By: Ian McGonnigal
Think about the last time you went to a concert. When you looked around, were you struck by the sight of concertgoers losing themselves in the musical experience? Or did you find yourself watching most of the show through other people’s smartphones as they captured videos they would later share on Facebook?
If the latter sounds dismally accurate, cheer up. An anti-social media see change may be on the rise. There seems to be a quiet revolution starting—some people are being more selective about what they share. Instead of Instagramming every meal, they’re opting to keep precious moments private. And there’s a valuable lesson for brands in this trend.
As people disengage from social, even for just a little while, they demand more from in-person experiences. The key to winning over customers is to provide a world-class experience wherever they find you.
In this blog, I’ll show you why experiences matter for customers and how to implement them into your marketing plan.
Digital Is Here to Stay
Don’t misunderstand me: Social media’s day in the sun is far from over. Consumers maintain a digital-first mentality in all areas of their lives, and social and other online channels often serve as the first touchpoints when they engage with a brand.
To illustrate the level of connectedness at which most consumers operate, consider that Americans collectively check their phones nine billion times a day, according to Deloitte. There’s no point at which their smartphones are off-limits, either.
Unlike the days when people refused to answer their landlines during dinner or after certain times in the evening, consumers are on their phones from morning until night. This “always on” smartphone habit both challenges marketers and makes their jobs easier. On the one hand, you can reach people anytime on a variety of channels and platforms. The Global Web Index found that your average adult spends two hours a day on social networks alone, giving you a broad window in which to connect.
On the other hand, every other brand has those same opportunities. To stand out from the crowd, you need to deliver real value.
The Value of Experience
Increasingly, that value must come in the form of immersive experiences, not just digital ad campaigns. With the number of potential touchpoints on the rise, consumers’ expectations are higher than ever. Altitude found that 84% of people expect brands to respond to social media messages within a day, and 47% expect contact within an hour.
Fortunately, they don’t necessarily expect those responses to come from humans. More than half of consumers interviewed for a report by LivePerson said their customer service rating drops if they have to wait more than two minutes, but most also said they had great experiences when dealing with bots, sometimes even preferring them to humans.
Chatbots and other digital tools can help boost the customer experience without incurring massive personnel costs. However, in-person experiences are still growing in importance, especially among Millennials.
Young consumers value experiences over tangible goods, so they’re more likely to respond positively when brands offer something beyond social media posts. Certainly, some experiences are designed to be shared. But ultimately, sharing will become secondary to experience.
From ‘Why?’ to ‘How?’
Once you realize the importance of in-person experiences, the question becomes: How do you create these immersive events? You look for ways to bring authentic interactions to consumers wherever they are.
Netflix, for example, promoted the second season of “Stranger Things” over the weekend before Halloween with a fleet of immersive Lyft rides in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Riders could opt into a car outfitted with static sounds, people in hazmat suits, flickering lights, and a being that was seemingly stuck in the ceiling when they turned on “Strange Mode” within the app.
These one-of-a-kind experiences are exactly what will endear your target customers to your brand. According to EventTrack, 74% of people surveyed said they’re more likely to buy from a company after attending a relevant event, whereas Tradedoubler found that 49% of consumers dismiss digital marketing messages because they’re irrelevant.
Clearly, the more face time you get with consumers, the better you’ll be able to anticipate their needs.
Keeping It Personal
Of course, you won’t be able to meet every customer at an in-person event. But you can deliver seamless sales and service experiences, along with genuine, personalized messaging.
Interruptive media such as pop-up ads or commercials that interrupt content streams do nothing but annoy people, so move away from these tactics.
Instead, you want to create digital experiences that foster conversations and real engagement. For example, Barneys now uses digital data to enhance in-store interactions, bridging the gap between the online and physical worlds.
A sales associate might use information collected in a brand app to better assist customers in a brick-and-mortar shop. The result is a seamless experience that feels far more personalized than simply sending digital notifications or posting to social media.
Social for social’s sake comes across as tacky. But if you’re actually talking to people and engaging with their content as well as your own, you’ll ultimately win them over. The more organic you can make your audience relationships, the higher the chance of retaining them as lifetime customers.
Building the Experience
To create those organic encounters:
Hang out where your customers are. Find out which social platforms they use and where they source recommendations for new purchases. Get to know them through those forums to establish trust and a genuine rapport.
Be mindful of your messaging. Talk to consumers like they’re real people, blending emotion and rationality when persuading them to buy from you. Make sure your strategies and content reflect your brand’s values as well. A mismatch in tone and message feels off to people, and they’ll sniff out insincerity immediately.
Make it easy for people to buy from you. Once they trust your brand and are willing to give you a shot, don’t send customers on a scavenger hunt for your call to action. Guide them toward conversion at every point — remember the experience should be seamless, not a headache-inducing nightmare as they’re trying to buy.
Above all, play favorites. Track customer behavior to identify your warmest leads, and send some extra-personalized attention their way. They’re already on the path to conversion, so a bonus code or another incentive might be the touch that pushes them toward a purchase.
The Right Experiences for the Right Customers
As you build both digital and in-person brand experiences, choose your channels with care. Don’t use text, chatbots, social, and messaging apps just because they’re available to you. Get to know your audience members, and build experiences around their preferences.
What would delight them? What would make their work lives easier? What’s the one thing that would make their day? If you can answer those questions, you’ll find yourself winning your customers both online and in real life. As consumers reprioritize experiences over social engagement, they’ll want to be more present—and if your brand can deliver, they’ll be more willing to put down their phones.
What examples of experience marketing have captured your attention? How might you implement experiences into your marketing plan?