How to craft tantalizing customer experiences

How important is an IRL brand activation for your organization, and what elements are essential to delight modern audiences? Experiential marketing expert Christa Carone shares her insights.

Happy Customer Holding Tablet

When considering the customer journey, what a brand manager or communicator is really doing is crafting a customer experience.

Every touchpoint for your organization, from acquisition to the conversion of a sale, is part of a relationship you develop with a customer, building brick by brick with content, marketing copy and earned media placements. Many of these interactions have moved online as marketers and communicators have become hungry for measurable tracking.

However, Christa Carone, president of CSM North America, says you shouldn’t ignore experiential marketing opportunities.

In this age of advocacy, brands need more than consumers,” she says. “They need fans.”

Carone has made a name for herself over the years with live brand activations for companies like Xerox, working with organizations like LiveNation, Cirque Du Soleil and others. For her, the key to grabbing customer attention is to entertain and delight.

“We remember the first concert we attended, our first major league game, our first Broadway show,” says Carone. “As sports and entertainment prove to us over and over again, there is no better way to win and connect with fans than through live experiences, where the energy has the potential to become contagious and moments become memorable.”

The live experience is also important for brand managers hoping to capitalize on that other industry trend, “brand purpose.” For Carone, the live experience is an essential part of communicating on potent cultural topics. “By expressing their purpose through the power of experiences, brands intensify their connections with consumers, building advocacy along the way,” she says. “With experiential marketing, a brand is more than something consumers buy; It’s something they live.”

Integrating online tools

Carone says live events have been transformed by online technology, and savvy marketers can’t ignore the tools available for mashing up live and virtual experiences.

“Certainly the rise of the Insta moment has become game changing for experiential marketing,” she says. “While experiential was once used to attract press interest and ramp up earned media, it’s now the foundation of integrated campaigns that build buzz through influencers and extensive social amplification.”

That means that your live event is no longer one moment in time, but rather a continuous story that ripples across the internet.

“The experience creates the moment that is then shaped by everyone who sees and shares it,” Carone says. “Even more compelling is how brands communicate their purpose and their corporate character through their partnerships, like Equinox’s nationwide involvement in Cycle for Survival and Citi’s partnership of the International Paralympic Committee.”

The genuine article

When creating a successful brand activation or live event for your organization, Carone says, authenticity is anything but a buzzword.

“Being truly authentic is imperative to building successful brand experiences,” she says. “When a brand feels forced into a live experience, the outcome can have more negative connotations than positive, and as we know from Twitter and Instagram, consumers are experts at sniffing out inauthentic brand integrations and calling out companies that miss the mark.”

To avoid coming across as opportunistic pandering, brand managers have to invest in obtaining a deep understanding of their target audience. “Marketers need to be crystal clear on the audiences they are trying to reach, understand why the audience cares or should care about their brand, and deliver brand experiences that provide a valuable service, a needed solution or a welcome surprise,” Carone says.

Measuring the event

Like any other messaging campaign, the metrics that will matter for your experiential marketing effort will depend a lot on your goals and objectives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) that aren’t tied to desired outcomes are meaningless for your project.

“Is it to create brand awareness and increase purchase intent, or drive traffic into a store and increase the basket size at checkout?” asks Carone. “Is it measuring e-commerce conversions to reduce acquisition costs? Or is it all about capturing data for future CRM/social campaigns, encouraging more streams during the first week a show drops, or more ticket sales when a movie premieres? By defining objectives up front, an experience can be measured to meet multiple marketing KPIs.”

One component that should always be present, no matter what goals you have, is the element of surprise.

“The most successful campaigns I’ve produced with my teams are the ones where we deliver an experience that is unexpected yet relevant for the consumer we want to reach,” says Carone. “Creating a surprising moment, like delivering hot chocolate and warm cookies as customers leave a conference bleary-eyed and whipped.”

To deliver these intangibles requires an exhaustive attention to detail. “Being obsessive about the details is often the key to the breakthrough moments that fans remember,” says Carone. “When we got it wrong was always because we lost sight of the audience; we paid too much attention to the message ­­we wanted to tell instead of focusing on what the audience wanted to hear.”

Staying on the cutting edge

“Fans have massive expectations—as they should,” says Carone. “Technology has enabled immersive experiences that turn everyday moments into IRL magic.”

She suggests that a successful campaign always starts with a big idea of how to engage an audience, and then integrates technology and other available tools to amplify the idea.

However, when it comes to using new gadgets and trinkets to provide a wow factor, Carone says it’s important to be discerning.

“It’s not just for bells and whistles,” she says. “Ultimately, we’re aspiring for never-been-done-before and/or money-can’t-buy experiences worth sharing. Innovative technology is often core to making that happen.”

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    Ronald N. Levy says:

    With the stock market down and brand manager fears up, what you do now and soon can influence whether you are seen as a liability or an important productive asset.

    Which it will be may depend on your wisdom in recognizing (a) what questions an alarmed public will be asking urgently, and (b) what answers you can suggest so management should survive and thrive.

    Three valid public questions can (and should) scare the hell out of managers.

    .1. Who is responsible for all this financial trouble?

    .2. What should we do now in what we buy and don’t buy?

    .3. Can we make big companies bear more of the burden so we can bear less?

    Fortunately for alert PR people, our answers to the three questions may reduce potential anger at management and make more clear the reality of how management and its products are allies of the public. Look at some possible answers.

    .1. This product can SAVE the public money. It’s positioning. Food for the home saves money compared to restaurants. A stitch in time can save on home repairs, auto repairs, fuel and more. The right clothing purchases can be longterm investments that save on frivolous buys that go out of fashion, and on looking poor that can make one feel depressed and less productive.

    .2. The client is GOOD for our economy because of client input into jobs, high-value, beneficial products at affordable prices, huge inputs of tax dollars that benefit the public, jobs and job training that benefit the public, and corporate good deeds that not only benefit the public but may help save our lives.

    .3. A big company may do even MORE for the public if our political leaders make sure that we not only don’t kill the golden goose but we make it comfortable and profitable for the goose, gander and goslings because they—the whole family, the whole company—are productive public assets.

    Notice how PR ingenuity can help live events to propagate awareness of these sales-building and management-saving realities. PR people who have no-cost answers and don’t just want more money from management are recognized as a blessing to management. So consider suggesting a reconfguration of the “corporate good deeds budget” or “good cause budget” by whatever name so that it creates more goodwill without costing more money.

    HEALTH is huge public concern all the time as we can see from how much emphasis presidential candidates place on health ideas. As the economy goes down, public concern goes up about how can we survive not only health dangers but the economic dangers that go with them. So get management to look at the opportunity to gain more “we protect the public” status by switching part of the good deeds budget to health-protection research at places like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Lymphoma Research Foundation. Call to ask what life-protection programs you could help support.

    It’s not luck but what we DO that—especially in an economy like this one—decides who shall live and who shall die, who shall prosper and who shall fall by the wayside. PR can help management to both promote life and benefit from it. PR can earn management’s recognition as not just an expense but protective like fire sprinklers, and productive of sales like the marketing ideas of savvy Christa Carone.

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