BRAND EXPERIENCE MEETS COMMUNITY BUILDING

HOW EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING CAN RECONNECT CONSUMERS TO THE MARKET

Alexis Vera

EVP, Client Services

The bazaar, the souk, the forum . . . wherever it emerges and whatever it’s called, the market has long served as the center of society. When the invention of agriculture brought the need for trade, towns grew around central gathering places where people could exchange not only goods and services, but also ideas and inspiration.

Along the way, the market became the mall, the mall became a Costco, and the Costco became Amazon.com. As commerce increasingly became a commodity, the social functions of the authentic, community-making aspects of the market largely retreated behind shelves promising unlimited choice and convenience.

As a result, a new paradigm has emerged, one where community building and shareable, physical experiences serve as the foundation of commerce. The convenience and selection of e-commerce don’t connect communities, nor do they meet the standards of today’s experience-seeking, socially conscious shoppers: A whopping 78 percent of millennials say they prefer buying experiences over things.
So why are traditional retailers still shilling more commodities than connection? It’s time for the market 2.0. Forward-thinking brands are shifting perspective and budgets to optimize experiential marketing. They’re connecting technology and nontraditional physical spaces to create emotional, frictionless connections. Cost, convenience and choice still matter but only as spokes in an experiential flywheel primed to generate authentic brand love.

Digital-native retailers have to come to the party, too

Outdoor Voices wouldn’t exist as we know it outside of this brave new world. Launched online and grown through social media, the athleticwear brand targets active consumers who don’t necessarily consider themselves to be athletes. This digital native knew what big brands are realizing: Anything that’s not a commodity should be marketed experientially.

Outdoor Voices shows up at traditional and nontraditional retail with exclusive spaces and events designed to create community. OVs’ retail locations serve as hubs where community members can meet up for dog walks, running clubs, surfing lessons and more. At SXSW 2018, the company debuted its augmented reality app, which enables people to the closest OV Trail Shop spot – one of 50 running trails where people can shop via augmented reality. Its #DoingThings social media campaign aligns with its focus on getting people outside and fueling a wider conversation.

Technology is a great enabler of connection for Outdoor Voices, not the platform for it, and it’s strategically applied to feed and amplify a physical experience. Could Outdoor Voices survive without any physical brand expression? Perhaps, but the company has realized that physical experiences are key to its growth. Experiences that connect communities and power a brand with purpose will increasingly become the differentiators that transcend digital offerings.

Traditional retailers must challenge the standard metrics of success

Retailers looking at cost-per-square-foot against revenue generated aren’t measuring what matters. Overindexing to get as much as possible into a space generates just one thing: a degradation of experience.

Why not transform the sales floor into a community-gathering place? Many Lululemon locations host free yoga classes in their stores weekly. Why not selectively curate products and put your service on display? Nordstrom opened a store with a footprint a quarter of its usual size that carries almost no inventory. Instead, the store features personal stylists, tailoring services and manicure appointments.

The shifting of success metrics isn’t squeaky-clean yet. Experiential marketing doesn’t fit neatly within the confines of traditional product marketing, and spend-per-customer isn’t always as easily calculated. Yet consumers say events and experiences are more effective than retail stores and online advertising in helping them get to know a product, according to Event Marketing Institute’s (EMI) 2018 EventTrack Report. 98 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase a product after experiencing it at a live event, EMI found. It’s time for retailers to stop chasing costs-per-square-foot and start setting sights on experiences that drive user-generated stats and shares.

Community is the currency

Historically, community and commerce have gone hand in hand. Yet over the past generation, they’ve been overtaken by fast, cheap and easy.  But the human instinct to gather and share information and experience never went away, and that  opens an opportunity for community and commerce to reunite in a new age of consumerism, one that elevates experiences and is markedly conscious, smart and shared, instead of dumbed-down and dirty.  

The millennial generation is the first to have been flooded by digital, online and mobile marketing and advertising since day one. They’re savvy, skeptical and uncompelled by traditional advertising strategies. And they’re in charge of when, how and where they want to interact with brands.  

The dynamic has flipped for all of us, and the push of traditional marketing and advertising strategies threaten to alienate instead of endear. Brands that win in this new dynamic are becoming more intimate and transparent, finding ways to invite consumers to participate in organic ways that build emotional connections, cultivate community and, ultimately, win loyalty.

HOW ESSENTIAL RETAILERS GROUND COMMUNITIES

— Alexis Vera