How Experiential Marketing Creates Raving Fans of Your Brand

Digital and email marketing are among the most popular forms of connecting to customers, but another important tool that stands to turn consumers into raving fanatics of our brands — experiential marketing — often takes a back seat.

     Why is that? Why do so many marketers overlook the single best way to connect — really connect — with the people they want to forge relationships with? Likely it’s because they think it requires more effort than automating an email. In fact, it does, because it requires a rare commodity these days — human interaction — but the payoff is much longer lasting and effective.

     Here’s why you need to incorporate experiential marketing into your strategy: by creating an interactive and immersive experience that a consumer can participate in, you forge strong bonds with a potential customer.

In The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, authors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore liken experiences to a theatrical performance:

     “But when [the consumer] buys an experience, he pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages — as in a theatrical play — to engage him in a personal way.”

     In the case of experiential marketing, the consumer doesn’t even have to pay for the privilege of having an amazing experience; it’s your job as the marketer to deliver it in an effort to better brand your business, and therefore build relationships.

Who Needs Experiential Marketing?

     While most brands can benefit from experiential marketing, it’s those that sell high-end products or services who need to leverage it. The high-end customer isn’t going to just hand over her money after seeing your Tweet. She wants more. By creating an experience that she can touch, taste, or interact with firsthand, you’re proving to her that yours is a brand that gets her. Trust me: she’ll clamor for more.

Experiences Beat Things

     Recent studies show that people value — and derive more happiness from — experiences more than items. Because we are the sum of our experiences, not our tangible goods, experiential marketing plays into that fact by creating memorable, buzz-worthy events that consumers will recollect much longer than they will that pen with your logo on it.

     But before you think you need a multi-million dollar fireworks display, caged tigers, and flashy costumes, realize: it’s not about how much money you spend on an encounter. It’s about creating an authentic, can't-be-bought experience that turns a prospect into a client, and a client into an evangelist.

Experiential Marketing Spurs Word-of-Mouth

     Few consumers will chat with their friends about the latest banner ad for a brand, but 59% of consumers who experience event marketing tell others about that live experience within 48 hours. This is a major boon for your brand, because nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing. When consumers become advocates of your company, that’s where the magic happens.

     Journalists, too, play a role in spreading the word. Strategically including reporters who cover your industry could get you free media play, helping you reach thousands or even millions of people through their articles about your brand.

The Role of Emotions

     The goal of any marketing should be to evoke positive emotions in your audience. That’s difficult to do with, say, email marketing, but much easier to do with experiences. Imagine the roomful of tears at the keynote delivered by a man who lost an arm as he struggled to survive in the wilderness. Or the delighted giggles of the students who received a balloon animal instead of a Coke with Coke’s Happiness Machine.

     When you can spur emotions, you automatically connect in meaningful ways to your potential customers. All things being equal between your brand and another, who do you think a customer will buy from: the company that made them laugh or cry, or the one whose Facebook page they follow?

What Makes a Stellar Experience?

     When brainstorming for your own experiential marketing, keep the concepts of surprise and delight at the forefront of your mind. You don’t have to go overboard in your planning; simply do something that helps your brand get noticed. This can be as simple as a handwritten note, which, in the past, used to be the norm, but is now a rare occurrence. Just think of the elation your customer will have when receiving a heavy, linen paper envelope with a friendly note in the snail mail!

     Your memorable experience can be a special dinner, an exclusive showroom event, or an ultimate hot dog tour. People like getting first access and behind-the-scenes looks at your company. It makes them feel special.

     You can also use the experience to make your clients smarter. Set up a corporate wine tasting event that not only educates them on the nuances of wine, but also entertains and engages them. It builds trust and loyalty.

     Experiential marketing isn’t forcing a marketing message down people’s throats. It’s not a one-way conversation. It’s building relationships and trust by delivering a customized experience people will never forget.

Why Branded Content Matters

If ever there was a buzzword in marketing, “branded content” tops the charts. Experts argue about what exactly branded content is, and, as people like to say on Facebook: “it’s complicated.”

As part of the Defining Branded Content for the Digital Age’ research project, the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) commissioned the following definition from Oxford Brookes University and Ipsos MORI:

“Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.”

I think we can all agree that branded content — whether that be a blog post, video, commercial, or social media update — is designed to encourage an audience to trust a brand.

Now, branded content is nothing new. Print magazines (remember those?) included what they called “advertorials:” glossy, informative articles urging readers to book a vacation in Bermuda, buy a weight loss supplement, or indulge in a particular wine. Now in the digital world, we’ve expanded beyond just articles to fine-tune what our audience wants through great content in many forms.

Whereas the former iteration of branded content was little more than shameless product placement, today’s version takes the modern customer into mind, and strives (when done right) to not only introduce a consumer to a brand, but also inform her as to why it’s worth her time and money.

