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Experiential marketing: a gimmick, or marketing disguised as something else?

Jenny Stanley, MD and Founder, Appetite Creative Soulutions presents the role of fun and memorable experiences for your customers

In reality, marketing will always be marketing, and it will always have its role within our lives. But correct and proper use of experiential marketing will add a fun and ultimately memorable experience designed to immerse your users in your brand. If you’re confident in your product or service, a great experience will bring your audience in; if the service is good enough, they’ll stay for that.

A great example is that of Waterloo Station in glorious London. In 2016, commuters there were amazed to see the Marshmallow Man emerging through the concourse floor of the world-famous terminal. And what good is that? A big monster smashing through the floor; great for a selfie, but we all had trains to catch. But that’s not it, it just happened to coincide with the new Ghostbusters movie, and it was brilliant advertising design as it was meant to be shared. Imagine a parent with a child walking through and taking a selfie with a giant Marshmallow man. What would the next step be? “You wanna see the movie?”. Imagine a commuter walking through and sending a selfie to his or her partner or mate. So many avenues opened by such a beautiful piece of experiential marketing. But… more than that, so much joy inspired and so many memories created. I cannot tell you how many extra tickets or t-shirts were sold because of it, but I can tell you that thousands upon thousands of people had fun, got a surprise, and had and shared a positive experience thanks to the Ghostbusters brand.

Pleasure responses in the brain

We know that unexpected events can result in more pleasure responses in the brain, and we need to be increasingly searching for ways to ‘surprise’ and ‘delight’ consumers.
This campaign certainly did that.

Lush stores, the great smelling hipster employers that seem to be everywhere now, do the same thing. Where else in the world can I go to buy a friends’ birthday present and be treated to an exfoliating hand wash that will leave me smelling like tea tree oil and blueberries? It’s attractive, it’s engrossing, it’s fun, and it makes us both want to go back and spend a bit more than we should. With so much average on the market, why not feel good about splashing out and spending a bit more when I feel pampered?

What Lush did was to keep the essence of the brand in line with the experience offered, and they did so massively. The experience accentuates the details of the products on offer and brings the user closer to their benefits by enabling them to see first hand (no pun intended) what a lovely feeling it can bring.

From the marketers’ point of view, or rather from the marketers’ bosses’ point of view, the role of experience marketing is to create a defined plan to capture the consumer and not slip into the abyss of complacency. A modern marketing plan requires the inclusion of a large number of disciplines, from digital efforts to the point of sale, and experience marketing has recently been added to this list. How new is this, though? Think the Pepsi challenge; it depresses me to write that this is now almost 45 years old. It is fair to say that more than one company has followed the path of experience to create a link for a long time. They need not be complicated; look again at what Lush do, ask anybody who has recently visited a car showroom if there was an option to book a driving test. It will always be an experience that will lead to a sale. Pepsi, Lush, Ghostbusters, Renault Clio Snapchat edition (I may have made the last one up), they are all fantastic, and they all share the same precept.

The role of social media

Social media, of course, now has had a part to play in this, and its effects shouldn’t be ignored. Our obsession with finding something worthy of sending to our network of contacts is the main reason that the marshmallow man, bursting through the floor of Waterloo Station that delivers us all to our offices, was so good.

Sharing with a simple swipe or touch of a button is what marketers want. It means that their own users are doing the door to door sales for them; for free. They are digitally knocking on their friends’ doors and opening their suitcase of delights to show off your product. From the other side of the door, imagine that you are the metaphoric homeowner and ask yourself what you would prefer; a needy salesman trying to hit commission, or you friend trying to show you something cool they just found. It’s a staggeringly good opportunity that can not be missed.

By encouraging and pandering to the need to share everything instantly with anyone we’ve ever met, we can offer this experience to far more people. Add a voucher to a marketing campaign and have a button to link directly to WhatsApp. You may have a group of friends or a family group who might also like the deal; it would almost be rude not to share. The same can be done with a competition or a mini-game. The options are for the marketers’ creativity to find.

Feeling ‘elite’

One somewhat ironic aspect of the social media boom has been the effect it has had on elitism. Though there is no need to go into it here, it is a fact that people want to feel elite. The irony is that more and more often, once people feel elite, they are now broadcasting their new status to everyone they can find. If a marketer were to offer something like secret content, an exclusive event, or a sneak peek, it is ever more common that the ego boosted recipient will, by virtue of the share button, wave their golden ticket in front of the world. The very fact that the exclusivity is nullified by doing so seems to have been ignored completely. And so the cycle carries on.

Though the formula is straightforward, it’s clear that some brands have understood it better than others. Through new ways of reaching out to the consumer, they have enjoyed dramatically increased success.

Marketing agencies have endeavoured to create moments in which the consumer receives a surprise in the form of an experience. The user must feel pampered, valuable, excited, or elite. We must be innovative, unusual, and that create conditions for the experience to be shared.

www.appetitecreative.com

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