5 things big retailers can learn about customer experience from indies

It’s a good time to be an independent retailer. While household names like M&S are struggling to get people through their doors and closing branches, small locally-owned shops are opening at record rates. In 2017, 762 independent stores opened in the UK; an increase of 27% compared to the previous year. Why?

Shopping habits and preferences have changed. The fact is, we don’t have to go into shops at all – we can buy a book from the comfort of our own beds, purchase a jumper on the tube or order a sofa in between meetings. If we’re going to venture out to the shops, we expect more than functionality – we can get that without leaving the house. Independent businesses understand this. They know that customers expect much more than just ‘stuff’.

From the personal touch to creating a memorable experience for shoppers, here’s how big retailers can harness some of that indie power…

1. The personal touch

If your brand doesn’t speak directly to individuals and make them feel valued, they’re likely to take their hard-earned cash somewhere else.

When you walk into a small store, there’s often someone there to greet you – or at least someone in sight in case you need help. Staff are usually knowledgeable and passionate about products and services – and there’s the feeling that they’re not bound by corporate red tape. If you have a request or a suggestion, rather than ‘computer says no’, the response is more likely to be ‘why not?’

Big retailers can compete with this by hiring the right staff, and training them the right way. A disinterested shrug or lack of knowledge can do more damage to your reputation than you might think. You need to ensure staff are engaged and properly trained in both customer services and product information.

John Lewis & Partners recognise the value in recruiting the right people and investing in them. Instead of just viewing their employees as staff, they think of them as Customer Service Ambassadors, in a bid to put quality personal interactions at the top of their minds.

Their ongoing commitment to ensuring staff are helpful, engaging and able to offer expertise in specific areas has paid dividends. While other brands struggle to get customers through the door, John Lewis remains beloved. The key? A reputation for excellent customer service – something which drives loyalty and keeps people coming back to their stores. All of John Lewis’ staff are also partners in the business, rather than employees, meaning they have a vested interest in the retailer’s success and up their game accordingly. Their recent brand change demonstrates the depth of their commitment.

Beyond this, there’s personalisation. Independent retailers make personal recommendations based on a deep understanding of their regular customers’ needs and concerns. While big brands with multiple locations can’t be as integrated with local communities, there is another way to achieve a personalised experience.

With significantly bigger budgets than most independents, big retailers can make use of their customers’ data history to create a curated, individual shopping experience. This isn’t just a nice-to-have: a report by Gartner found that brands which use personalisation could boost their revenues by up to 15% in 2018.

The IoT (Internet of Things) allows retailers to offer location-based personalisation. If you know a customer has been browsing armchairs, why not send them a special discount on armchairs when they’re near your shop? If you use digital signs in-store, beacons and shelf-sensors could display promotions or offers for products which they’ve looked at on their smartphones.

By merging the in-store experience with data from social media or online browsing, you can create a tailored, personalised experience for your customers. Instead of just hoping they’ll come into the shop and find what they need, you can direct and engage them, creating a win-win situation: a more useful, positive experience for the customer, increased brand loyalty and increased sales.

2. The identity

How would you describe the brand identity of House of Fraser, Debenhams or BHS? If you’re being kind, you might say they’re functional retail spaces: you could also say ‘uninspiring’.

From the signage to the interiors, independent shops trust the power of identity and aesthetics. More than ever before, the look and feel of a physical store need to be in synergy with the brand and product – and it needs to be enticing, because if it isn’t, people won’t come in.

Indies aren’t afraid to get creative with their aesthetics. They create spaces that people want to inhabit; spaces that are vibrant, tactile and inviting. You can even watch things being made, as in Bristol’s Art and Chocolate, where chocolate is churned and canvases are painted right in front of you – a far cry from the homogenous, this-could-be-anywhere feel of corporate retailers. So how can big retailers improve their in-store identity?

While it’s difficult for larger stores to mimic the cosy, idiosyncratic vibe of independents, they can use their size to their advantage and utilise experiential tactics to change the space, elevating their brand identity from the humdrum to the exceptional.

