Whether a company is selling 100 or 1,000 products, and whether it has a sales staff of ten or 10,000, all manufacturers and their channels need to clearly communicate key differentiators succinctly and consistently throughout the sales process. But recognizing that most sales environments are multichannel experiences, with customers learning about products and services online and offline, it has become increasingly important to provide the same engaging and rewarding experience at every touchpoint. Keeping the message consistent is challenging, particularly across sales teams, channel partners, online and offline venues, and sometimes over long sales cycles. But this is the mandate of experiential marketing: make every customer experience a memorable one.
As technologies become more sophisticated, so do customer demands for interactive experiences. Not long ago, customers were impressed by any form of interaction—a website that showed a product changing colors, for example. Zooming in on a product image was also a breakthrough capability. When websites allowed for products to be looked at from all sides—known as a “360˚ view”—customers were duly impressed. All had the effect of being interesting and engaging for a short while, but as customers became used to these experiences, their expectations grew. Today customers expect to interact with products in such a manner as to reveal their behavior, features and advantages.
So just what is interactivity? Interactivity is a bi-directional process involving the actions of one participant, and the responses to those actions, in a continuous feedback loop. By this definition, watching a video is not interactive. Simply clicking on a button is a one-way action. Just because something is online does not make it an interactive experience. Think of an interactive experience as a conversation. Action equals reaction.
Interactivity, therefore, is a key ingredient in building an emotional connection between a customer and a product. Non-interactive marketing options confine customers to a “listening” mode; even if the presentation has some flair, the opportunity for a truly personal, customized experience is lost. With no emotional connection, one widget is as good as the next. That said, those manufactures and retailers who’ve capitalized on everything interactivity offers are building experiences upon which brand loyalty is based. These have employed experiential marketing wholeheartedly.
According to the Experiential Marketing Research 2007 survey conducted by the International Experiential Marketing Association, the top three human associations related to experiential marketing include sensory experience, interaction and relationship—all of which are closely intertwined. Companies seeking to employ successful experiential marketing therefore, must:
• Provide sufficient information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm;
• deliver consistent product information across sales channels;
• create a truly interactive experience; and
• tap into those emotional qualities that drive the customer’s decision-making.
These characteristics must be present throughout the entire customer experience, not just for the presentation. In a retail environment, this could include lighting, background music, window displays, paint color and much more.
However, even after all of those requirements have been achieved, something more is still required to set one brand/product apart from another. And that something is the individual customer experience.
Research shows that when people participate actively in the sales process, they become more engaged, and their retention rate of key product information increases dramatically. Subsequently, the likelihood of a customer being prepared to make an informed buying decision is dramatically increased.
Today’s advanced technologies provide for a level of interaction that transcends what many expect. Customers can examine products “virtually” in a three-dimensional environment, with the ability to rotate, zoom, measure and, most importantly, interact with the product’s features and options any way they choose. This type of interactive functionality is being used online and offline. Customers are not the only ones to benefit; sales channels and manufacturers have an extraordinary opportunity to integrate key messaging and branding throughout the compelling virtual experiences.
By allowing customers to select and review the products and features based on their own interests and preferences, the experience is not only interactive, but customer focused. Customers in the driver’s seat can—at their own pace—learn about products through expert information and realistic product demonstrations. They can learn how each product works and meets (or does not meet) their own needs. Now that the process is interactive and engaging, the emotional aspect of the purchasing process is highly stimulated, and customers are more likely to purchase the most appropriate product for their needs. As a result, a greater number of customers are more satisfied with the sales experience, leading to increased customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Over the past decade, technology developments dedicated to fully representing products in a digital environment have focused on the following characteristics:
• Delivering realism: making the digital product look as close to the actual product as possible
• Mimicking behavior: making the digital product behave in the same way the actual product does (e.g., doors open, batteries are removed)
• Maximizing performance: making the digital product experience fluid and natural
While the requirements stated above are challenging, today’s advanced interactive 3D technology is paving the way for new methods of delivering compelling product and solution sales experiences. By “virtually” showcasing products, prospects can view “endless aisles” of products and from every angle, manipulate them to take a given action, and investigate them to reveal the internal components that show how and why a product actually works. Three-dimensional digital representations let customers see how products operate and can demonstrate how to install and maintain them. What’s more, with an interactive 3D solution comes the ability to seamlessly integrate product information, messaging and branding all into one compelling and memorable customer experience.
Fuelled by the demand for new ways to reach increasingly sophisticated and selective customer audiences, companies are rapidly incorporating dynamic, experiential encounters with rich interactive technologies into the marketing mix. Many are now leveraging virtual product experiences, enabling them to deliver experiences that are consistent and compelling, helping them to better reach their audiences and make relevant emotional connections to customers. This leads to more informed buying decisions and, ultimately, enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty.