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Experiential Marketing – Buzzword or Leverage

By Christine Dubyts, Dubyts Communications
October 27, 2006

Experiential Marketing . . . we all do it at some level but is it just an industry buzzword or something to be considered, managed and leveraged in today's businesses? 

First off, what is it? Marketing experts and gurus have written, spoken and analyzed the many aspects of Experiential Marketing.  There are some clear opinions about what it is and what it isn't, however, most agree it involves the development of stimulating, engaging and visible, walk-in and online experiences.  I personally like to enhance this and give it more depth by defining it as, the collective effect of all sensory experiences that occur during every point of contact with an organization. 

From the first point of contact, whether it's a hand shake, business card, flyer or sign, people form an impression of what type of business you are, how you position yourself and what kind of product and/or service they can expect to get from you.

To illustrate; A new Italian restaurant opens up in downtown Winnipeg.  They design, print and distribute a flyer which I receive in my mailbox.  What does the flyer tell me about the restaurant?  How do I position them in my mind?  Lunch buffet, quality dining or somewhere in between?  Is it printed on pink paper with blue writing, 10 different fonts and a major typo in the headline?  Or is it printed on a smooth glossy paper, clear copy and an enticing photo?  This is the first point of contact and one that will either engage the dining prospect to take the next step or cause them to drop it in the recycling bin.

The flyer is enticing and I love Italian so I decide to make a reservation for Friday night.  I dial the number and the person on the other end greets me, “This is ABC Italian what do you want?”  Or perhaps they say, “Good day, this is ABC Italian, Winnipeg's newest premium Italian dining experience, can I take your reservation for this evening?” This is your second point of contact.  Now what impression do I have?  Don't underestimate the impact of your front line people.  They are one of your most important points of contact and should be hired for their level job specific competency and for their ability to interact with clients in a stimulating manner.

Finally, it's Friday night.  My husband and I embark on the 25-minute drive downtown and the much anticipated, ABC Italian Restaurant. As we're driving we realize there's a concert at MTS Centre and our conversation shifts to the dilemma of parking. We discuss our parking options relative to the restaurant's location for 20-minutes until we spot the obviously new, well lit awning of ABC Italian.  It looks warm and inviting so we continue our drive down the street searching frantically for a place to park.  But step back . . . What if the sign was a hand painted piece of plywood bolted to the front of the building with old newspapers swirling around under a poorly lit entrance?  Would we park and go in or continue to drive right on by?  This is the third point of contact. 

We're now directly in front of the restaurant and still haven't secured a parking spot . . . but what's that?  No, its not rock star parking.  Better yet!  It's a sign that says, “Welcome to ABC Italian.  Please take advantage of our FREE Valet Parking!”  We pull up and a polished and polite valet takes our keys and tells us to enjoy dinner.  Fourth point of contact. 

What a great start to the evening.  Already my expectations have been exceeded and we haven't even walked through the front door. 

KEY POINT:  Strategically orchestrate your points of contact so that at each point you're meeting, or better yet, exceeding your customer's expectations . . . If your customer has an incredible customer experience what will they do?  They'll come back.  And if you really manage to WOW them they'll tell others. 

The points of contact in this restaurant example go on-and-on.  The aromas as you walk through the door, the appearance of the entrance, the greeter, the person who seats you, the person who pours your water, takes your order, serves your food and of course, the food itself.  Each point of contact is an opportunity to make or break the customer experience.

Maybe you don't own a restaurant or retail establishment where you have such obvious and physical points of contact.  What then? 

A simple networking example might look like this; attend business function, shake a few hands, talk to a few people, hand out some business cards, have a beverage, some snacks, listen to a speaker, talk to a few more people, hand out some more business cards and then back to work or if you're lucky, home.  So, what are the points of contact here? 

There are essentially two main points of contact.  Number one is YOU.  What are you wearing, attire, shoes, jacket, etc.  What is your handshake like?  Is your hair clean and tidy?  Do you speak clearly and with confidence? How are your manners, how do you eat, drink and socially conduct yourself?  YOU are one of the most important points of contact in this type of situation. 

Number two is your business card.  Don't hand your business card out to everyone you speak to.  Treat your cards as something of great value and give them out selectively.  What does the business card look and feel like?  Is it printed on a home printer and have a coffee stain on it or is it professional, easy to read, interesting, engaging and informative?  Many times your business card is your first and last opportunity to make an impression.  Make sure it leaves the impression you intend.

Sit down and write out all your points of contact. Some of them may be physical marketing tactics like biz cards, signage, brochures or website.  Others may include people or processes like your sales clerks or invoices.  Write them all down and identify how you can live your brand at each of these points of contact.  How can you can make a positive lasting impression?

So is this Experiential Marketing?  Well, some would argue it crosses into, “Customer Experience Management,” and some would call it “Process Control.”  What ever you call it, its part of the total customer experience.  True proponents of this concept understand it is something that should be strategically designed and executed so there is consistency within and across channels, it should coincide with your brand positioning and be intuitive, cohesive, relevant, memorable, seamless, and of course satisfying.  If you effectively accomplish this the leverage you create can translate into exponential growth for your organization.

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