Le Bon Marche in Paris has featured imposing art installations by international artists including Ai Weiwei and Leandro Erlich (who transformed their escalators into an eye-catching work of art). Selfridges’ recent The Flipside exhibition invited luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to create in-house installations in their flagship London store. Also, John Lewis & Partners created a £2m pop-up apartment and made it available for free overnight stays.

These kinds of in-store events transform the space and give people an additional reason to visit the shop. As a bonus, their transient nature means they’ll create a buzz and urgency – the powerful Fear Of Missing Out.

3. The experience

More than ever before, consumers are driven by experiences. If people go into a physical shop, it’s usually because of want rather than need. Therefore, it’s crucial that the in-store experience makes people want to come in.

For independent retailers, creating a positive, memorable experience is relatively easy. With a smaller, more personal space, attentive staff, appealing aesthetics and the freedom to adapt to the needs of the customer, people are likely to leave feeling valued and engaged.

Chief Coffee in London has a ping pong table and pinball room; if you pop into Borough Wines, you can try your hand at cocktail making and Notting Hill’s famous bookshop, Books for Cooks, offers cookery classes.

For big retailers, in-store events, exhibitions and technology can help to create memorable, engaging experiences. US based retailer Macy’s provide a Virtual Reality opportunity for customers to create a 3D image of their own living room. They can fill their virtual space with furniture and soft furnishings – a hands-on try-before-you-buy experience which is both practical and fun.

In the UK, Selfridges have taken this experiential approach to the next level. On entering, the feeling is that you’ve entered a new world; one which inhabits multiple restaurants, pop-up boutiques, product demonstrations – even a tattoo parlour. Around each corner is a new discovery, accompanied by appropriately changing music and lighting. It’s exciting, it’s immersive – and the net result is that you want to stay as long as you possibly can.

Waterstone’s perfectly demonstrates the power of in-store experiences. They have coffee shops (which make the whole shop smell of teacakes and chai), children’s reading nooks, chalk boards and handwritten staff book recommendations. They host book signings, seasonal events and launch nights. The overall effect is a shop environment that’s warm, inviting and – most importantly – fun. You go in because it feels good – and because they’re more likely to have what you need. They’re the perfect blend of indie aesthetics and big brand supply clout.

Perhaps one of the biggest upsides of creating a memorable in-store experience is the shareability factor. When people see something impressive or unique, they tell their friends and they share it on social media. According to statistics from SMCG, 98% of customers create social content at experiential events and 100% of those customers share that content.

4. Social media

While smaller retailers can’t compete with the social media budgets of their larger counterparts, they can speak to their audience in a more direct and authentic way.

When it comes to the local community, their social presence means they can interact with other businesses and consumers to create an ongoing, real-time dialogue. This builds trust, engagement and makes it easier to promote offers or events without being too ‘salesy’.

They’re also not bound or slowed down by bureaucracy, corporate branding or a rigid tone of voice. Independent shops are free to engage in a chatty, informal way – something which isn’t always possible for larger retailers. While indies sound truthful, honest and real on social media, bigger retailers often sound slick, manufactured and inauthentic – everything they say and do the product of a marketers’ meeting.

How big retailers can learn from indies on social media

However, there are some big brands which have got the tone just right. Waterstone’s’ Twitter presence is a good example of how social media can be used to connect with customers in an authentic way. Each store has its own individual Twitter account, so it isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach, and their tone of voice comes across as jovial and spontaneous, adding real value to their posts. Customers can follow their local store meaning they hear about events and offers that are relevant to them and they’re more likely to get a response if they have a query.

Social media isn’t just about reaching people, making noise or better visibility. How you do it is vital. By adopting the personal tone and style of independent shops, corporate stores can make consumers feel like they’re being spoken to as individuals.

5. Collaboration

Indies often collaborate with or support other indies. It’s an effective, mutually beneficial way of doing business. If you own a cafe, why not source your bread from the bakery three doors down? If you’re hosting an event, why not work with a local supplier? It reflects well on both parties, shows a commitment to ethical, local trading and can often help to reduce costs.

