Experiential marketing: From gimmick to core strategy
“Experiential and digital integration will impact CMOs. Experiential has been the second-fastest-growing marketing category behind digital, and the most effective strategies integrate the physical and digital worlds together. However, very few at the C-level understand the disciplines with enough depth to factor it into their corporate communication strategies.”
-Kent Lewis, guest blogger for iMedia Connection
A few weeks ago, Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban sprang up from his chair to embrace his newest business partner, the owner of a company that boasts sold-out Halloween “scare experiences,” and proclaimed to his less-than-enthused fellow sharks: “I think the future is in experiential businesses!”
It was an interesting comment coming from someone who made his first millions developing a business software company. Incidentally, just a few months earlier, Cuban made Shark Tank’s single biggest investment of $2 million in Ten Thirty One Productions, a company that sells thematic campouts and parties.
Human beings are not evolving fast enough to keep up with technology. With five senses, four limbs and a penchant for sand between our toes and wine upon our tongues, we are not ready to consign ourselves to the role of a robot-humanoid hybrid. For many, the answer over the digital decades has been to immerse ourselves in a computer-centric office world by day and then emerge evenings, weekends and vacations to a life that engages our senses.
“People are no longer content to relegate “experience” to their off-work life.”
But people are no longer content to relegate “experience” to their off-work life. The craving for full experiences in every aspect of our lives is gaining on our technological evolution, and smart business leaders in every industry are catching onto this. The CMO, the CIO and, yes, the CEO should recognize what they stand to gain from thinking like a chief experience officer.
Why the consumer goods market is going experiential
“In the accelerating swirl of chaos, excitement, and yes, sometimes fear, the brands that win will prioritize engagement over exposure.”
– Think with Google
Most of Epsen Fuller’s consumer sector clients aren’t in the business of selling pure experience like Cuban’s new investment partners, but they are all in the engagement business today, and engagement is moving more and more toward firsthand, sensory experience.
However, too often there is a disconnect between the experiential marketing ideas developed by the CMO’s group and the C-suite at large. Such marketing concepts tend to be viewed as the creative agencies’ bailiwick. But when the C-suite doesn’t understand – and therefore undervalues – the power of experiential marketing, CMOs have a tough time selling their proposals.
Key points CMOs should make to elevate experiential learning to a core strategy:
“It’s not just about events. The concept is elastic: It’s about creating tactile engagements where people can feel, touch, taste, smell the product face-to-face rather than simply reading about or watching it. It’s about deepening and enhancing relationships. “We go back to human instincts,” says Charlie Horsey of MKTG. “Imagine a relationship with a significant other that wasn’t 100 percent – it’s not a 3-D relationship. True, valuable, authentic relationships are multi-sensory.””
1. The neuroscience is clear.
While not new knowledge, it is becoming better understood that:
- the brain remembers things that are connected with emotional experiences, and
- multisensory experiences reinforce learning.
Adidas launched a successful campaign by having customers literally jump for the opportunity to win a pair of the more coveted, pricey models of shoes. It created a memorable experience that would tie value to its top line of products.
“What’s different now is that with today’s asymmetrical media, the object is to have people fall in love with your brand values and attributes in as many ways as possible. Linking brand experiences to everyday life, and creating positive associations and mini-memories that can be felt within the atmospherics of the brand imbed the brand imprint and brand passion more deeply.”
2. Consumers are zoning out from the inundation of media messages.
The ones that stick are the ones that gain traction in the social community, and best of all, some – the ALS ice bucket challenge comes to mind – quickly become free marketing. If well-conceived and strategically launched, participants take it from there and it becomes a craze with a huge payback.
3. Senses still rule.
According to Factory 360, the Path to Purchase Institute conducted a study in 2014 in collaboration with CROSSMARK and Marketing Werks to find out what factors had the most influence on how consumers viewed brands. What was most effective: word-of-mouth, personalized offers and messages, ads, package or logo design or personal experience? The results showed 64 percent cited personal experience as the most influential factor.
People want to touch, see, smell, taste or hear products.
With traditional bricks and mortar going the way of the T-Rex, there is a void in these tactile/ sensory experiences. Virtual sampling online (for example, uploading photos and measurements to see how a pair of jeans would fit) may be second best to trying them on, but it at least engages the visual senses more dynamically. Successful experiential marketing goes even further in creatively filling the sensory void. At the same time, new concepts in retail combine bricks and mortar with experiential marketing attracting droves of consumers…think Apple retail.
4. Experiential marketing isn’t about gimmicks and doesn’t have to be about showy and expensive stunts.
Many marketing gimmicks are simply experiential and nothing more. Advertising 101 teaches that you can have the splashiest, most widely viewed campaign in the world, but if no one remembers what the product was, you have failed – expensively.
Gimmicks of all stripes can generally get your name out on social media, but not all effectively tie back to the product. Those that retain the strong tieback to the brand, like Red Bull’s extreme sports events and Honest Tea’s widely acclaimed launch campaign in which it set up urban kiosks in areas such as Times Square, offering its products on the ‘honor system’, then ranking the most honest cities in America.
But softer and deeper experiential marketing derives from a full embrace of experience as a core strategy that then drives every marketing initiative. In apparel, it may involve online capabilities that easily allow the consumer’s face or an avatar created from their measurements to “try on” clothing.
5. You simply must engage millennials.
“[Millennials] don’t want to be talked at, but they do want to be invited in to the discussion. They thrive on creation, curation, connection and community.”
– Think With Google
For boomers who watched the first Harry Potter movie with their millennial children, the introduction of the talking newspaper made a huge impression. What a fantasy that was! And for their children? It was just a hiccup away from becoming reality, as news began to be available via Internet videos. Millennials take such things for granted. With an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct spending power and growing, according to The Boston Consulting Group, staying on top of the technology for engaging the consumer’s attention, and preferably their participation, is simply necessary.
6. Upside down marketing is a core strategy.
“They will flip the traditional approach of using mass reach to connect with the subset of people who matter on its head. They will super-serve the most important people for their brand first and use the resulting insights and advocacy to then broaden their reach and make the entire media and marketing plan work harder.”
– Think With Google
Social media initially encouraged a shotgun approach to marketing. There were so many channels for getting the message out there that businesses played the percentage game. Now, smart marketers are starting with the target customer, giving them a memorable experience first and learning from their feedback.
Effective CMOs in the consumer and lifestyle sector will possess deep experience in experiential marketing and bring to their brands the passion and savvy to take this vital concept from gimmick to core strategy at the C-suite and board levels. On top of all that, they have the most fun!