Timely Tips on Experiential Marketing

BRANDWEEK ran an expansive special section on Experiential Marketing this week that included some pithy quotes from yours truly. Since this is a topic I tend to think a lot about, here are extensive notes from my conversation with BRANDWEEK reporter Michael Applebaum a couple of months ago.

Great experiential marketing programs

Experiential marketing comes in a lot of flavors which makes it tough to generalize what makes a program great. For some clients, it is enough to have created an engaging trial-focused experience during which the consumer consumes the product or service in a reasonably memorable fashion. For others, the ultimate goal is buzz, as measured by PR coverage, word of mouth or on occasion trade reactions. Still others seek to establish a continuing relationship with the target, so online registration becomes the ultimate measure of effectiveness. A truly great program, in my opinion, does all of the above and then some.

A truly great experiential program first and foremost is so appealing the consumer wants to engage with the brand. It is the opposite of disruptive advertising which like an unwanted door-to-door salesman intrudes into the home. Great experiential marketing is not shoving a donut in someone’s face on the street and then saying “try our bank.” To be appealing, marketers need to offer a reasonable exchange of value, during which the consumer gives up his/her time while the brand provides the experience and usually some free stuff!

Done correctly these experiences can have exponential impact which is important since 1:1 experiences can be pricey. If an experience is targeted at the right influencers, then these influencers will undoubtedly share their experiences. If the physical experience has an online component, then there is an opportunity for both WOM and a deeper relationship with that consumer. If an experience is sufficiently newsworthy, millions of other interested parties can be influenced by the event(s).

Renegade’s rules of thumb for a great experience are as follows:

  • the experience is fresh enough that the press wants to write about it;
  • the experience is relevant to the story you want to tell about the brand;
  • the experience has legs well beyond one single event and/or one single communication channel;
  • the experience is entertaining and enlightening;
  • the experience is so engaging that the consumer wants tell his/her friends about it.

This is not about just getting attention. There is an old adage in our business, “If you want attention, put a gorilla in a jockstrap and stand him on a street corner.” This is about engagement. Mutually beneficial engagement.

Lots of industries are turning to experiential marketing

Food and beverage companies are old hands at this since sampling is essential to growing their businesses. Brands like Pepsi AMP go to extreme lengths to sample their product to the right target–they handed out as many as 5 million samples this summer. Alcohol brands are creating mini-experiences in bars, clubs and restaurants with extraordinary frequency across the US. Entertainment companies like to include experiential programs in the mix often with the hope of creating a “must see” buzz prior to launch. B2B brands are also crafting experiences with greater frequency (examples available if you need them).

Lately, we’ve been noticing a lot of brands pulling from the Experiential 101 Playbook:

  • The World Record—Wise potato chips set the world record for most chips crunched at the same time at a Mets game this summer. Not exactly New York Times material but surely some pub out there besides the Guinness Book was interested.
  • The Pop-Up Store–Southwest Airline is the latest airlines to set up a pop-up in Manhattan theirs being a café-like setting in Bryant Park. Now defunct Song tried a pop-up store in 2004—unfortunately the store experience was better than the airline itself.
  • User Generated Content—a lot of experiential programs start by asking the consumer to create some kind of content. HSBC’s Soap Box and JetBlue’s Story Booth (both by JWT) ask the man on the street to provide their points-of-view. This “content” was then turned into ads and online communications. A smaller scale example comes from a small Canadian Beer Company called Okanagan Beer that challenged consumers to tell them why the brand should sponsor their events/parties. This content was then repurposed into a 360° campaign and sales jumped 30% — this is definitely on my list of “wish we’d done that.”

There are lots of ways to measure experiential marketing

As for research, there are so many different kinds of experiences and a corresponding amount of measurement tools depending on the objectives. We like to use Net Promoter Score on a pre/post basis as a measure of the experience itself. We have seen 30-40 point swings in likeliness to recommend a brand to a friend after exceptional experiences. In theory, every brand can measure the value per customer gained and/or the value of increased loyalty per customer. For example, if a brand experience makes you twice as likely to buy and/or recommend a brand, then one can compute the increase in lifetime value of that customer. That said, the math can get fuzzy pretty quickly. That’s why PR coverage is so important. Great press coverage can extend the reach of a program, making it more comparable to measuring the effectiveness of a media or PR program.

