HRExaminer v3.36 September 7, 2012
Table of Contents
by Susan Strayer and Brett Minchington
Experiential marketing has successfully been used by brands over the past few years to connect with consumers to drive sales and profit. Appealing to a variety of senses, the goal of experiential marketing is to establish the connection in such a way that the consumer responds to a product offering on both emotional and rational levels.
The role of experiential marketing in branding
Brand is about reputation. It’s what you hear, think and feel about a organization and its product or service–that’s the brand. What’s changed is the role people play in brands. We care more than ever about what other people say about a brand, or how they rate a product. 2012 marketing data shows that conversion rates are 105% higher when ratings and reviews are used by customers.
As customers, we’re smarter because information about a product or brand is more accessible. Since that information is there, we use it. We experience the brand before we make a choice. And marketers are increasingly taking notice. I don’t mean social media–we all know marketers are making exceptional use of online channels. I mean experiences–marketers aren’t just introducing products and brands. They’re giving customers ways to experience the brand in increasingly personal and emotional ways.
Think about it this way–you’re at the grocery store staring at the shelf trying to decide which shampoo to buy. There’s no interaction and likely no emotional component. Instead, you’re just recalling information consciously and subconsciously in your head: commercials you’ve seen, what your friends use, what you’re typically loyal too. Then you make your choice.
But marketers have evolved. They know some things either can’t be sold on a shelf or can’t be sold well. In 2011, Nokia embraced this, launching their Lumia 800 phone with a dazzling 4-D light show featuring the popular cult DJ Deadmau5. It’s a wild show with incredible technology and pull-through marketing from the light show graphics displayed on the side of the building to the Deadmau5 ears given to attendees. Recently, Nokia jumped the most it has since 2008 primarily based on sales of the Lumia. Is experiential marketing the culprit? Well, the light show has over 4 million views on YouTube. You be the judge.
Using experiential marketing to build consumer and employer brand equity
Every time a company markets its products, there’s a secondary benefit to marketing the experience, especially when employees are a part of the activity. When employees are shown using, endorsing or supporting a product or a brand, it lends credence and authenticity. This kind of shared marketing saves money and shows employees’ pride and commitment.
Consider The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Long revered for their commitment to service, guests regularly stop employees (called Ladies and Gentlemen) to ask about the service and the little wallet-sized cards they carry around, called Credo cards. Those cards define the way the Ladies and Gentlemen provide service, thus defining both the consumer and the employment experience. If you can’t deliver the service and values dictated on the card, you’re not a ‘cultural fit’ for employment.
Companies are finally starting to take notice the role employees can play. Apple recently revamped their in-store experience to emulate The Ritz-Carlton and it’s working. Great service focused on building a brand experience serves as a foundation for both brand loyalty and career interest.
Beyond the foundation, there are other ways to infuse employees into your marketing experiences that build brand equity. They can be as big as Nokia (imagine if employees were involved in that light show, or there was a coordinated employee follow-up effort after the event?) Or they can be everyday marketing experiences reimagined as employee showcases. Consider your average trade show. You might have a few employees staffing a booth waiting for interested vendors, buyers or customers, many of whom may have an employee profile similar to what you hire for.
Rethink that traditional booth from stagnant to experiential. Involve hundreds of employees instead of three or four. Position them all over the trade floor, conference center or hotel engaging with those customers in a way that’s both on-brand and innovative. Your marketing team or agency can drive the experience–the point is the difference that it makes. You’re building joint equity and solving for two unique brand challenges at the same time.
Connecting employees to customers to build employer brand equity
Putting your employees at the heart of your consumer brand marketing can have a positive impact on your culture.
Remember it starts at the top! Consider the role Sir Richard Branson’s antics play in building employer brand equity at Virgin Group. Across its companies, Virgin employs approximately 50,000 people, in 34 countries and had global branded revenues of around £13bn ($21bn) in 2011. Virgin believes in making a difference. They stand for ‘value for money’, ‘quality’, ‘innovation’, ‘fun’ and ‘a sense of competitive challenge’. They strive to achieve this by empowering our employees to continually deliver an unbeatable customer experience.
Each company benefits from ‘Brand Branson’ whose behaviors espouse what Virgin stands for. Articulating ‘a sense of competitive challenge’, in 1991, Branson became the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean in a balloon. He traveled nearly 7,000 miles between Japan and Canada, and clocked speeds as high as 240 miles per hour. The trip was fraught with tense moments, including the loss of two fuel tanks. The loss of balloon altitude control caused the crew to reach treacherous altitudes, well over 40,000 feet. Pilot and co-pilot later missed their landing goal by 2,000 miles. Originally headed for Los Angeles, they landed in a remote part of the North Canadian Rocky Mountains instead.