Big retailers operate differently. Due to their size, scale and multiple locations, they tend to keep themselves to themselves. But collaboration can be a powerful way to get people through the doors and to raise the brand profile. One way to do this is by creating an in-house event or exhibition where you invite other brands or individuals to come and offer their talents.

That’s exactly what Liberty of London have done. Their sewing school provides workshops and courses, tutored by international designers and tailors. It adds value to the brand, raises the profile of talented and emerging artists and offers something new and exciting for customers.

Sportswear brand Lululemon take a similar approach, offering free in-store yoga classes, taught by top professional yoga teachers. It fits with the brand’s identity, adds value and, importantly, gives people another reason to visit their stores.

 

While the trend for independent shops only seems to be growing, the truth is that big retailers will always have the upper hand – as long as they’re willing to adapt. By offering customers a more curated, personal experience, creating a unique identity and focusing on experience over functionality, big retail brands can effectively reach customers and keep them coming back for more.

 

If you want to learn more about creating a unique customer experience, check out how we do it.

Steal from digital: How to harness viral marketing in the real world

Retail has never been easy — but these days, it’s harder than ever to stand out. In an interview last month, Marks & Spencer’s chairman Archie Norman noted that unless the company changes and develops, “in decades to come there will be no M&S”.

The question then is: change and develop into what? Without saying as much, Norman was referring to market warping effects of online. Not just online shopping (although Jeff Bezos and his Amazonian army are a consideration), but how online has changed our culture and how we consume.

In our ‘Steal from Digital’ article series, Fizz analyses how brands can use online and digital techniques in the real world, to create a real sales uplift in these challenging times. And in this edition, we’ll take a look at ‘going viral’.

By definition, viral, in a digital context, comes from the word “virus”. The implication is that a piece of content can spread like a virus if people become “infected” when they see it. It’s the emotions the content evokes, spurring the consumer to share it.

Going viral isn’t just for online, though. And Fizz has a few ideas on how to use this powerful effect in the real world.

Encouraging the ‘viral coefficient’

Okay, the term viral coefficient up there probably made you wince, but stick with us. It sounds complicated, but what the phrase denotes couldn’t be any more simple.

Viral coefficient describes the ability of a business to get its user base to tell other people about it. For example, if a site has a viral coefficient of 10%, and has 1,000 users, then it will gain another 100 users through viral channels after one month.

You hear ‘viral’ and normally you’d either think of illness or the manic world of online memes. Interestingly, memes now seem trivial and silly, flooding our timelines, but they have a basis in science. The word ‘meme’, in fact, was coined by the famous evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins in his landmark book The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins’ neologism describes an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. And it derives from the Greek word ‘to imitate’. And, indeed, memetics is an established, serious scientific endeavour.

So when we use a phrase like viral coefficient, it’s important to understand that this isn’t just baloney. It’s a widely researched and understood phenomenon that details how cultural items and signifiers transmit from person to person.

The full package

Consider what gets shared most often online: images. Buzzing online communities like 9gag and Imgur illustrate the virality of images. Instagram is built on visual appeal, solely because it has a powerful, replicable (or meme-able) power.

Visual power isn’t the sole province of online, however. Packaging is an easily overlooked aspect of the viral coefficient. Beautiful packaging helps create brand equity and makes your product stand out. But it’s also a canvas that can be used to catch people’s eyes in the moment.

Fizz’s in-store promotion with Ferrero Rocher, for instance, involved accentuating the glamorous, luxurious aspects of the brand’s aesthetics.

We combined high-profile, on-brand visually striking in-store presentation with a limited period special offer to drive excitement and sales for the brand. It was timely as well, seizing on the Christmas spirit, with the chocolates often ending up as gifts for other people rather than a product just for one person. It delivered an average sales uplift so successful it picked up a silver award.