Latest trends in experiential marketing

First, mobile devices are becoming integral parts of brand experiences. An iPhone app can start an experience. An in-bar trivia contest answered via text messages can start an engagement. Mobile is part of a bigger trend to integrate technology into the experience and extend beyond the physical into the virtual world. Event experiences are often extended via Facebook and Twitter programs. Event experiences can be used to introduce on online extension, like Frito/NFL’s hunt for the most “fanatical football family.” And of course, social media is playing an ever increasing role in starting and extending brand experiences. An experiential program Renegade created for Toasted Head wine has evolved into an on-going Facebook program that keeps the faithful engaged.

Second, microevents are starting to get big. Royal Caribbean held 1000+ “Cruisitude” parties at homes of former cruisers. As I mentioned earlier, alcohol brands are hosting small events at bars almost nightly to engage their targets.

Where to start

Marketers are best to start with “the why,” not “the how.” If they know why they want to create experiences then it is much easier to figure out the how. If trial is key, then the experience can be built around that. If they are doing it to stretch marketing dollars, then getting buzz & PR should probably be the top priority. From there, we recommend marketers focus on “the do,” not “the say.” What is it that you can do for your target that will make them want to engage with you? Sometimes “the do” is just free stuff but often “the do” can be more substantial. Sports car owners like to drive fast but rarely get to do it legally. “The do” for BMW was a Performance Driving School for its customers. Road warriors scamper about airports looking for places to charge their gear. “The do” for Samsung was charging stations in airport terminals.

Evolving from Chief Miracle Officer

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with Todd Wasserman of BRANDWEEK about the evolving role of the CMO. Todd’s insightful article appeared this week in both ADWEEK and BRANDWEEK and included a few quotes from yours truly which he interpreted as complaints. Since my thoughts were more observations than laments, I figured I’d post my notes from our conversation:

The CMO has evolved from Chief Miracle Officer to Chief Minutia Officer. The CMO used to be charged with creating a marketing miracle, finding that magical ad campaign that would have a multiplier effect on awareness, excite the trades and ultimately drive sales. If the CMO couldn’t deliver such a campaign either he/she or the agency lost their jobs and replacements were found. Just about every CMO wanted a mass media brand-building campaign like the Aflac Duck or the Geico Gecko.

Then along came Google complete with truly measurable results and tectonic plates of marketing started to shift. Suddenly CMO’s were emboldened to say “I only want to do what produces measurable results” and the super savvy ones had a dashboard with real time information from search clicks to web traffic to online buzz to 800# calls to retail sales. Jim Garrity, the former CMO of Wachovia was on the forefront of this trend, studying all the data points with unrelenting passion. Business Week profiled Garrity back in 2006 and noted he “sounds like a man who never met a data point he didn’t like” and “Garrity and those like him are quietly reworking the advertising mix of the American corporation.”

This new kind of CMO is less interested in the monumental and more in the incremental, seeking a steady diet of singles and doubles over the infrequent but more showy grand slam. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. The more metrics that a client has in place the more likely that an agency can prove that what it does for the client actually works. It also means that the CMO has a better chance of keeping his/her job for more than 24 months. CFO’s are far more likely to increase the budget if the business case is there to justify such an increase. This methodical approach also dovetails nicely with the current “make more out of less” economy.

For the record, I applaud this new kind of CMO since they make sure marketing aligns with sales and the metrics for success are clear from the beginning.  Without these two factors in place, it will take more than a miracle for even the best of agencies to build a successful partnership.

Renegade on Guerrilla Marketing

Today’s issue of BRANDWEEK provided a rather scaled back overview of 2008 Guerrilla Marketing which included a short and sweet quote from yours truly. Given the brevity of the article, I thought I’d post my full interview notes.

BW: Can you see the current economic downturn as having a direct effect on guerrilla marketing either how it’s done, its frequency of use, or anything else?

DN: Here’s the good news, our phone is ringing off the hook from clients looking to gain more impact out of limited resources. The bad news is that when they say “limited” they really mean next to nothing so its getting a lot harder to manage expectations! One huge change is the number of clients requesting “social media” and/or viral marketing programs. There is a clear perception in the marketplace that these non-traditional approaches could have exponential impact for the dollars invested. Undoubtedly, when dollars get short, clients will look for innovative ways to cut through.

BW: Aside from the recession, are there any big trends affecting guerrilla marketing that you’re seeing?

