Innovation and Insight: How to leverage experiential marketing. In emerging marketing strategy is making some brands come to life. It’s no slight of hand or magician’s secret. It’s called experiential marketing, and as the newest iteration of event marketing blended with product sampling it melds the art of customer reaction with the science of fact-based management. Experiential marketing manages sophisticated customer interaction by integrating data into event planning and execution. It delivers on the brand promise in more meaningful and relevant ways.
To show the possibilities inherent in experiential marketing we need to define some terms. First, in our view, event marketing has served and continues to serve companies very well. Event marketing invites customers to experience a product or immerses them in a brand. For example, Corvette generated huge awareness and even qualified leads during its 50th anniversary tour in 2003–2004, which was a series of road rallies and vintage car expos that drew more than 26,000 registrants. Product sampling is simply the process of getting free products in the hands of people who might like them enough to buy them, and maybe even tell friends to buy them. That practice is as old as retailing.
Experiential marketing, however, brings your brand promise to life in a totally unique moment in the customer lifecycle. It increases a potential customer’s consideration of a product or service at a deeper emotional level. By making data part of the equation, and borrowing principles from one-to-one and database marketing, experiential marketing presents some truly innovative opportunities to activate brand strategies.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example to illustrate EM. ABC, a successful high-tech company, is introducing a new handheld cell phone/messaging system. It’s the first new product introduction in two years. A product sampling strategy would involve sending the new product to influential journalists with the goal being that they will give the product positive press coverage. Event marketing might include inviting key user groups and influential press people to a swank launch event. There they could meet-and-greet company executives, use the new product, and have a nice dinner on the company’s tab.
Experiential marketing takes product introduction to a higher level. Here’s a five-step strategy:
1. Gather initial customer data
ABC would first mine its database to determine who the best potential customers are for this new handset. By determining how often people buy new handheld combinations (let’s assume that through its data ABC estimates 18 months) it can easily determine the customers who are poised for a new purchase. Then ABC could analyze its current top 10 markets through Internet and retail purchase reports. The company can now plan to invite qualified potential buyers in those markets to “experience” the new handset.
2. Plan an event
ABC now needs to determine how potential customers can have an emotional and deep experience with the new product. The company may choose to host a launch event in each selected market during which potential customers could not only try the new handset, but they could also learn about new advances in wireless technology. The company might schedule private demos for business customers who could profit from learning about the handset’s increased data capacity and flexibility. It might also invite those business customers to a luncheon with a wireless industry expert who could discuss with them firsthand industry trends that might affect their businesses. The key here is to give customers an experience that not only showcases the product and brand, but also gives them other relevant information.
3. Optimize the audience
Next ABC would determine how to take that customer list and add prospects to its experiential project. Maybe the current customer invitees can bring a friend or business associate. Maybe a partner company, such as a cell phone service provider, has a list of potential customers it could invite as well. The issues here are keeping the event intimate enough so customers truly experience all that the event and product offer, but also inviting enough customers to generate qualified leads.
4. Optimize the event
ABC needs to collect as much data as it can on site from attendees, including how they rate the event and how likely they are to purchase a new handset. That information should be aggregated into the database.
5. Follow up
After they’ve been qualified at the event, ABC should have a new, cleaner set of data that provides a valuable customer prospect list. Now the sales team takes over. Before this point, there should be no aggressive selling. Everything ABC has done up to this point should have been about setting up a strong relationship between customers and the experience.
As you can see, data is the difference. So far, one of the better examples of experiential marketing in action has been the user conferences that most tech companies organize (at huge expense) at least once a year. Apple, Oracle, Siebel, and SAP have all put on these huge events. They don’t qualify attendees right down to their propensity to purchase new products; they focus on letting those clients experience the brand, products, and related technologies. And they follow up after the event.
The key to experiential marketing is planning in detail the experience that will benefit both your company and your clients, using customer data to match the customers with the experience, and then selling those customers aggressively after they have had a positive experience.
That relevance is why experiential marketing holds a great deal of promise in a landscape full of expensive marketing tactics. There are so many different ways to deliver advertising that a more personal, relevant approach like experiential marketing is an ideal way to cut through the clutter.
Additionally, brands are struggling in their ability to get to the next level of sales, revenue, and profits. Email, direct mail, telemarketing—all of these tactics can be effective but their returns are diminishing. Companies looking for ways to get, keep, and grow customers need to find new ways to create, maintain, and build incremental value from customer relationships.
Finally, all companies want to connect with their dealer base and their consumer base on a local level. In-store promotions can still do this, but they can’t scale on a local level as well as an experiential marketing campaign. Nor can they fully engage local market resources to activate the brand with in-market customers. Experiential marketing starts on a national level with national goals. From there, it drills down to the local level and lets local sales forces follow up on specific leads.
Experiential marketing fills that most evasive of marketing goals, and that’s accountability. Run a raft of 30-second spots on network TV to launch a new product and you’d be hard-pressed to account for those dollars. An experiential marketing campaign results in a stronger database, stronger customer relationships, and highly qualified leads. No magic here. Just results.