Heineken put their employees in the consumer front line at the Heineken Experience, a brewery tour of the global beer brand located in Amsterdam. The centre is designed to educate the public on the process of pilsner brewing as well as bringing the Heineken product and brand to life. The visitor experience comprises four levels of historical artifacts, product exploration and sampling, and interactive exhibits which employ the latest high-tech multi-media technologies. If you’ve been fortunate to visit the centre, you’ll see just how engaged employees are in the Heineken brand, it’s like being at a college end of year party! But you won’t just see 21 year old employees providing the Heineken Experience, you’ll also see the 40+ somethings getting into the action. Consumers have a great experience and employees have a great experience delivering them an emotional connection to the Heineken brand.
Don’t ignore the associated risks
Putting all your eggs in one basket to connect consumers to your brand through consumer brand marketing involving celebrities or employee ‘brand ambassadors’ is not without risk. Consider every single marketing activity Accenture, a global consulting firm, implemented to build brand equity and then consider the impact on the brand once the Tiger Woods scandal broke. The impact was so great I don’t even need to mention what actually occurred (you probably already know from the global media coverage of the event!). But for those who want to know the intimate details a quick search on Tiger Woods Scandal will help you! Brand equity takes years of hard work to build and can be destroyed in seconds so choose brand ambassadors carefully.
Experiential marketing is not popular (or suitable) in all Industries. Oil and Gas companies have to consider carefully how they build brand equity by involving employees in consumer marketing activities. There is a tendency to ‘play it safe.’ It doesn’t matter what BP does, good or bad, it will be written about, and mostly connected to the 2008 oil spill. It also gets attention on sites not endorsed by the company such as the spoof twitter account @BPGlobalPR which has a following of more than 150,000!
10 tips to harness the power of experiential marketing for your employer brand
1) Think like a marketer: to understand the how experiential marketing might work for employer brand, you have to start with the basics of marketing. Whether you work in HR or non-related marketing field, if you don’t have an education in basic marketing, get one before you do anything else.
2) Consider emotion: as leaders we, ironically, get caught up in the business of what we have to do. From ROI to strategic planning, it’s easy to forget that the business is people. Since marketing is about emotion, it’s important to consider the emotions of your future employees and what matters to them most.
3) Build a relationship with your CMO: to be effective, the employer brand has to be aligned with the master brand, and there has to be a strong partnership between HR and marketing. It’s important that the CMO sees the value employees can lend to consumer brand marketing and the role HR can play.
4) Understand your workforce: to best use employees for experiential marketing you have to know them–who the best performers are, who adores and evangelizes the brand, and personal and personal habits. Bottom line–you’ll need some data
5) Evaluate current consumer marketing channels for employee participation: you don’t have to start from scratch to find experiences to use employees. Look at ways to turn traditional channels (like a commercial) into experiences (live events building on the commercials led by employees).
6) Identify and appoint ambassadors to represent your brand and involve them in your consumer marketing initiatives. Get your leaders leading from the front! Company founders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) and Tony Hsieh (Zappos) have had a lasting impact at both the consumer and employer brand level for their organizations which has translated into higher revenues and numerous articles about what a great place they are to work.
7) Build market reach and communicate your distinctive assets. Make others want to share your photos and videos. It will help you reach passive consumers and candidates by exposing your brand to thousands or millions you may never have considered reaching out to. Just don’t market to your existing loyal users, brand growth will come from those who have very little experience with your brand.
8) Connect with customers already passionate about your brand. To attract staff to work at their mega store in Sydney, IKEA inserted career instructions inside the famous IKEA flat packs. Customers literally delivered the mailer to themselves. They could then also share it with friends and family and many customers applied to work there! Not only did it talk directly to those who love the brand, it created a whole new media channel – the flat packs themselves. The campaign resulted in 4285 applications and 280 hires with $0 media spend!
9) Let your employees communicate your EVP. You can’t bluff consumers and candidates! They will react to your behaviors more than what you say in your communications. This is where experiential marketing can help. Your behaviors are on full show and consumers will judge you on how you behave.
10) Use experiential marketing to make work more interesting. Employer Brand International’s (I’ll link this when the media release is live on Wed 15 Aug) latest global research shows interesting work is the number one attribute employees are seeking in the employment experience, the reason why they chose their current employer and why they stay. Each year at HeadHunter, Russia largest online job board, they celebrate with a specially themed event. Not to out do their rockstars event to celebrate the company’s 11th birthday, their end of year 2011 Bollywood theme party had a major impact on the company’s employer brand, already rated as one of best in Russia’s. Thousands shared their videos and photos from the events reinforcing to their customers why they do business with them!
Susan Strayer is the Founder of Exaqueo, a consulting firm for brand and talent strategies. She’s a veteran of in-house talent and brand leadership roles and speaks and writes on talent innovation and brand definition. You can find her @SusanStrayer or at www.exaqueo.com.
Brett Minchington is Chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International. Brett is an International strategist, corporate advisor and author on employer branding who has trained thousands of leaders in more than 45 cities around the world. You can follow him on twitter @brettminch or at www.brettminchington.com
On Riding a Trojan Horse
Big companies no longer pursue Research and Development the way they once did. There is no contemporary equivalent of Xerox Parc or AT&T’s Bell Labs. Not that long ago, innovation was the product of the laboratories that every major company owned. There has been no real move to replace the investments that those large companies used to make in R&D. The massive refinancing of the private sector made it impossible to afford the lack of predictability in innovation departments.
