In the digital age, brands seeking a competitive advantage have two options: Either offer the lowest prices or offer a superior customer experience.

The advantage here is that customers are generally willing to pay for new and better experiences--up to 16% more, according to a report from PwC. The sticking point is that modern audiences are increasingly hard to satisfy.

More Than Marketing

Consumer attention spans are short and getting shorter, and the expectations customers have for brands--molded by experience experts at Amazon, Spotify, and other customer-first tech titans--are high and getting higher.

According to Carlo Montemarano, the head of experiential at brand engagement agency Haygarth, marketers shouldn't take the task in front of them lightly. "Marketing must do and mean more to win the attention and appreciation of consumers, with brands having to work harder to engage and re-invigorate their audience than ever before," he writes.

Experiential marketing has emerged as one of the best tactics that brands can use to engage authentically with consumers. Jack Morton's Experience Brand Index, an international study of 6,000 consumers, revealed that a brand's actions and its audience interactions mean far more than traditional brand messaging does. Why? Because consumers are wary of empty promises.

The brand experience is an opportunity to deliver on a brand's proposition--a validation or veto of its claims--whether those involve always accessible customer service, transparency with data usage, a quirky brand personality, and/or a luxurious in-store experience. Brands that are up to the task reap rewards in the form of recommendations and loyalty. According to the Jack Morton study, brands that lead in experiences earn a 200% higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) and 25% higher customer loyalty.

Of course, consistency is key. Whether in-person, over the phone, or online, the brand experience should hold up across channels and interaction types. From large-scale activations to smaller store events, a brand's experiential strategy should be part of an ongoing customer engagement effort. The following tactics generally work well for brands looking to make good on their promises.

1. Revitalize the storefront.

E-commerce has changed retail shopping as we know it and left a trail of liquidated brick-and-mortar stores in its wake. But retailers that still have a physical storefront are sitting on a marketing goldmine. Your space offers a place where consumers can explore and experiment with products--together.

Crate and Barrel's stores are known for their impeccable layouts and pristine decor. They're fun to gaze at from the outside, but the retailer is now giving consumers another reason to step inside. The recent opening of The Table at Crate, a full-service restaurant inside one of its Chicago stores, allows potential customers to experience its wares firsthand over a seasonal Midwestern lunch or dinner menu. When it comes to brand experience, it doesn't get more authentic--or more delicious--than that.

2. Combine physical and digital environments.

Retailers that offer an in-person experience without a digital element, or vice versa, are doing themselves and consumers a disservice. To generate a level of engagement that will actually move the needle, product launches should encompass cross-channel experiences. Of course, you'll see the best outcomes when all real-life and digital experiences are aligned with your key brand expression.

Treasury Wine Estates incorporated a few engagement channels with its launch of the 19 Crimes wine label, which pays tribute to the criminals shipped away to the Australian penal colony in the 1800's. Integrated brand engagement agency InVision Communications designed "A Night of Infamy" to hype up the launch with an in-person activation at the site of the world's most notorious prison--Alcatraz. While attendees were treated to a range of entertaining experiences, the fun didn't stop there. Anyone who buys a bottle of 19 Crimes can use an AR-powered app to get to know the character on the label as part of an ongoing digital experience that has wine lovers buzzing.

3. Demonstrate inclusive values.

Modern brands often feel the need to take a stand on relevant social issues, but according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 56% of audiences aren't buying it. Today's consumers can easily discern the difference between authentic messaging and a marketing ploy, so brands need to be consistent in the values they espouse. This means that rather than merely talking about issues like diversity and inclusion, they must take action.

Microsoft did exactly that when it unveiled adaptive Xbox controllers that allow physically disabled gamers to get in on the fun. The developer worked with AbleGamers and other charities to design a controller that would meet the needs of people with severe muscular disabilities. The controller, which is priced at only $5 more than what it costs to make, was revealed on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018 and represents a huge leap forward in making games more inclusive. It also demonstrates that when it comes to inclusion, the tech giant really walks the talk.

There's no one way to improve the brand experience, but it's a key differentiator. Customers want new experiences that make good on your promises. You need to be the one to deliver them.