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Pairings: Designing Brand Experiences

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Cognac and a cigar
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Pizza and Cola
Wine and cheese
Peanut butter and jelly
"Would you like fries with that?"


We see them most often when we talk about food and drink but they're everywhere. They occur in our wardrobes. Floral bouquets have pairings. Similarly, we group things together on a dinner table to create an ambience. Pairings are a way of designing experiences.

No one will deny the power of a provocative pair.

The good news, is that pairs don't have to be partnerships (though it can be nice if they are!). Every pairing doesn't have to be Nike and FitBit. There simply needs to be a natural complementarity that creates an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So how do we create effective pairs?

Explore your brand/product attributes. Dive into the words, images, metaphors, the sensations that people use to describe your products/brand. (You can also explore what you want your product/brand to say)

Think of images, words, experiences that highlight some of the attributes. (Sometimes the reversal of an attribute can create a complement.) Build upon these vibes and create an experience that reaches across multiple senses.

This Ferrari ad does all of the above and more as it is loaded with pairings. The first half shows spraying water, smooth, high speed effortless movements, all saying more than simply showing the car on a show room floor could.   In the second half, the car leaves the racetrack, a woman enters the car, and they take on a country road. They designed the advertisement around the attributes of speed, smoothness, excitement, heat, coolness, and more. They accentuated these attributes and created images that show us that not only is this car (and you!) at home on a race track, it is equally at home in the beauty of wide open roads in nature.

Ferrari broke pre-existing pairings so that new paradigms could blossom. In this case, they took common pairings, (Ferrari/RaceTrack/solo experience) and changed/reversed one (or more) of the attributes. (Ferrari/country roads/shared experience) In this way they reinforce the long-held perceptions of their automobiles while simultaneously expanding their horizons.

As mentioned before, in the culinary world, foods are paired with something complimentary. The eating experience mixes liquid and solids, textures, hot and cold, colors and sounds. Multiple touch points all coming together, creating memorable experiences. A bowl of fondue cheese is overwhelming and not very pleasurable. But add in wine, fruits, meats and breads, and voila!

Think of your products and services in the same way. Hit multiple senses by pairing your offerings with complementary accessories. Remember, It's about designing experiences.

Pairings, by their nature, inspire. When we are confronted with pairings we get excited by possibilities. We see potential opportunities. We don't just see pairings together as if in a fashion ensemble, the pairings become inspiration for a whole new product. A combination melded into one.

A perfect example is the Air Jordan XIV "Ferrari".

The lines and speed of the Ferrari get incorporated into a shoe that inspires and empowers. Horsepower gets transformed into human power.

Pairings are powerful. Use them.

Have fun experimenting with pairings. It's an exciting way to create new products/services with the wow factor.

About the Author: Michael Plishka is the President of ZenstormingTM an Innovation and Design Consultancy. Drop him a line at Michael@zenstorming.com

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