Think about the items you send visitors to your demo stand or experiential event away with. Are they eye-catching? Will they cause other shoppers to stop and stare? Will they wonder where they got them from and explore further? One of the reasons retail brands have eye-catching carrier bags is for that very reason – consumers become walking adverts for the brand.

But packaging is about more than aesthetics. Millennials – who are now the largest consumer segment – are more environmentally conscious than preceding generations. Sustainability is a shopping priority, and they buy products they believe are eco-friendly. Sustainable packaging and practices capitalise on a broader, topical conversation, slotting in with the zeitgeist.  

The wisdom of the crowd

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, the American journalist James Surowiecki details how crowds influence our culture, economics and even societies. Crowds, Surowiecki shows, are important cultural vehicles and powerful decision-making aides.

We see crowd effect online, too: The formation of “a social nervous system”, as O’Reilly Media’s Josh-Michele Ross calls it. Social media is essentially a crowd and a vector for all sorts of social behaviours, ranging from parties to political protests.

Humans feel at home in crowds. As the entrepreneur Derek Sivers explains, as more people jump in, something becomes less risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd.

Your in-store experience can easily mimic the power of crowds. A well positioned, visually arresting in-store experience is key.

Place and position is the more straightforward element of creating a crowd. The store you’re operating in will know where the dead spots and the liveliest spots are, and these areas will vary depending on which branch you’re in. The best way to know where people stop and shop is to ask the people who work there.

In terms of visuals, brands have found enormous success by creating pop-ups that lend themselves to “online aesthetics and I.R.L. (in real life) consumption”. In other words, exhibitions that are shareable on social media networks, specifically Instagram. The ‘crowd’ can be virtual, too.

An experience that follows people home

But don’t confine an in-store experience to the store. Aftercare is critically important and shouldn’t be an afterthought. Short-term success is fantastic but experiential marketing offers the opportunity to create something longer-lasting, blending the in-store with the online.

Follow up with the people who interact with the experience. If you manage to get their email or social media handles, a timely, thoughtful follow up can squeeze extra viral value from your in-store pop-up. Your experiential campaign can be a tool to encourage online activity.

Aftercare exemplifies how to blend offline and online to create truly memorable experiences. It’s tempting to chase after fleeting social media renown, but your brand can’t ignore the real world. Herd effects and viral culture predate the internet, so it’s not about emulating ‘going viral’. It’s about returning it to its roots.

If you’d like to read more of Fizz’s experiential marketing insights, sign-up to receive our newsletter.

Fizz experiential marketing guide download

The 4 P’s of experiential marketing: Promotion

By Andy Youings. 30th October 2018
The 4 P’s of experiential marketing: Promotion

Marketing is all about Ps: the classic product, price, promotion and place that have been around since the 1960s.

These four fundamentals are crucial to all marketing strategy and activity. In this blog series we’re looking at each in turn, and showing how all four relate to experiential and in-store campaigns.

In part 1 we covered place: this second instalment is all about promotion. Experiential and in-store marketing are promotional plays by their nature. However, these promotion strategies need a promotion strategy of their own.

How does promotion fit into experiential?

Promotion is about sending the right message to the right people at the right time. Experiential events are a promotion for the brand, product or service, but they also need promotion in their own right – and they feed into your other promotional efforts when they’re done.

Experiential promotion is a game of two halves. The experience promotes the business, but the business has to promote the experience, and both strategy and tactics need to be aligned if the promotion is to come off successfully.

Three key promotional considerations

To line up your experience with your wider promotional efforts, there are three specific things to keep your eye on. Get these right, and your experience will harmonise with the rest of your marketing; get them wrong and you’ll be playing the wrong note.

Brand

The messaging, the photos, the hashtags and so on need to be on brand, and so do the people. What they say and do has to come out of brand guidelines and careful training to make sure it expresses your brand values with the utmost clarity.

This is also important when you’re choosing what to put in videos, photos or social media messaging on the day. These are great opportunities to add a personal touch to your campaign, but it has to be the right touch. You wouldn’t expect to see wacky, wild behind-the-scenes banter on a shaky mobile phone recording from Audi, whose brand is about precision, style and control. A brand like that demands a steady camera, a measured pace, and a studied look at what one person’s been up to on the day – staying professional at all times.