When companies were financed in a more straightforward way (and not saddled with debt), they could afford to be freer with their internal investments. With the right management, brilliance was a result. With bad management, operations like Parc delivered their innovation flow to guys like Steve Jobs
Much of what happens in the merger and acquisition marketplace is a reflection of this disconnect. Companies need innovation to grow. The management of innovation is to tricky and risky for a public company to handle. So, new functionality comes in the form of a purchased company.
A deal like last week’s purchase of Kenexa by IBM simply wouldn’t have happened. Neither the Oracle – Taleo nor the SAP – Success Factors arrangements would have made sense. The coming wave of consolidating purchases would have been unthinkable.
Today, big companies purchase innovation on the open market. Most contemporary software startups are built to sell, not built to grow.This phenomenon, which some people call the ‘appification’ of enterprise software, is a perfectly reasonable adjustment to the fundamental financial shift in the marketplace.
Innovation has to happen whether or not big companies can afford it. As a result, smaller and smaller increments of value are worth more and more. A good look at the startup battlefield will suffice to remind you that most of the offerings are not more than an item on a drop down menu. The shape of today’s innovation is a small company experimenting with a very narrow range of functionality. If there ever was a test of the market’s invisible hand, we’re witnessing it today.
In the old model, an innovation didn’t have to be much more than a good idea. The transistor (which is the foundation of the computer chip industry) was invented at Bell Labs. Many consider it to be one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. It was never assessed for economic viability. Even though it now drives the computer industry, it was never imagined that it would serve the purpose it does.
Today’s innovations are infinitely less impressive than the transistor.
Today’s entrepreneurs, investor backed or otherwise, are faced with twin demons. They have to innovate and then sell the innovation while still innovating. It’s a challenging set of obstacles. Most of the members of the entrepreneurial class are better engineers than salespeople.
That explains the flood of companies whose sales plan is to “turn users into buyers”. It’s an oft-repeated refrain. A good number of the commentators on last week’s Kenexa purchase cited the idea that the user is now the customer.
That belief underlies the flood of tools trying to enter the enterprise in the pockets of its employees. The theory is that once an internal groundswell is reached, the person who signs the contract won’t have any choice. User-centric freemium tools that propose to generate meaningful new data extracted from their users are the current vogue.
This ‘Trojan Horse’ marketing scheme is what we’re hearing most often from small startups who might be better advised to actually build an enterprise sales force. From here, it looks like the entrepreneurs are betting on an early purchase of their company by a bigger player in search of additional increments of innovation. There are a ton of companies peddling freemium services to users in hopes of snagging corporate accounts.
Imagine, now, that you are the department head responsible for signing the check on these deals. Employees, who have a somewhat limited view of corporate needs and resources, now want to have meetings to tell you about the latest cool app on their cell phone. How many of those meetings will happen before the sifting process gets really extreme?
Market complexity is the normal condition of the Recruiting and HR Industry. With warring factions, cultural differences, regional biases, profession driven sales techniques and 50 Million annual customized transactions, it is not surprising that no company has ever owned more than 4% of the domestic American marketplace.
It is difficult to explain the recurring expectation that the Internet will somehow change the historical foundations of an industry. In all of the successful Internet plays to date, the roots of industries remain unchanged. For the most part, the Internet has been a revolution in distribution, not production. Inventory is more accessible and choice broadens.
The real legacy of this temporary social media era is that with more choice comes more decision making
The Recruiting marketplace is huge and expanding rapidly. As the value of employees increases, driven by labor shortages, skill shortages and geographic displacement, the amount of money budgeted for Recruiting transactions increases. It really is that straightforward.
So when someone forecasts a change in recruiting driven by decreasing costs, look very closely.
While the hiring tactics of Silicon Valley (and other high tech regions) dominate the news, there are profound changes at work in even the most non-technical companies. In order to meet labor demands in rural areas, staffing companies are operating bus lines. Stodgy specialized regional employers are expanding education benefits beyond the traditional boundaries of the company. Some technology firms are building what are essentially company towns in order to control the output of the local education system.
The poorly covered immigration wave (which is larger numerically than any historical precedent) demands in house language and literacy development training. Only a sustained immigration and absorption program will begin to solve the draconian shortages we face in the pure number of bodies available for work at certain levels of the economy. They just don’t get much air time.
It’s one of those historic moments. Labor surpluses and shortages across the economy. Lots of bodies but few of them in the right place at the right time with the right skills. Technology driven dislocation. Capital driven dislocation.
The economy is going to remain stalled or declining until consumers regain both cash and confidence. While Recruiters (and HR pros) have little influence about job growth, we are in a position to generate ideas. As a profession, we know things that could be used to help the change.
Where are out professional associations?