Experiential marketing has successfully been used by brands over the past few years to connect with consumers to drive sales and profit. Appealing to a variety of senses, the goal of experiential marketing is to establish the connection in such a way that the consumer responds to a product offering based on both emotional and rational response levels. Are marketers missing an opportunity to make an impact on the employer brand at the same time as using experiential marketing initiatives to build consumer brand equity? The role of experiential marketing in branding:

There’s no doubt that brand is about reputation. It’s what you hear, think and feel about a organization and its product or service--that’s the brand. What’s changed is the role people play in brands. We care more than ever about what other people say about a brand, or how they rate a product. In fact, 2012 marketing data shows that conversion rates are 105% higher when ratings and reviews are used by customers.

It just means that as customers, we’re smarter because information about a product or brand is more accessible. Since that information is there, we use it, we experience the brand before we make a choice.  And marketers are increasingly taking notice of this. I don’t mean social media--we all know marketers are making exceptional use of online channels.  I mean experiences--marketers aren’t just introducing products and brands. They’re giving customers ways to experience the brand in increasingly personal and emotional ways.

Think about it this way--you’re at the grocery store staring at the shelf trying to decide which shampoo to buy. There’s no interaction and likely no emotional component. Instead, you’re just recalling information consciously and subconsciously in your head: commercials you’ve seen, what your friends use, what you’re typically loyal too. Then you make your choice.

But marketers have evolved. They know some things either can’t be sold on a shelf or can’t be sold well. In 2011, Nokia embraced this, launching their Lumia 800 phone with a dazzling 4-D light show featuring the popular cult DJ Deadmau5.  It's a wild show with incredible technology and pull-through marketing from the light show graphics displayed on the side of the buidling to the Deadmau5 ears given to attendees. Recently, Nokia jumped the most it has since 2008 primarily based on sales of the Lumia. Is experiential marketing the culprit? Well, the light show has over 4 million views on YouTube. You be the judge.

Using experiential marketing to build consumer and employer brand equity

Every time a company markets its products, there’s a secondary benefit to marketing the employment experience, especially when employees are a part of the activity. When employees are shown using, endorsing or supporting a product or a brand, it lends extra credence and authenticity. In pay-off terms, this kind of shared marketing saves money and shows employees’ pride and commitment.

Consider The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Long revered for their commitment to service, guests regularly stop employees (called Ladies and Gentlemen) to ask about the service and the little wallet-sized cards they carry around, called Credo cards. Those cards define the way the Ladies and Gentlemen provide service, thus defining both the consumer and the employment experience. If you can’t deliver the service and values dictated on the card, you’re not a ‘cultural fit’ for employment.

Companies are finally starting to take notice the role employees can play. Apple recently revamped their in-store experience to emulate The Ritz-Carlton and it’s working. Great service focused on building a brand experience serves as a foundation for both brand loyalty and career interest.

Beyond the foundation, there are other ways to infuse employees into your marketing experiences that build brand equity. They can be as big as Nokia (imagine if employees were involved in that light show, or there was a coordinated employee follow-up effort after the event?) Or they can be everyday marketing experiences reimagined as employee showcases.  Consider your average trade show. You might have a few employees staffing a booth waiting for interested vendors, buyers or customers, many of whom may have an employee profile similar to what you hire for.

Rethink that traditional booth from stagnant to experiential. Involve hundreds of employees instead of three or four. Position them all over the trade floor, conference center or hotel engaging with those customers in a way that’s both on-brand and innovative. Your marketing team or agency can drive the experience--the point is the difference that it makes. You’re building joint equity and solving for two unique brand challenges at the same time.

Connecting employees to customers to build employer brand equity

Putting your employees at the heart of your consumer brand marketing can have a positive impact on your culture.  Remember it starts at the top! Consider the role Sir Richard Branson’s antics play in building employer brand equity at Virgin Group. Across its companies, Virgin employs approximately 50,000 people, in 34 countries and had global branded revenues of around £13bn ($21bn) in 2011. Virgin believes in making a difference. They stand for ‘value for money’, ‘quality’, ‘innovation’, ‘fun’ and ‘a sense of competitive challenge’. They strive to achieve this by empowering our employees to continually deliver an unbeatable customer experience.

Each company benefits from ‘Brand Branson’ who’s behaviours espouse what Virgin stands for. Articulating ‘a sense of competitive challenge’, in 1991, Branson became the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean in a balloon. He traveled nearly 7,000 miles between Japan and Canada, and clocked speeds as high as 240 miles per hour. The trip was fraught with tense moments, including the loss of two fuel tanks. The loss of balloon altitude control caused the crew to reach treacherous altitudes, well over 40,000 feet. Pilot and co-pilot later missed their landing goal by 2,000 miles. Originally headed for Los Angeles, they landed in a remote part of the North Canadian Rocky Mountains instead.