Tone of voice

Tone of voice is linked to brand, of course, but getting it right is imperative if you’re doing on the spot filming on the day, or in the lead up to the event. You want to drive people to the experience, but you also have a product or service to sell. There’s a fine balance to strike between providing an experience that’s its own reward and emphasising the offering.

People need to feel excited about the event – but they also need to feel what your brand as a whole is designed to make them feel, and be confident in your core product or service. You don’t want them saying “well, they put on a good show, but I’m still not sure I’d buy it” – whatever it happens to be.

Targeting

Personas are a huge part of promotion: everything’s designed to reach an imaginary person who represents a segment of your market.

That’s why you need to ask yourself: who are the people you want approaching the stand? Where are they likely to be active? If it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, you need to build a presence there well in advance of the event itself. Showing up with something to promote the week before the event is always going to feel forced and artificial, and it won’t build the momentum you need.

Target your audience via social media

Building your social presence up front has another benefit too. The theory goes that it’s better to have a thousand brand loyalists – ‘true fans’ who’ll buy everything you produce, share everything you create, and turn up to every experience you put on – than ten thousand followers who only sign up to win a free iPad. These ‘true fans’ are the people who’ll extend your promotional reach beyond the event itself, and create the essential FOMO factor – Fear Of Missing Out – that will draw people to future activations.

Promotion tactics

Promoting an event – and letting that event feed into wider promotional efforts – means thinking about the experiential event as part of a campaign. It needs promoting before and during the actual activation, and it’s a rich source of engaging content during and after.

The continuity between your event and your wider campaign will come from coherent branding, tone of voice and targeting. All of this should be established in the planning stage, and it’ll be carried through at the specific touchpoints we’ve already introduced.

Video content is a blend of the planned and the serendipitous. Sometimes, what happens on the day will outshine whatever you had in mind, but you’ll always need a plan for what kind of happenings and encounters you want to look out for, record and share.

Social media – hashtags, tagging in influencers and local media, responding to retweets and shares – demands an amount of agility and flair. It’s impossible to predict if something you post on social media will take off, and if it does, you’ll have to monitor it closely. Social media responses can turn on a dime and you’ll need someone in-house to handle any grievances that emerge.

In both cases it’s wise to think about getting people involved, and who you’d like to bring on board. If you can approach people beforehand – and you can, even if it’s something as small as setting the hashtag for people to share their experiences in your own social media posts – do so. The more you can get other people sharing and talking about the experience, the wider the word will spread – and that’s the whole point of promotion.

Steal from digital: How conversion rate optimisation (CRO) works in the real world

If you’ve ever used Netflix, you’ll have noticed that the hero image for movies and series changes on an almost daily basis. One day you’ll see the main actor’s face, the next a key scene from the show. This isn’t random. Netflix has invested millions into understanding what makes us tick and what makes us click.

This testing is made possible by one thing: data. Netflix can monitor every interaction a user has with the site, analysing millions of data points to change the service accordingly. The ultimate goal? To keep us on the platform for as long as possible.

Because of the amount of data involved, it can be tempting to think of things like A/B testing as online-only, but with a bit of lateral thought and application, brands can take inspiration from digital marketing techniques and apply them to physical interactions.

This series will look at a variety of these techniques from shareability to data, and assess how to apply them to the real world of experiential events.

First up: conversion rate optimisation.

Conversion rate optimisation: what is it?

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is a process by which you encourage more people to take a particular action – to ‘convert’ from potential customers, supporters, subscribers or advocates for your brand to actual ones.

Conversions can be significant – macro-conversions like requesting a quote, making a purchase or subscribing to a service – or relatively minor, like creating an account or signing up for email newsletters.

The term is often used to describe elements of website design, email marketing and e-commerce, but it has a broader significance in marketing as a whole – and it’s been applied to some serious retail innovation in the last few years.

