Growing up, there were two field trips we Pennsylvania elementary schoolers all looked forward to: the third grade trip to the Crayola factory, and the fifth grade trip to the Heinz factory.
Oozing wax, chemical compounds, automated machinery—each place offered our teachers countless opportunities to show us the wonders of science, the intricacies of math, the history of the invention of the assembly line. For us students, there was the promise of free samples and goody bags at the end (Heinz famously allows visitors to taste test new chips). As for the brands, experiential marketing couldn’t have possibly been easier.
Crayola’s educational bent shone clearly through its kid-friendly guides and the bright diagrams plastered on all the walls. Heinz’s reputation for being a sort of Pennsylvanian hometown hero was bolstered through frequent retelling of the company’s history and the insider treatment we got every time a staff member let us nab a chip off a line or fiddle with a control here or there. In both cases, each brand understood that in addition to helping some youngsters learn, it was also creating a unique environment that would hopefully impact the way we bought (or rather, pressured our parents to buy) well into the future. This experience-based form of marketing has become increasingly vogue over the past couple of years—a natural next step in the move away from interrupt-based tactics toward storytelling and editorial-driven material.
And so marketers are finding themselves treated to ever more keynotes encouraging them to add experience into their mixes, alongside their displays and searches, their social media and content strategies, and their print and traditional efforts. While a step in the right direction, this mentality also presents a dangerous distinction that marketers should avoid: that experience is a separate tactic from the rest of the greater marketing engine.
Many brands are adding more experiential marketing campaigns into their strategies, but it’s the brands that move to embrace experiences as core parts of their businesses that are winning out.
On paper (or rather, in spreadsheets) it might make sense to separate experiential tactics from your other interruptive vehicles: If you’re seeing positive ROI from search, display, video, and the like, then why not leave these be while introducing something new?
While the occasions for abandoning a successful strategy are exceedingly rare, there are still a couple of considerations to keep in mind that may change your approach to ongoing ads:
Consumers today are extremely savvy. From installing ad blockers to deleting cookies to prevent tracking, customers today employ a slew of methods (and sometimes superstitions) to avoid marketing content. All of this serves as an outpouring of growing “irritation” responses to marketing that either interrupts experiences or seeks to push content that isn’t relevant to what a consumer looking for. Experience-based marketing is a great way to combat these attitudes, but if your other marketing efforts or collateral is going to ingratiate responses of avoidance, how will you ever bring customers into longer, fuller experiences?
Experiential marketing isn’t a tactic you move toward. It’s a mentality that needs to take over everything your brand does, says, and creates.
So how can people-oriented companies holistically move toward experience in all their marketing?
Many of the steps and principles intuitive to marketing as a whole—the importance of brand consistency, moving consumers through increasing steps of devotion, aiming for retention and cost-effectiveness—still apply to experience-oriented efforts. Perhaps the most fundamental change, however, is how marketers approach their traditional funnels.
The goal of marketers has long been to construct and move consumers through funnels without them becoming aware of their movement from top to bottom; ideally, your audience would move from engaging with a piece of content to becoming a buyer and evangelist without ever becoming aware of any external force on their decision-making process. This approach is one of the primary reasons why people today are resistant to marketing efforts. Every overt message or call to action is an implicit reminder that someone is trying to pull them though some invisible process. So how do marketers earn back trust?
It’s easy: Turn your funnel into a narrative, and then let your audience see it. All of it.
The goals and processes of marketing aren’t necessarily readily apparent to people, but the movements and steps of good storytelling are something all people know. Experience-based marketing isn’t just about dropping your audience into the occasional amazing space. It’s about turning every tactic in your marketing repertoire into a character, event, or twist in the ongoing plot of your brand. With this approach, conversions aren’t goals that you have to draw audiences toward; rather, they are the moments in which where the audience can take part in the story themselves. And when done correctly, your customers will not only be happy to rush towards those spaces—they’ll also urgently work to help your brand discover and tell the next chapter of your story.