A Sure-Fire Way To Boost Holiday Sales

It’s no longer enough just to push merchandise. These days, customers want meaningful experiences.

By Brook Sutton November 25, 2015

On October 14, 2012, skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere. It took more than two years to plan, two and a half hours to ascend and just under nine minutes to make it back to Earth. He broke the world record for the highest skydive ever (127,851 feet or 24 miles), broke the sound barrier and darn near broke the Internet. NASA had nothing to do with it. Baumgartner’s leap watched ’round the world was bankrolled by Red Bull.

The Red Bull Stratos mission is experiential marketing at its best. For perspective, a single Red Bull video of the jump has more than 39 million views (and counting). That doesn’t account for global coverage of the jump, live streaming by millions or other online videos associated with the mission. According to a March 2014 article in Ad Age, Red Bull’s U.S. sales increased 7 percent in the six months following the event.

Stratos helped Red Bull form an intimate connection with an audience that is curious about extreme adventure, what the human body can handle, calculated risk-taking and emotional fortitude. It reinforced Red Bull’s brand and moved millions of viewers. Although a marketing campaign of that caliber isn’t a reality for most brands or retailers, its lessons are directly transferable.

What is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential—or engagement or shopper—marketing is any activation that allows a consumer to engage with a brand or product. It encompasses interactive displays on a retail floor, lifestyle-based merchandising strategies and branded events. The focus is on creating an interaction, not a transaction—though the latter typically follows the former.

Above all, it’s an approach that puts the consumers’ needs first. In a 2008 joint report with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Deloitte Consulting phrased it this way: “Shopper marketing is…based on deep consumer insights, building brand equity and then driving purchase behavior…When done well, a shopper should feel like the store was designed just for him/her. He/she will visit more frequently, dwell longer and make better product choices.”

This holiday season, keep this in mind: Thirty-five percent of outdoor consumers who enter a store with a purchase-based intent are open to new ideas from merchandising and sales staff. More than half of all outdoor consumers shop at brick and mortar (OIA ConsumerVue Infographic) stores and 47 percent of in-store shoppers buy on impulse, says Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group: Engage, inform and guide their buying decisions with experiences that indulge their impulses.

The focus is on creating an interaction, not a transaction—though the latter typically follows the former.

Find inspiration from these outdoor brands that employ different tactics to connect emotionally with their audience.

Case Study 1: Making Laundry a Party

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Nikwax partnered with a Seattle retailer and laundromat Lunar Laundry to host its laundry party event.

Nikwax recently launched a “Laundromat Takeover” program with its retail partners. Customers are invited to a wash-a-thon, where their dirty, abused gear is cleaned and revived with Nikwax products.

The takeovers are an opportunity for the hosting retailer and Nikwax to engage, educate and connect with with customers. Nikwax provides the cleaning and waterproofing products free of charge, plus take-home samples for attendees and education for retail staff. The retailer provides refreshments, music and other activities to create a strong feeling of community.

“It is such a wonderful way to tell the before-and-after story,” explains Heidi Dale Allen, marketing director for Nikwax North America. “[Customers] see the whole cleaning process and how it affects their gear, in person. It shows them how simple the process is and how easy it is to take care of their gear.”

Case Study 2: A Virtual Experience to Inspire Real-World Exploration

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A customer at The North Face retail store takes a virtual rock climbing tour in Yosemite National Park with the special virtual reality goggles provided in-store.

In March 2015, The North Face used technology to bring two of our nation’s most revered landscapes right to the sales floor. In three North Face retail locations—New York, Chicago and San Francisco—customers can don virtual reality (VR) headsets and enjoy an immersive, cinematic journey through Yosemite National Park and Moab, Utah. The goal: inspire people to get outside. “It’s a compelling way to share the outdoors and ignite someone’s passion to go see it for themselves,” says Eric Oliver, the brand’s director of digital marketing. “VR is just taking off, and we see it as an amazing vehicle for immersive storytelling.”

“It’s a compelling way to share the outdoors and ignite someone’s passion to go see it for themselves.” —Eric Oliver, The North Face director of digital marketing

Case Study 3: Interactive Displays and Thoughtful Merchandising

Customers walking into Under Armour’s flagship retail store, Chicago Brand House, are immersed in a full-sensory experience of sport, empowerment and inspiration. A five-sided, 700-square-foot digital Jumbotron greets customers at the entrance with NBA games, live college football, Under Armour ads and other sport-related videos. Floor-to-ceiling graphics and larger-than-life displays draw customers in, and then make it easy for them to find what they need and to explore other products relevant to their lifestyle. What’s more, the brand refers to its customers as athletes and its sales associates as teammates, reinforcing its brand messaging at every stage of engagement.

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Kids and adults can test and track their performance jump height and foot speed against pro athletes in Under Armour’s Chicago Brand House’s “What’s the Record” installation.

“We are a brand of empowerment, meaning everything we do is to make athletes better,” says Dan Leraris, vice president of Under Armour Brand House. “Our interactive- and experience-based initiatives in our retail stores are a major contributor to creating the connection between our brand and the consumer. They should feel like they are a part of something when they enter our store. They are coming to our house and should leave with the inspiration and aspiration to achieve their own goals and objectives.”

“Our interactive- and experience-based initiatives in our retail stores are a major contributor to creating the connection between our brand and the consumer.” —Dan Leraris, vice president of Under Armour Brand House.

In the Chicago Brand House, Under Armour customers can try an on-floor TRX system and test Under Armour’s fitness tracking app, UA Record. There is also a “What’s the Record?” training program in the kids’ department that allows kids and adults to measure how high they can jump and how fast they can run in place. The top 30 scores—which accommodate for age, height and weight—are showcased at the display, and Under Armour will email results to enable its customers to gauge their progress each visit. Developed by Under Armour for professional athletes, the program is a unique point of engagement and inspiration for young athletes.

Experiential marketing puts consumer engagement ahead of transactions; it helps brands and retailers to forge an emotional connection with customers. Whether you create an in-store experience or an off-site event, virtually transport your customers to wild lands far away or take them into the stratosphere via social media, what matters is the significance of the interaction.