What’s made this possible? Tech. It’s now finally possible to track people’s movements through a store in depth and detail comparable to tracking what they do on a website. Retailers can map the most common routes customers take around the store, the points of friction where they slow down, their engagement time with particular displays or product ranges, and their most common points of purchase.

This data allows retailers to optimise the internal layout of their stores, their product positioning, and the exact placement of the incentives and engagements they offer – including experiences like in-store product demos.

CRO innovation in retail

In-store CRO isn’t just about layout, however. And with the well-documented struggle of the high street, there are a raft of concept stores aiming to revitalise business by doing things differently. JOANN – a leading craft and fabric retailer in the US – has created a space that goes beyond the transactional. “Our stores have naturally evolved to become much more than a place to buy things,” says CEO Jill Soltau: “Customers come in to find inspiration, learn from our team members, and share creative experiences with others.”

That’s why their flagship store doesn’t just sell things – it provides learning opportunities that are selected based on web trends. If “birthday shirts” is trending, the store lays out electric cutting machines where customers can learn to make DIY personalised shirts and take them home.

A similar technique has been adopted by a little firm called Amazon. While ‘the everything store’ has always been firmly online, it’s slowly venturing into the bricks and mortar retail space. Its latest venture in New York – Amazon-4 Star – uses its online insights to improve the physical retail space.

Amazon knows that their USP is personalisation, its customer reviews and its sheer range. The latter is difficult to replicate in a store with limited size but the company had circumvented the issue by adding a ‘Most Wished For’ section. Its online reviews are replicated in-store, with each item sitting next to its Amazon review, and the physical store uses online data to suggest things locals might want to buy with their ‘Trending in New York’ section. Any retailer with a solid set of data on what people buy and when can tailor their space toward these trends. The seasonal aisle in a supermarket’s a basic example, but things can go further, with products and displays rotating week by week based on customer feedback and reviews.

Apple take the principle a step further, into the realm of experiential marketing. The ‘Today At Apple’ sessions, which temporarily turn Apple stores into theatres, workshops and event venues, put the company’s tech into practice. They capitalise on Apple’s pre-iPhone reputation, as the brand of choice for liberal artists, creatives and cultural trendsetters, leaning heavily into sessions about creating movies, music, photo suites or apps, along with live performances, and they specifically pitch toward children at their Kids Hour events. If your brand has that kind of strong link to a practical application of what you’re selling, that’s the kind of hands-on experience you could be offering.

These trending items will change as online popularity does. The store, based in trendy SoHo will undoubtedly be used as a test bed as all good conversion rate optimisation projects should. If it works, expect to see more.

Amazon and JOANN have set up a series of tiny touches to ensure they do things differently. But each of these things is specifically designed to aid conversion, using online insight to drive real-world action.

What doesn’t work

Not every insight from digital marketing will translate directly to the physical retail environment. Some are outright incompatible and will lead retailers in the wrong direction. These include concepts like:

  • Linear mapping. People move around retail spaces, bouncing to and from products and sections. There isn’t an A-to-B-to-C customer journey that everyone takes. Even IKEA doesn’t expect you to file through every department in a given order.
  • Sole visits. Physical stores are social spaces, browsing places: people seldom come in, buy something and clear off in the abrupt manner they might online. Micro-conversions are going to be different in these circumstances, and involve encounters with products that lead to customers making a discovery.
  • Conversion over profit goals. Physical stores have greater costs and constraints than e-commerce businesses, and so have to prioritise the sale over the signup, and certainly over the abstract goals like reach or brand awareness that some CRO advisors will set as priorities.

Optimising the retail environment means being the best shop you can be, and then going further – beyond a place where things are bought, and into a place where people are encouraged to buy. It’s the experience that makes the concept store viable – coupled with cast-iron analytics that identify where the displays, foot-flow and points of purchase have to be.

 

To see some Fizz in action, check out our work

Image credit: House of Fraser concept store in Aberdeen, by EG Focus

People power: How do you get the best out of your staff for your experiential marketing campaign?

