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…
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.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.