Paying down experience debt for luxury and premium brands

By Si Muddell, Monday April 4, 2022

There’s a saying in marketing: if you want to sell a product, you can charge a hundred pounds. But if you want to sell a story, the sky’s the limit.

That, in a nutshell, is the power of storytelling. It intrigues and inspires. It connects brand values to buyers’ values. And it carves out positive space in the minds of your audience, so you can charge a premium your customers will happily pay.

But when it comes to the digital experience, luxury and premium brands often drop the baton. Their online storytelling falls short; their brands become transactional rather than inspirational.

This is the experience debt – the difference between a business’ real-world and online offerings. And it represents a serious missed opportunity for aspirational and best-in-class brands.

Graham McDonnell, Senior Director of Creative & Brand at TIME, and Si Muddell, Chief Growth Officer at Woven Agency, explain how storytelling can eliminate your experience debt – and increase your revenue.

Get the story here.

Experience debt: connection vs efficiency

A brand often faces a balancing act of building emotional connections and offering transactional efficiency. Go too emotional, and you risk forgetting the product. Go too transactional, and you negate the emotional drivers that inspire purchases. Getting the balance right is critical.

Amazon’s story centres on its next-day efficiency. Their advertising can carry emotion, but their core promise, on- and offline, is one of: from the world to your door in a day.

At the other end of the scale, we have Red Bull, whose stunt-, space-, and sports-based storytelling has seen turned them into energy drinks royalty. (They’re twice as big as Monster, twelve times the size of Lucozade.)

They focus on different things, but what they both have in common is that their offline brand promise carries into their digital offering. Amazon’s website is lean, quick-loading, and easy to navigate. The perfect e-commerce template.

Visit and you’d be forgiven for not knowing they’re a drinks brand, such is their commitment to connecting with their audience through the stories they tell. Just like Nike, Red Bull sells a lifestyle so its products can sell themselves.

But is this the way forward for luxury brands?

In a word, yes. Amazon and Red Bull might not operate in the luxury market but they’re exemplars in how to pay down your experience debt.

The lesson for luxury brands, however, is that while efficiency is important, connection is what turns strangers into customers.

Premium brands want to seduce and inspire, to foster exclusivity and prestige. The best brands do this through advertising, event marketing, the in-store experience, and of course the product itself, creating stories that connect what they’re selling to the desires of their audience. In doing so, the process becomes less transactional – less about the product itself, even – and more about how it makes the buyer feel.

Premium brands want to seduce and inspire, to foster exclusivity and prestige.

Yet when it comes to online, too many premium and luxury brands fail to do this. The product and the brand experience so carefully crafted in the ‘real’ world becomes humdrum, frustrating, and forgettable in the digital world.

And that all-important sense of connection with the brand? Gone in an instant.

So, what should you do?

Connections are like loyalty: hard to win, easy to break. And the more connection points you have, the more difficult it is to keep your audience happy. The digital space has democratised marketing, but with that comes the risk of not representing your best self across every channel.

A slow-loading website, an uninspiring email campaign, a badly produced video, a misjudged tweet – they can all sever your connection to your customers.

So it’s your job to make sure your brand story is told consistently well across all your media channels. That doesn’t mean investing heavily into TV, newspaper, and radio ads only to neglect your website, which lags and is a nightmare to navigate. Yes, you’ll build awareness amongst new audiences – but, once they’ve gone online to find out more about you, that awareness will quickly turn toxic. They won’t come back, and they’ll tell others not to, as well.

Be channel agnostic

Presenting your brand in a consistently strong way means picking your battles. Instead of trying to be on every online and offline channel, focus your efforts on nailing two or three.

In our webinar (the deck of which is here, in case you’d forgotten) TIME’s Graham McDonnell talked about picking the right format for you. Just because Tik Tok exists, doesn’t mean you should use it. Is your audience on there? Do you have anything meaningful to say in a 15-second video? If not, don’t waste your resources – tell your brand story where your strengths lie, and where your audience is.

You don’t need to be on every channel. Pick the ones that best suit you and focus your efforts on them.

As Graham says, long-form is still a great way to tell your story – especially for luxury items where heritage and history are key to the purchasing decision. Write copy and create a video that isn’t scared to take its time. (Johnnie Walker’s ‘The Man Who Walked Around the World’ is among the best six minutes in advertising history.) Remember, you’re convincing people to spend a premium, so they’ll be willing to spend longer researching your offering.

Below, we’ve summarised our summary into half a dozen key pointers. But we’d recommend once again to take a bit longer and enjoy the webinar, where you’ll hear from industry leaders about how they harness their brand stories and use them to eliminate their experience debts.

Read the event deck here.

The top takeaways:

1. Where do you want to sit on the transactional/emotional scale? Get the blend right between building emotional brand connections and offering your customers an efficient service.

2. Pay down your experience debt. Make sure your brand’s best self is replicated across all your digital channels.

3. Brand stories are a competitive advantage. Tell yours with emotion, boldness, or humour (or a mix of all three) and you will stand out. Trust in your creative team to deliver.

4. Storytelling is still hugely underrated, especially in the luxury and premium brand space. Use it to build a connection before your customer even gets to your website and steal a march on the competition.

5. Pick your battles. Choose channels that work for you and focus on them. Don’t be distracted by the ‘shiny new thing’ unless you can use it to properly tell your brand story.

6. Tell your purpose. Explore your reason to exist – your why – as inspiration to tell stories that aren’t just about your products.

Related content:

What it takes to start and grow a marketing agency.

Exploring experiential marketing with account director Brad Crewe-Brown.