Sunday, January 31, 2016

For better marketing results – Get Experiential!

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Consumer brand marketers are finding innovative ways to cut through the clutter and independent schools would be wise to pay attention.

The goal of marketing is to make someone feel something. That’s becoming increasingly difficult in large part because we are inundated with marketing messages. So, marketers are continually on the hunt for tactics that can find a straighter route to the heart.

Enter experiential marketing, which is all about creating real-life experiences that form a memorable and emotional connection between the consumer and the brand. Some of the most talked about examples of experiential marketing are pretty outlandish. Have a look at this video that shows how the cable network TNT transformed a quiet corner in Belgium into a bizarre crime scene that ends with the message, “Your Daily Dose of Drama.” You can check out this page for lots of other examples of experiential marketing.

But not all experiential marketing has to have that "wow" factor. In December, chocolate maker Ferrero Rocher invited residents in Toronto and Montreal to drop by a home in their neighborhood for a “holiday house lighting ceremony.” Along with a beautifully lit home, carolers and hot chocolate, Ferrero Rocher chocolates were handed out to those who had come to be part of the event. When interviewed, the company’s spokesperson talked about creating “‘golden moments’ that have a special place in our hearts.”

There’s another dimension to experiential marketing that schools should pay attention to. It is being touted as a highly successful means of reaching millennials. People who have grown up with media and technology along with its ubiquitous stream of marketing have justifiably become a little cynical about sales pitches. As a recent article in theFinancial Post says, “millennials want to experience what a brand has to offer before they lend it their dollars or support. That’s why experiential marketing has taken on a new importance.”

Millennials are also characterized by being both values and relationship driven. Experiential marketing is seen as a means of “building consumer-to-brand relationships [that are] authentic and transparent” and reflecting “collective values” that are the key to supporting a brand.

So, what does all of this have to do with schools? In almost all elementary schools, prospective parents are millennials and you can bet that cynicism and marketing-immunity extend to the universe of prospective parents at all schools. Like any other player in competitive markets, schools have to find a way of cutting through and establishing a meaningful connection with those they want to attract.

For sure, schools don’t have the budget and resources to pull off elaborate experiential marketing events but there is no reason they can’t be guided by the goal of establishing an emotional connection with potential buyers. Here are a few ideas with a fair warning that many of these are simply a product of my imagination and, as far as I know, are untried.

Experiential Open Houses – Let’s start with the obvious. The typical “talking head” open house presentation isn’t going to cut it. At a school that I worked with we had parents visit various classrooms where teachers taught them a mini-lesson as they would their students. Parents sat in a circle, sang songs, repeated words, jumped up and down – and, believe it or not, had a blast. They got to experience school the way their kids would. Best of all, they got to feel just a little bit like a kid and imagine the way their children would feel when they get to school.

Pop-up school – A growing marketing trend is the pop-up store or restaurant. Businesses rent space on a short-term basis to bring a sampling of their products to high traffic areas, to a particular venue that is thematically related to their business or to take advantage of an upcoming event or holiday.

What if you set up a pop-up school at your local mall. Children could drop in and participate in fun, educational activities. Parents could take part and be wowed with a robotics or other technology based activities. The broad idea is to allow people to experience your school. The other experiential points that get made are that learning can be fun and can take place beyond the four walls of a school.

Imagine the future event – The idea is to organize an event or perhaps even a contest for local parents that asks them to imagine what the world will look like in twenty years. Maybe people are asked to predict things like the price of gas, houses or groceries; what countries will or will not exist; the population of cities, countries or the world. It could have a light-hearted component with comedy routines about the future. However its done, the idea is to create an opportunity for parents to experientially consider the future in which their children will come of age and for which their education is preparing them.

School-mobile  - The inspiration for this idea is the bookmobile. When I was growing up, we lived a long way from the local library but every week our neighborhood was visited by the bookmobile – an RV shaped vehicle that was a mini-library on wheels.

Schools could take a used school bus and re-model it at as a traveling educational activity centre. Advance publicity would let parents know when to expect the school-mobile in their area. Once it was parked in a particular neighbourhood, children and their parents could hop on the bus and spend an hour or so engaged in fun activities. The school-mobile allows parents and children to experience what a school has to offer and creates a sense of excitement about learning.
Ok, some of these ideas may be a little out there, but what is undeniable is that when schools find ways to experientially make a connection with prospective parents they will see better marketing results.

What do you think?
Have you used any experiential initiatives? Were they successful?  Any ideas about other ways to create an emotional connection through experience? I’d love to hear from you.

2 comments:

  1. Chuck
    Love the thinking. As someone who has worked in the advertising and branding agency business and then moved to the school marketing world, I find many opportunities for the marketing of education to apply concepts from the "dark side" of for-profit companies. Keep em coming..

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  2. Thanks Bob. I agree with you and find it exciting to bring the best business marketing thought and practice into the independent school arena.

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