S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University
BrandStand: Experiential Marketing
Selling an experience is one of the hardest things for any brand to portray effectively. Many brands will use a variety of tactics so that you can test drive their product—everything from free samples and free trials to discounts and promotions. Those tactics work for tangible products, but experiences are much harder to describe if consumers don’t have access to a brand or don’t have the means to try it out—such as hotels or travel industry services. Successful brands in the experience business have built a loyal, almost cult-like following, but they usually only have one opportunity to make a first impression to earn your business. In the travel industry, creating a cult-like following can be a challenge.
I spent six years in the online travel industry with Orbitz.com, and during my time there, I had the opportunity to sample and experience numerous hotels, airlines, rental car companies, etc. Everything about travel is deeply rooted in personal experiences—like star ratings and consumer travel reviews. Have a bad experience at a hotel or with an airline, and there are tons of ways to voice your negative opinions. When the experience is great and they have earned your trust and loyalty, you are more likely to personally tell people about your experience. You essentially become an extension of the brand.
My experiences at Orbitz actually turned me into somewhat of a hotel snob based on some amazing and not-so-amazing hotel stays. My favorite hotel brand is Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Their focus is all about providing “Extraordinary Experiences,” and they had me hooked from the first time I ever stepped foot into one of their luxury hotels.
My love of Four Seasons has only grown stronger over the years because of the personalized level of service they provide, and they are the most kid-friendly of all the luxury brands I have sampled. They keep track of every detail, and they take the extra time to know their guests. They know their customers’ preferences, names and ages of children and a myriad of other details.
The Four Seasons brand is special because of its culture and people. Four Seasons employees are happy and it shows. They love their jobs, and that resonates with the level of service they provide. Four Seasons employees are empowered to go above and beyond to ensure that every guest experience is memorable and unique to the guest. Isadore Sharp, founder of Four Seasons, even wrote a book entitled Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy to describe their focus on quality, service, culture and brand.
You don’t need to buy the book to understand Four Seasons and what they believe. They describe it in detail on their web site using phrases like “offering only experiences of exceptional quality” and “to be recognized as the company that manages the finest hotels, resorts and residence clubs wherever we locate” and “our greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people.”
There are countless other brands that create quality experiences, but very few win long-term customer loyalty.
Another brand that I admire is The North Face, with its slogan of “Never Stop Exploring.” They continue to win loyalty because they not only create quality clothing and accessories that appeal to adventure seekers and everyone else, but they create an experience. Many of their products are backed with limited lifetime warranties and repair services.
I recently tested this out with a pair of cargo shorts that started to breakdown. I contacted The North Face and sent my shorts in for repair; a few weeks later they were returned good as new. They made it easier for me to “never stop exploring,” and they continue to win my loyalty. It doesn’t stop there. The North Face is focused on experiences.
They realize that everyone buying their clothing and gear may not be adventure seekers or that their customers may want to sample certain experiences. The North Face hosts an Endurance Challenge series and Mountain Athletics Training. They feature the Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series so you can experience inspiration from The North Face Explorers. And they recently introduced virtual reality experiences in their retail stores as a way for people to experience exploration. Want to base-jump or see the view from the top of a mountain? You can experience that from the safety of their retail stores.
Mark Verone is the vice president of global marketing and product operations and services at Gogo. Gogo provides aero communications services to the commercial and business aviation markets in the U.S. and internationally. Prior to Gogo, Mark was the director of partner marketing operations at Orbitz Worldwide. He holds a bachelor’s degree in television, radio, film management and speech communications from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.