Driving into sensory experience with the MINI Museum

We talk to Transform Magazine about the evolution of brand experiences

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Driving into sensory experience with the MINI Museum

We talk to Transform Magazine about the evolution of brand experiences

To create a more emotional connection with their stakeholders, brands are turning to sensorial, immersive experiences. How can companies take advantage of their stories and assets in order to enhance their brand experiences? Amy Sandys, Transform Magazine reports.

Primate sensibilities

The Philippine tarsier, or Tarsius syrichta, is one of the smallest known primates to inhabit the earth. Found in the lush rainforest habitats of the Philippine islands of Samar, Leyte, Bohol and Mindanao, the Philippine tarsier is thought to have the biggest eyes, relative to its overall body size, of any animal, giving it excellent night vision.

The tarsier is also widely regarded by ecologists for its hearing, with its enlarged auditory cortex allowing the animal to recognise even the slightest sounds. In humans, the auditory cortex – or part of the frontal lobe in the brain which processes auditory information – performs much the same function, in allowing us to recognise and understand information fed verbally.

However, unlike the Philippine tarsier, humans – for the most part – do not require their auditory cortex for navigation through the tall grasses and bamboo shoots of Samar, Leyte, Bohol and Mindanao. From urban jungles to rural landscapes, the auditory cortex performs just one function in a nerve system of many which allows humans to navigate the plethora of sights, smells, sounds and tastes with which they are bombarded on a daily basis.

Sensory potential

For branding professionals and marketers, developing a product which appeals to just one human sense has untapped neurological potential, when it comes to brand experiences.

For the Mini Plant Oxford, home to the world’s biggest showcase of Oxford’s native Mini cars, a changing audience and diversity of interests highlighted the need for it to develop an engaging, sensory experience which captures Mini’s extensive history.

Yet, says Dani Batty – Creative Director at We are Vista, the creative communications agency behind the Mini Plant Oxford – it was equally as important that the brand found ways to appeal to an audience which has, over the years, come to encompass all generations.

Multisensory exploration allowed Mini’s customers to put themselves at the heart of the brand. Batty adds, “Even down to the smell of the new cars and the old cars, it’s really multisensory, it’s a real 360-degree experience. It touches on every single sense we have.”

A brand with heritage and roots

And, for Mini, this experience is heightened through the emotional connection its stakeholders have with the brand, and the company’s roots in the UK city of Oxford. As a heritage brand, Mini is deeply embedded not only in the lifestyle of its consumers but also in the reputation it offers to UK manufacturing and the car production industry overall.

“Instead of a large room filled with cars, we now have a museum that offers much more of a sensory experience – that takes people on a logical journey through the plant’s history, the brand’s heritage and the processes behind building a Mini,” says Steve Wrelton, External Communications Manager at Mini Plant Oxford.

Innovation in the automotive space

Using the sensory elements Mini has to offer, says Batty, meant that the whole spectrum of Mini enthusiasts and admirers were catered for. Brand experiences are key when it comes to communicating the messaging behind such an iconic brand, with such a diverse audience.

“Plant Oxford for many people is the spiritual home of Mini,” says Batty. “It’s got a lot of meaning and the heritage runs really deep there. It’s massively important that we were prepared to take on the past but also that we looked forward as well. We’re looking at the exciting things that Mini is doing, the innovation and the things that they’re pushing for in the automotive space.”

Wrelton agrees. “Mini is a modern, premium brand, but also one that is steeped in heritage,” he continues – “the challenge for the exhibition was to create something which recognises that dynamic and is engaging to the range of visitors we have coming to see us.”

An array of touchpoints

For We Are Vista, an exploration into the heritage and dynamism of the Mini brand meant engineering its various automotive components in a way which would appeal beyond the visual logo and branding.

Batty says, “We played on many different senses – sight and sound, but also allowing people to get hands on. They could conjure their own Mini rendering and take part using an interactive green screen, putting themselves in the Mini.”

Adding a sensory element to any company’s brand strategy widens the number of brand touchpoints through which audience interaction is possible. Wrelton says, “Audio and visual elements, social media touchpoints that encourage people to share their experience with us on Facebook or Instagram, all of these things have enhanced our offer as a visitor attraction right in the heart of a modern-day car plant.”

Brand experiences getting personal

Extending the brand story beyond a logo and typeface, to a concept that involves physical interaction, should be intrinsically connected to the brand messaging. If the language used reflects the experience offered, a brand’s reputation is more likely to grow and develop – particularly if its use of sensory messaging is unique or innovative.

With personalisation behind the next strategic step for many brands, moving toward sensory experience presents consumers with double the insight into what drives and decides a brand’s true values. And, says Batty, playing on emotion means a more personal approach works with heritage brands, too. “Multisensory taps into the head and heart. You don’t just buy in on a mental level, you buy in on an emotional level as well, which is something we were quite passionate about doing.”

And while human senses may be less tuned to their habitat than the Philippine tarsier, whose nervous system has adapted to deal with its challenging rainforest environment, the need for bolder statements and emotional buy-in further drives the relationship between customer and brand.

Time to innovate

“When we talk about experience we talk about something that you buy into on different levels,” says Batty. “You don’t just stand and be quite passive and look at something, you actually engage in something.” Such engagement will drive the next iteration of brand experience; with more companies investing time and money into developing immersive and encompassing brand touchpoints. Those that do not innovate could be at risk of being left behind.


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