DN: Several. Consumers are increasingly savvy and resilient to street team activity. Unless you are offering a clear value proposition (like cool free stuff) or have a truly entertaining “show,” consumers will simply ignore your efforts. Today more than ever, guerrilla marketing needs to deliver a demonstrable exchange of value. The same holds true for online guerrilla efforts. As many wishful thinking viral video producers have discovered, very few videos actually get discovered and most of those are consumer generated versus corporate creations. In the “wild west” of viral, slick messages rarely cut it. Consumers find the genuine, the raw, the crazy, far more appealing than the slick, the packaged or the profound.

BW: In the age of the iPod, with people so shut off from normal streetawareness, is guerrilla marketing less effective than it used to be? I mean, not too long ago, a pedestrian might be wearing a Walkman, but in general he or she was pretty plugged in to the street landscape. But these days, thanks to digital devices like cell phones and iPods, you can hermetically seal yourself in a world of your choosing, even as you walk around. Does that theoretically render guerrilla marketing less effective?

DN: First, let me note that we consider guerrilla marketing to be broader than street team stuff. Like the man who first defined the term, Jay Conrad Levinson, we consider guerrilla marketing to be a mindset that overcomes a lack of funds with resourcefulness and innovation. Under that definition, guerrilla marketing is constantly evolving, addressing the realities of changes in consumer behavior. To be effective, guerrilla marketing has to be more than disruptive. It has to be appealing enough that someone in a walking cocoon actually wants to stop and engage. Ironically, guerrilla approaches actually have an advantage these days over traditional TV advertising which are getting zapped before they even get a chance to be seen. Guerrilla marketers are figuring out how to engage consumers with all their devices, such as having billboards that interact with mobile devices, etc. Also, for many “too hip for ad” brands, the guerrilla medium is the message. These brands can’t be seen as selling out by doing mainstream advertising and instead present themselves in ways that are as fresh as the brand and the target themselves. Street art, viral videos, widgets and on-premise stunts all fall into the “we’re cool cats” category.

All that said, consumers are more savvy about all types of marketing these days. The bar is higher for everyone. True engagement requires a fresh idea regardless of the medium. If people are wearing headphones, guerrilla marketers need to offer music to their ears, literally or physically.

Good is in the Can for Pringles

In the world of extruded potatoes, it is often difficult to find genuine goodness. Here’s how Pringles is attempting to bridge that gap, as reported by BRANDWEEK‘s Elaine Wong:

Beginning this week, consumers can go to Pringles.com to play with its new “Can Creator.” The application allows users to design and print their own creations, which they can then tape onto their Pringles can.

For every can created, parent company Procter & Gamble will donate $1 to the Children’s Miracle Network (up to $20,000). The campaign runs through June.

Up to $20,000? Come on P&G, with $265 million in sales for Pringles alone, surely you can do better than that. Are we really supposed to prefer Pringles given such a modest charitable commitment? While I’m sure the Children’s Miracle Network isn’t complaining, this is the perfect time to step up and make a sincere commitment. I’d propose donating up to $1.0 million and shame the rest of the marketing world into doing good on a grand scale.

Would such a grand commitment be good for Pringle’s sales? You bet. More from the BRANDWEEK article:

The 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study found that 79% of consumers said they would switch brands (provided price and quality were equal) to the one that is associated with a good cause. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they have a more positive image of a company when it supports a cause that is dear to them. And 38% have purchased a product associated with a cause in the last year.

I’m all for doing well by doing good. Just make sure your commitment is clear and sincere, otherwise there will be no pop in your sales.

Samsung Displays Service in HD

The same folks that brought you airport charging stations, are now installing 2,000 displays at retailers to help demystify HD. According to a study by Best Buy, 89% of Americans are confused about HD in some way or another and given that all broadcasts are shifting to HD in 2009, that’s a lot of confusion to address. According to a story in Brandweek:

Samsung HD Kiosks

The displays show a number of Samsung home theater components and explain HDTVs, Blu-ray players, home theater receivers and speaker systems. “Samsung hopes to help consumers immediately recognize, right at the point of purchase, the true benefits of HD for their home, while providing consumers a number of options and total solutions to make HD a part of their lives,” said Tim Baxter, evp-sales and marketing at Samsung Electronics, Ridgefield Park, N.J.

Samsung’s efforts to make HD easy to understand provides a genuine service to many consumers. That said, it will be interesting to see if consumers respond well to this service since some will undoubtedly be skeptical of the information presuming that it will have a natural bias toward Samsung products. Had Samsung partnered with a credible third-party information source like cNet, then this would be a non-issue and consumers would truly thanks Samsung for the service. Nonetheless, with a couple of thousand kiosks out there, Samsung displays a huge commitment to Marketing as Service.