When it comes to sales and marketing, as far as consumers are concerned, the people representing your brand are your brand. In experiential marketing, one misjudged moment can easily undo years of hard-won brand equity.

Experiential marketing is about associating your brand with a positive and engaging experience in real-time. It’s about authenticity, visibility and trust. In other words, the human element is crucial to its success. If your staff aren’t adequately trained to establish relationships with customers and interact in a creative, confident and memorable way, your marketing efforts are almost guaranteed to end up being counter-productive.

So how do you get the best out of your staff for your experiential campaign? How do you ensure your training is rigorous and effective? Here’s everything you need to think about…

Product training

It might seem obvious but do your staff know everything there is to know about your product? When it comes to product training, it pays not to take anything for granted. If it seems simple, it’s deceptive. Your staff need to be confident and authoritative when delivering demonstrations, dishing out product information and answering questions. In short, they need to know as much about it as you do.

A study by SMITH found that consumers experience up to eight different ‘emotional drivers’ that influence their buying decisions. Top of the list was ‘needs validation’, with 20% of shoppers feeling they needed help in deciding. A confident voice and in-depth product knowledge could be the clincher.

Think about things like product differentiators. If you’re sampling peanut butter, do your staff know what makes this peanut butter different from the others? What are the ingredients? What are the key characteristics of the product you want them to focus on?

If it’s a technical demonstration for a product, are they adept at handling it? In an infamous Microsoft presentation, the speaker (and Microsoft employee) was forced to install Google Chrome mid presentation as the Edge browser kept crashing.

There’s nothing worse than watching someone fumbling around trying to make something work; it’s painful to watch and it instantly devalues your product. Creating an online video tutorial is an effective way to train staff on product information and handling. You can layer it and make it more fun and interactive by using things like gamification or quizzes to test their knowledge.

In addition to hands-on training, think about letting them take the product home so they can use it repeatedly before they demonstrate to the public. The more comfortable and familiar they are with the product, the more engaging they’ll be when they have an audience. If they can share their own experiences with customers too, it makes the whole experience more authentic

Brand training

In order to get the best ROI from your campaign, you should view your staff as brand ambassadors. They are the face and voice of your company so while they’re working they need to live and breathe it. From a knowledge of brand history to core values and the tone you want to employ, taking time and effort to make sure they know it all will pay dividends.

One company that’s invested heavily in brand training for staff is innocent; they even have a name for it: ‘innocentification’. Playful, informal and quirky, the brand’s signature tone is key to its success so it makes perfect sense that all staff are trained up on it.

Speaking about their brand training, Tom Fraine at innocent said: ‘The training is not costly. It’s a week-long session about our company and our brand tone of voice, and everybody attends in the first few months of joining’. The result: one of the clearest and cleanest brand positions of the last decade.

For training to be effective, you need to first clearly define what your brand language is, how you communicate with customers and who those customers are. What differentiates you from other businesses? What tone do your customers expect? Once you’ve established the details, you can communicate them to your staff – but make sure there are no mixed messages. Are you fun and youthful or sophisticated and luxury? Are you Virgin or British Airways?

If your internal brand identity and language is in conflict with the external image, it won’t work. Showing is always more effective than telling, so think about how you communicate across the board, both internally and externally. By keeping the brand language and personality consistent and authentic, your staff are much more likely to believe in it and absorb it.

Try using role play as a learning tool for brand training; it’s fun, engaging and an effective way to find out what they know about your brand.

Good things come to those who wait

Understanding that proper staff training is an investment for your brand is vital. While campaigns may be short-lived, the people representing your brand need to seem the same as full time employees – and training them properly means you can hire them again in the future.

You can’t expect someone to turn up from an agency and be fluent in your brand identity or clued up on your product within a couple of days. It takes time and dedication; think of it as a work in progress. So how can you monitor that progress?

Of course, there’s the overall success of the campaign, but you can also use soft metrics to gauge how engaged people are – and the best way to do this is by just observing and asking.