But Why Does it Matter?

Isn’t branded content just one more channel to use in the never-ending slog of reaching new customers? Not exactly. There’s an unbelievable amount of content out there, and much of it is poorly written or unreliable. When brands invest the time and money to create authentic branded content, they’re establishing themselves as trusted authorities in their verticals. If they do it well, people will share it, helping them reach an even larger audience.

We know advertising typically doesn’t work. There’s simply no reason for consumers to trust in your brand simply because you bought a banner ad on a website. So how do you build that trust? By providing useful, contextual content.

In Carlton Doty’s Advertising Age article linked above, he talks about the importance of context:

“Enter the contextual marketing engine: a brand-specific platform that exploits customer context to deliver utility and guides the customer into the next best interaction.”

So not only is this content relevant, but it’s also exactly what the customer needs for a given problem.

The Difference Between Branded Content and Advertising

Ads focus on the features of a product. They use emotion to play with people’s minds and make them think they’ve got to have that $2,000 watch, new sports coupe, or hottest fashion trend. But people aren’t stupid,and they’re onto the ploy.

What consumers really want is to see the benefits of a brand. What will it do for them? How will it improve their lives? Understanding that brands care about features, where customers care about benefits is essential to succeed with branded content.

Branded content engages an audience so that they care about your brand, want to learn more about it, and are more likely to make a purchase. It can do that through education or entertainment.

Here’s a lighthearted example of entertaining content: Friskies partnered with Buzzfeed to launch its “Dear Kitten” video series. While the videos aren’t blatantly advertising cat food, they are establishing their brand in the minds of the millions of people who watch and share the videos.

How to Succeed with Branded Content

There’s a fine line between creating branded content that is aspirational as well as attainable. Yes, you want your audience to feel, after consuming your content, that buying into your brand will somehow improve their lives. But you also don’t want to set it so high that they feel it’s impossible, or that it’s for another demographic other than them.

You want your audience to think, “I can do this. I can take this trip. I can buy this product.”

So how do you balance between attainability and aspiration? It’s all about knowing your audience and what triggers they respond to. Emotion is always a good one, as well as storytelling where people can place themselves into your story.

Trends in Branded Content

Written articles are valuable, but the more immersive the branded content experience, the more likely your audience is to return. Mobile apps, while slightly less red hot in popularity as they were a few years ago, are still a way to deliver a branded, contextual experience.

Look at Starbucks’ new Coffee Passport mobile page. With it, Starbucks customers can take notes on brews, save favorites, and learn about the beans that the brand uses. There’s value, and they’re not selling anything (though you do have to buy a cup of coffee to benefit).

But before you jump on the mobile wave, make sure your audience is there. It’s important to match the platform with your demographic. If they’re on social media, which sites (not all of them)? How do they like to consume information? The more you know about your customer, the better the branded content experience you can deliver.

Social media is a wonderful delivery channel for your branded content. Consider using Twitter chats to brand your own hashtag and drive people to an online event around a particular topic.

If you know your audience responds to videos, create an informative series and post them both to your website and to YouTube to maximize views.

Create in-person events that entertain and engage your audience. For example, you can hold a customer appreciation event with a wine tasting experience or sneak peek at upcoming products.

If you do branded content correctly, you can just stand back and let the magic happen once you create it. But remember: it takes constant effort to stay relevant and provide value that your audience can’t find anywhere else.

How To Buy Inexpensive Wine

No tax refund this year?  Are you a wine buyer on a budget? Looking for something you will love to drink again and again.  Follow these tips and you can leave your wine shop with something filled with flavor and light on the purse.  

Avoid Expensive Regions

Go To Lesser-Known and Less Expensive Regions. Looking for a California Cab? Then try something from Chile. If you’re after a delicious bubbly, skip the Champagne and try a Cava.  (Cava is the name of sparkling wine from Spain and it is made the same way as Champers - only without the hefty price tag.

Try An Unexpected and Undervalued Grape (aka Find a stunt double for a more expensive wine)

Like Pinot Noir?  Then try Gamay.  (It is the grape used to make Beaujolais from France.)Like Sancerre?  Try an Albarino? (Albrino hails from the remote Northwest corner of Spain.  It is like Sauvignon Blanc meets dry Riesling.) Like a bit of fruitiness?  Try German Riesling. (One of the most food friendly and tasty wines on the planet.)

Find a Wine Shop you adore and a salesperson you trust.

Do not be intimidated! Tell the salesperson your budget. Use your words!  Give them a grape, a style (light medium or full) or a region you have enjoyed in the past. See what The Wine has to say.  Cutting to the chase - there is no relationship between price and taste. 

Drinking Champagne Improves Memory

Research from the University of Reading, U.K., shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia. 

Scientists at the University of Reading have shown that the phenolic compounds found in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for recording information about one's environment, and storing the information for future navigation.