When it comes to creating experiences for customers of high-end products, the target customer is generally from the high net worth individual category. These customers buy high-end model cars, doctors have a huge influence on the drug sales of pharmaceutical companies and it is these customers' big-money deposits that make more money for the banks.
What do you offer such a person? Ocean cruises and European holidays have been done to death. Look for an experiential option which they would find hard to resist. Companies that manufacture or sell luxury items are redefining (for India) the way they create different experiences for their present and prospective customers.
In many cases it is not about selling products any more, it's about selling a lifestyle or an experience through the life cycle of their products. Few would resist an invitation to be part of a very select group of HNIs from 10 countries being flown (1st Class please) to Abu Dhabi on a Friday. Spending Saturday at the amazing Ferrari World complex, only to top it off with Sunday inside the exalted environs of the F1 VIP Paddock Club, watching the Abu Dhabi F1 GP from just above the Pit Lane, while sipping champagne and rubbing shoulders with glitterati of all kinds and denominations from around the world.
Ask a bunch of HNIs if they would want to go to Sweden for two days of ice driving on a frozen lake and stay in an ice hotel and 90 per cent acceptance is guaranteed. F1 and other exotic motorsports events are famous hospitality destinations for some of the world's largest corporate entities who spend large sums of money in inviting their elite customers for such experiences. Companies generally create such exclusive experiences for their target customers so that they can convey a very specific message about their brand or product.
However, it is becoming increasingly critical, but more complex, for companies to target specific customers segments with specific communication. How deep can one go to talk directly to one's customers? Advertising talks to everyone, it is informative, but with today's reducing attention span, there is a huge amount of peripheral loss for some products/companies. Mass mailers talk to no one in particular and seem to have lost their effectiveness. PR is an increasingly important, but grossly under-utilised avenue for mass as well as targeted communication. Companies have hence taken to experiential marketing in a big way to attract and retain customers, both internal and external.
Let me give you an example of how such experiential marketing can work wonders even within a company. The last company I worked for is one of the world's largest automobile manufacturers. A few weeks before we were to launch our brand and a slew of products, we heard murmurs within the company. "Why is it that we have to hear and read about our product launches and other announcements in the next day's newspapers? How is our brand going to be positioned in the market? Why can't we get to touch/feel the cars before they are launched?"
They were right. We had shown our cars and taken feedback from secretive focus groups and some dealers, worked with our various agency partners on everything to build up to the launch of the brand and our products, but we had not connected with a large part of our internal customers, most of whom were not part of the marketing process. A week before the national launch, we created an experience zone at a venue, and had our entire India management team present and then unveiled, in front of 1,500 employees, the soon to be launched car along with the entire communication plan that would begin to roll out very soon. This sneak-peek experience won the hearts of our employees and made most of them our brand ambassadors.
This company was also the first to have demonstration runs of the real F1 cars on Indian roads, a five-hour F1 road show on the Rajpath in November 2008. More than 1 lakh F1 enthusiasts lined the Rajpath to watch it and many millions watched our F1 cars burning rubber on the Rajpath at 300+ kmph, live on almost every conceivable TV channel across the country. It was a hugely successful brand building exercise for a fledgling entity in India.
The F1 is truly the pinnacle of automobile engineering and having such a huge footprint in the F1 space was too much to let go. Hence, the 2011 F1 GP in India was the time to reconnect the parent brand with F1, in the hearts and minds of the Indian market. A two-month F1 Experience plan was drawn up. The star was a real F1 show car, minus the engine and electronics. A traveling F1 experience zone was created, where the F1 car and game simulators were displayed along with production cars at malls and dealer showrooms in six cities. A major internet portal was roped in to run an F1 game. Contests were run in colleges and malls around F1 and the parent brand. Prizes ranged from F1 merchandise to photo-ops with the F1 car, grand stand tickets and pit walks at the F1 GP to a personal meeting with the F1 team drivers.
By all accounts, the multi-layered F1 experience that was created to connect Indian customers with the parent brand had an extremely positive impact.
(This is the second part in the three-part series of Experience It. The final part of Ashish Sinharoy's article will be published soon)