Are customers interacting with staff? Are they getting actively involved with the event? Instead of using a survey, ask your brand ambassadors to have an informal chat with consumers and ask them how much they’re enjoying the event. Where are the gaps? If engagement could be better, think about what you need to change or add in terms of training.

Softly softly

Experiential marketing isn’t about the hard sell, it’s about relationships, specifically the consumer’s relationship with your brand. Instead of pushing the product, the focus needs to be on making people feel valued and engaged.

In order to get this right, your staff need to be excellent communicators. They need to be able to talk to people in an authentic, warm way without being overbearing. And great communication starts with listening. It’s essential that staff learn the importance of asking open questions to consumers, to find out about their background and relating the answers back to the features and benefits of the products. Again, role play is an effective way to practise this.

Experiential marketing staff training

Demonstrate the difference between being invasive and pushy and being personable and people-focused. How does it make them feel if someone accosts them and launches into product selling? How does it make them feel when someone approaches them in a genuine way and asks them a question?

By empathising with the customer, your staff will gain a better understanding of how to communicate effectively with people. You could also encourage them to do some reading around the psychology of sales and marketing.

Experience

If your brand ambassadors are happy and having fun, chances are your customers will, too. Being is always more powerful than pretending, so try to make the entire experience as positive as possible for them.

Making training fun and interactive will not only keep your staff happy, it also makes it more likely that the training will be effective. Digital is fine, but face-to-face is better – after all, that’s what the training is all about – so keep your training programme as personal as possible.

Structuring your training days with role play, games, quizzes and treasure hunts will motivate, inspire and promote a spirit of teamwork and positivity. And throw in some perks to make staff feel valued; free lunches, snacks and drinks will boost both energy levels and morale.

Freedom

Allowing your brand ambassadors to bring their own style and personality to the table is how you create an authentic experience. They’re not actors putting on a show, so they need to be able to be themselves.

Once you’ve given them the training, don’t micro-manage. Instead, give them the freedom and trust to put their own stamp on the campaign. Encourage them to think creatively and independently around the core principles of the event by asking for their opinions and ideas. The result will be a more engaging, immersive experience for customers and a sense of pride and ownership for your staff.

Incentives

Incentives can have a big impact on motivation and engagement. A 2015 study found that 85% of workers felt more motivated to do their best when an incentive was offered and 73% said the atmosphere was ‘good’ or ‘very good’ during incentivised periods. So what types of incentives work best?

While employees may say they want cash, a study by the University of Chicago found that non-monetary incentives are much more effective. The research showed that compared with cash incentives, non-cash rewards led to employee performance tripling. Why?

They already get cash anyway for doing their work; tangible gifts have a symbolic value (a bit like a trophy) which means we develop an emotional connection to them; and being given something special makes us feel valued and recognised in a way that money can’t.

The best incentives are personalised. Think about what your staff would appreciate and make that the incentive – or give them a choice. It could be anything from a massage or afternoon tea to a book voucher. Making it personal shows you’ve taken the time to think about what they would like, ultimately making the incentive more motivating.

Feedback

At the heart of any good working relationship is honest two-way communication. You need to let your brand ambassadors know how they’re performing and which areas need improvement. It’s also important to recognise and acknowledge staff who’ve worked especially hard; could you nominate them for an award or give them extra responsibilities?

As well as giving feedback you should also be willing to receive it by giving your brand ambassadors the chance to voice their thoughts. What do they think of the training? Which methods of learning do they prefer? How do they think people responded to the campaign?

Feedback is an invaluable part of getting the best out of your staff and marketing campaign. If you regularly check how people feel and what they need to make improvements, you can make positive changes. Allowing staff to give you feedback also builds trust by showing that you value their opinions.

In order to get the most from your feedback, keep it structured, regular and encourage total honesty.

 

There’s nothing mystical or complex about getting the best out of your staff. Taking the time to develop and implement detailed training will transform them into brand ambassadors. Rewarding them will make them feel valued, and listening to their feedback will help you make the whole process more effective. One thing’s for sure: if you want to get the best ROI from experiential marketing, the best investment you can make is in the people you hire.