterise the new ethos as ‘Live Large-Carry Little’ - a life rich with experiences but unencumbered with excessive possessions. For modern brands, they advocate businesses pursue value propositions focused on connecting with consumers through Experiences, Relationships and Algorithms.

Over twenty years ago, RPM was inspired by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore’s book ‘The Experience Economy’, which first painted a future in which business would stage memorable experiences if they wished to come to life in the minds of consumers.

Now that observation has become an imperative; rather than own the car, people simply wants to lease the experience of the car.

The rules of this brave new world for brands have yet to be decided, but it is safe to say that if your marketing strategy hinges on communicating a product or service at an audience you risk falling way short.

Instead, brands should be designed in their experiential dimension across all touchpoints – from interfaces to retail environments and the many ways people interact with your values through cultural experiences. They need to have brand worlds, not only brand guidelines.

Twenty-four years on, at RPM we’ve never been more convinced of our founding impulse.