Experiential Marketing & Word of Mouth

Essay by lovergurl March 2006

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There's a lot of interest in word of mouth these days, and for good reason: it's a powerful purchase influencer across product categories. But here's the fundamental question: what makes people talk? Having a great product is obviously important. (As Guy Kawasaki recently quipped in Advertising Age, "It is very hard to evangelize crap.") But probably the most important factor in getting people to talk is, simply, to give them something to talk about.

Experiential marketing gives people a lot to talk about. Imagine being engaged in a live, one-on-one marketing experience with a product or brand you can touch or talk about with other customers or a brand ambassador. The experience likely involves entertainment, links to online "next steps" and a lifestyle tie-in like sports, culture or music. Add that up and it makes for a memorable interaction--a rich experience to share with others through word of mouth.

No one questions that word of mouth is a desirable effect.

What I'd argue is that experiential marketing can be among its most potent causes.

The basis of experiential marketing is a live marketing experience that occurs in person, face-to-face. You don't have to interrupt consumers or push something at them--and that cuts through the clutter and distraction that marketers are so conscious of today. And face-to-face--the most old fashioned marketing medium around--is also the medium in which word of mouth in its most prevalent form occurs. A soon-to-be-published article by Walter Carl of Northeastern University notes that an overwhelming majority (80%) of word of mouth activity (both among incentivized "agents" and unpaid "non-agents") occurs in face-to-face or interpersonal settings. Cognitive psychologists have long noted that the face-to-face interaction, because it engages multiple senses, dramatically increases people's ability to absorb, remember and apply learning--meaning that there's a longer window of recall...