The Customer Experience and Experiential Marketing

customer experience and experiential marketing

If your brand were an airline, would you be Southwest or American?

We put this question to a client as an afternoon discovery session wound down. Without missing a beat, he said:

“Neither. We’d be Virgin America. Because our brand is about fun — it’s got cool factor, yes, but it’s still universally appealing and democratic. It’s also just a great experience. Every last detail is thoughtful.”

My rebelliously active imagination may be wrong, but I believe we all took a moment to mourn the national loss of mood lighting and snacks on demand. Why, Alaska, why?

But of course we know why, and this is the challenge we face as marketers. Every day, we must deliver a consistently memorable customer experience in spite of what is often a competing priority: For greater profits, or, if you’re an airline, for any profit at all.

For many industries and brands, the shift from the outmoded mindset of marketing as a cost center to a more data-driven, holistic concept of the discipline has been transformative. And you really can’t have one without the other. Talk ROI to me all day long, but if customer experience isn’t a part of the marketing strategy, those ever-sharper SEM buys won’t be worth much.

When a brand gets customer experience right, the results can be sweet indeed. Coca-Cola’s #shareacoke campaign was a smash. Cole Haan stalking me in my Facebook private messages because I looked at some loafers recently? Now I just want to delete Cole Haan, too. (This is not “opening a conversation,” Facebook.)

Customer experience is a discipline in its own right, a vital and humane aspect of the business of marketing that all of us should care about, but something that experiential marketers, in particular, should cling to with the tenacity of a limpet.

There’s simply no better channel — not social, not email, not digital, not print — that has more potential to deliver a memorable, distinctive customer experience. You can, quite literally, turn on the mood lighting.

A great customer experience isn’t to be confused with customer service, although that’s part of it. (If you’re new to the “CX” discussion, Forrester has been all over it for a while.)

Rather, great Customer Experience is things like:

Apple. It just works. And darn if it ain’t beautiful, too. Plus, the retail stores were revolutionary.

Amazon. Ruthless obsession with optimization has a name, and it is Jeff Bezos. (Finally, they’re starting to care about their employees’ experience, too.)

There are plenty of other examples, old and new, from Nordstrom’s return policy to Sephora’s loyalty program. These are the brands you love to buy from, the brands you recommend. The brands you’d go to a tradeshow or event or pop-up to experience in person.

Some companies want to be Virgin, others are Virgin — Check out how Virgin Galactic took their release event to the desert.

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