BRANDING: Marketing takes aim at the consumer soul - It’s obvious that people get attached to their cars and other prized possessions, but is it really possible to have an emotional connection with soap? Proponents of experiential marketing believ

Remember the capitals of all 50 states? You were taught them in school. You’ve heard many of their names since. But the information just doesn’t stick.

Remember the capitals of all 50 states? You were taught them in school. You’ve heard many of their names since. But the information just doesn’t stick.

Remember the capitals of all 50 states? You were taught them in

school. You’ve heard many of their names since. But the information just

doesn’t stick.

Now recall your first real kiss. Take a deep breath and bring to mind

the moment. Reflect on this, and you’ve just defined the difference

between ’experiential’ and conventional marketing - or so the experts


’You’re focusing on not just the arguments but the consumer experience,’

says Bernd Schmitt, professor of business marketing at Columbia

University and author of the book Experiential Marketing. Good marketing

campaigns do try and create an aura of emotional energy around a

product, but they tend to overwhelmingly focus on features and facts.

Experiential marketing takes a very different approach.

However sexy and slick it might be, traditional marketing concentrates

on arguing a product’s benefits, rather than focusing on that consumer’s

own experience of a brand. ’Traditional marketing is very mechanistic,’

Schmidt says. ’The whole point of experiential marketing is to take the

customer seriously.’ Rather than describe, promote, argue and pronounce,

experiential campaigns need to ’sense, feel, act and relate,’ he


And instead of appealing to frequently distracted and sometimes brittle

intellects, experiential marketing attempts to reach deep down into the

unconscious of the people it targets, creating an emotional resonance

that practitioners say dramatically increases the chances of making a

sale. And an increasing number of America’s leading manufacturers,

retailers and marketers seem to agree.

Engaging the consumer

Products and services promoted with an experiential spin range from

Nike, through the sneaker manufacturer’s NikeTown, to American Express’

new Blue Card, and even consultancies such as The Gartner Group. In many

ways, experiential marketing mixes the best of public relations and

marketing techniques, generating visibility, energy and even passion

about a brand by giving consumers a chance to experience it while doing

something they enjoy.

’It’s all about enhancing your experience when you’re doing something

you care about,’ says Chris Weil, EVP of account services for Momentum,

a subsidiary of the McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, which includes celebrity

PR firm PMK. For the American Express Blue Card campaign, this

translates to such activities as providing a VIP tent for card holders

at the World Golf Championships - and then staging a clinic with Tiger

Woods that they can join.

PR is an essential ingredient of experiential marketing campaigns, Weil

says. Many experiential events only reach a small number of people.

Without PR spreading the word, the activities wouldn’t be affordable.

The key is to keep the focus tight: ’If we’re creating a good

experiential branding moment, we try to leverage those by bringing in

niche media.’

For The Gartner Group, experiential marketing means stepping back from

the specifics of what the company is selling and looking at how

customers relate to the brand itself. ’In addition to traditional

advertising, what we do is very similar to what Coke and Nike do,’ says

Carol Wallace, vice president of PR. ’We are fierce about our brand,’

she says, and that brand is not just about analysis and information.

’You’re talking about not only selling knowledge, but integrity and

authority.’ And conventional marketing can convey this only in a shallow

way. The best way to project those values is through in-person


Whether they’re rock concerts, education seminars or basketball practice

sessions, in-person events are among experiential marketers’ most potent

weapons, says Carol Simpson, vice president, marketing services for The

Jack Morton Company, a New York-based firm that is an acknowledged

leader in experiential marketing. Anyone interested in conducting

experiential marketing, Simpson says, should live by a simple mantra:

’Attract, engage, educate, inform and immerse.’

Experiential marketing seeks to create intimacy above all else. The most

important step in accomplishing this is to both understand and tightly

target customers. ’A lot of people come in and think their audience is

one thing, and when they go through the research methodology, they find

out it’s something else,’ Simpson says.

’We look at experiential marketing as conveying the entire experience of

using a product,’ says Nancy Wagman, a consultant with San Diego-based

Intuitive Communications. ’It goes deeper than what you see in the

media. It’s not only the sensory experience, but the inner


But simply staging events isn’t enough, experts say. A program must be

fully integrated into all of a company’s other marketing activities.

Good experiential programs reinforce conventional marketing efforts

rather than replace them, Wallace says. A key tool in Gartner’s arsenal

is the informational event. Decision makers who pay for Gartner’s

services tend to be busy, high-powered people. Gartner grabs their

attention by making sure its events provide valuable information, along

with a chance to meet and share information with peers from other

companies. The desired effect is to create a high-intensity experience

of the Gartner Group brand.

Accounting for taste

Experiential marketing does have some serious risks. Not everyone

interested in buying a pair of sneakers wants to shoot hoops at

NikeTown, says Art Stevens, chairman of Publicis Dialog/Lobsenz Stevens.

’The danger is that each person chooses a brand for his or her own

reasons,’ he says.

’There’s a strong chance that, in seeking to create a strong emotional

experience for one consumer, a company will wind up alienating a lot of

others,’ he claims.

’It’s difficult to be all things to all people, and I think you have to

take that into account,’ he adds. ’We each buy for different


Some of those reasons are universal, like food, clothing and


The rest of it is of a highly personal nature. The concept of creating

clones of their entire customer base goes against this.’

Proponents of experiential marketing say that market forces such as the

Internet make personalization and the experiential approach all the more

essential. Price is currently a favorite tool for retailers. But the

increasing prominence of price on the Internet will eventually blunt its

effectiveness for conventional retailers, says branding guru Al Ries,

chairman of Ries & Ries.

’In the future, the retailers that are going to be successful are going

(to follow) Nordstrom’s direction with an emphasis on service and an

emphasis on environment. NikeTown is a very good example of the

environment of the retailer of the future, and Nordstrom’s is a good

example of the service,’ Ries says. And when companies learn to combine

both, experiential marketing should really take off.

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