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November 7, 2007

PRODUCT LAUNCHES: Why the experience counts

If you think experiential marketing is new, think again. As far back as ancient China, Confucius was singing its praises. “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand,” he said, with an uncannily keen appreciation of the problems of traditional forms of advertising. For Out of the Blue Communications’ creative director Nigel Scott, the words of the great Chinese philosopher perfectly sum up why experiential marketing should be at the heart of all product launches.

“There is no better way to make consumers believe in your product than actually giving them the opportunity to see, touch and feel it,” he says. “Nothing can do this like an experience.”

Ignored in the 1980s
According to Nigel Lloyd Jones at FitchLive, back in the 1980s, the infinite wisdom of Confucius was ignored, particularly in the automotive sector. “Back then it was more ‘you can see, but don’t touch’,” he says. “Now it’s all about the experience of driving the car. It’s about giving dealers, priority customers or press a privileged first-hand experience, before the end user. People need a personal experience to properly understand the strengths of a product; to be convinced by it – and this is becoming more and more important. It helps create a more cohesive relationship with key audiences, building a partnership. This is particularly essential for dealers and distributors, as, if done well, they can get to truly understand the product and its development, and be better equipped to deliver it to market.”

All of which are vital in a world where many of the same kind of products exist, making differentiating yours from the crowd harder than ever, yet increasingly important. But creating an experiential launch isn’t as easy as simply letting someone try the product. By just providing an engaging and entertaining sampling opportunity, you are missing a key experiential trick.

Education along with experience
“One of the biggest pitfalls is believing that experiential marketing can’t provide information alongside entertainment,” says Scott. “A properly designed and created experience can deliver fun and educate. Experiential is not just glorified sampling or field marketing, it can offer so much more.”

Lloyd Jones agrees, and also believes that how you present this information is key. “Don’t go overboard on technical details,” he advises. “Often an audience is mainly concerned with customer benefits. So you need to know what information the audience needs and get the balance right.”

Lloyd Jones also stresses that it’s important to avoid telling an audience what to think. “Convey the idea behind the product and rationale, but ultimately invite the audience to make up its own mind and give feedback,” he says. “Don’t patronise them.”

Avoid extremes
Although the experience is of prime importance, as this is what truly gets the audience engaged with the product, Lloyd Jones recommends building in parameters to avoid going over the top.

“Having organised many successful product launches for General Motors, we launched the Mariva in Valencia last year,” he explains. “So that delegates could really get to grips with the benefits of the car, we devised an urban drive route for them to take. Unfortunately, it was a little too stressful for some of the delegates, and although the launch worked well, I feel it could have been even more successful if the experience hadn’t been so extreme.”

So the experience should be a vital part of a product launch, and it’s also important to add an educational element about the brand as well as the product itself, but don’t get too carried away.

Aims and objectives
Ultimately, getting the right balance of experience and education is down to the right preparation.

“The key factor in any product launch experience is agreeing exactly what the objectives are for the campaign, and establishing what success will look like,” says Scott. “If sampling is key, then this can be built into the solution; likewise, if brand awareness is the ultimate objective, then this is the starting point for the campaign. An experience provides the brand with collateral to amplify and exploit across various different channels, but it must be agreed what channels need to be used in advance.”

According to Lloyd Jones, integration is also vital. “You need to think about brand fit and make sure the experience is integrated with the rest of the marketing campaign,” he advises. “In a car launch, for example, there’s lots of other marketing activity involved – TV and newspaper advertising, online marketing and exhibitions. The launch must sit appropriately with everything else. The look and feel need to be right, and it should be on message. Then the audience can see consistency, purpose and vision.”

Lloyd Jones also recommends leveraging all resources available for other marketing activity. “Use videos, visuals, etc from other elements of the campaign and this will help deliver the all-important consistent brand/product message and can save money,” he says.

Delivering the brand
So as well as effectively convincing an audience about a product, a live launch can also play a major role in delivering brand personality and positioning. “It must work in conjunction with an above-the-line campaign for this,” stresses Scott, “but taking the brand, putting it into the hands of the consumer and allowing them to experience it takes a massive step to their understanding of the role the brand can play in their lifestyle. This delivers impact way above a sample, an advert or editorial coverage.”

Outside of the actual content of the experience, the location and venue is also key. “Brand fit is vital here, too,” says Lloyd Jones. “For example, if you’re targeting young people with a European-wide product, Barcelona or Berlin would be appropriate as a destination.”

Just as with advertising, any great experiential campaign starts with a full and proper understanding of the market and its lifestyle profile. The skill then comes with converting this insight and brand message into an entertaining and enjoyable three-dimensional environment for the brand.  

“The real impact comes from the truth and originality of the insight,” says Scott. “We have seen a real shift in the marketplace with all age groups and market segments being prepared to engage with a brand in an experiential campaign. If you build it, they will come…”

Next week, Ian Whiteling looks at practical examples of experiential product launches, why they were successful and how this was measured.
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