Heineken put their employees in the consumer front line at the Heineken Experience, a brewery tour of the global beer brand located in Amsterdam. The centre is designed to educate the public on the process of pilsner brewing as well as bringing the Heineken product and brand to life. The visitor experience comprises four levels of historical artifacts, product exploration and sampling, and interactive exhibits which employ the latest high-tech multi-media technologies. If you’ve been fortunate to visit the centre, you’ll see just how engaged employees are in the Heineken brand, it’s like being at a college end of year party! But you won’t just see 21 year old employees providing the Heineken Experience, you’ll also see the 40+ somethings getting into the action. Consumers have a great experience and employees have a great experience delivering them an emotional connection to the Heineken brand.

Don’t ignore the associated risks

Putting all your eggs in one basket to connect consumers to your brand through consumer brand marketing involving celebrities or employee ‘brand ambassadors’ is not without risk. Consider every single marketing activity Accenture, a global consulting firm, implemented to build brand equity and then consider the impact on the brand once the Tiger Woods scandal broke. The impact was so great I don’t even need to mention what actually occurred (you probably already know from the global media coverage of the event!). But for those who want to know the intimate details a quick search on Tiger Woods Scandal will help you! Brand equity takes years of hard work to build and can be destroyed in seconds so choose brand ambassadors carefully.

Experiential marketing is not popular (or suitable) in all Industries. Oil and Gas companies have to consider carefully how they build brand equity by involving employees in consumer marketing activities. There is a tendency to ‘play it safe.’  It doesn’t matter what BP does, good or bad, it will be written about, and mostly connected to the 2008 oil spill. It also gets attention on sites not endorsed by the company such as the spoof twitter account @BPGlobalPR which has a following of more than 150,000!

With that in mind, here are 10 tips to harness the power of experiential marketing for your employer brand:

1) Think like a marketer!

To understand the how experiential marketing might work for employer brand, you have to start with the basics of marketing. Whether you work in HR or non-related marketing field, if you don’t have an education in basic marketing, get one before you do anything else.

2) Consider emotion.

As leaders we, ironically, get caught up in the business of what we have to do. From ROI to strategic planning, it’s easy to forget that the business is people. Since marketing is about emotion, it’s important to consider the emotions of your future employees and what matters to them most.

3) Build a relationship with your CMO.

To be effective, the employer brand has to be aligned with the master brand, and there has to be a strong partnership between HR and marketing. It’s important that the CMO sees the value employees can lend to consumer brand marketing and the role HR can play.

4) Understand your workforce.

To best use employees for experiential marketing you have to know them--who the best performers are, who adores and evangelizes the brand, and personal and personal habits. Bottom line--you’ll need some data

5) Evaluate current consumer marketing channels for employee participation.

You don’t have to start from scratch to find experiences to use employees. Look at ways to turn traditional channels (like a commercial) into experiences (live events building on the commercials led by employees).

6) Identify and appoint ambassadors to represent your brand and involve them in your consumer marketing initiatives.

Get your leaders leading from the front! Company founders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) and Tony Hsieh (Zappos) have had a lasting impact at both the consumer and employer brand level for their organisations which has translated into higher revenues and numerous articles about what a great place they are to work.

7) Build market reach and communicate your distinctive assets.

Make others want to share your photos and videos. It will help you reach passive consumers and candidates by exposing your brand to thousands or millions you may never have considered reaching out to. Just don’t market to your existing loyal users, brand growth will come from those who have very little experience with your brand.

8) Connect with customers already passionate about your brand.

To attract staff to work at their mega store in Sydney, IKEA inserted career instructions inside the famous IKEA flat packs. Customers literally delivered the mailer to themselves. They could then also share it with friends and family and many customers applied to work there! Not only did it talk directly to those who love the brand, it created a whole new media channel – the flat packs themselves. The campaign resulted in 4285 applications and 280 hires with $0 media spend!

9) Let your employees communicate your EVP.

You can’t bluff consumers and candidates! They will react to your behaviours moreso than what you say in your communications. This is where experiential marketing can help. Your behaviours are on full show and consumers will judge you on how you behave.

10) Use experiential marketing to make work more interesting.

Employer Brand International’s latest global research shows interesting work is the number one attribute employees are seeking in the employment experience, the reason why they chose their current employer and why they stay. Each year at HeadHunter, Russia largest online job board, they celebrate with a specially themed event. Not to out do their rockstars event  to celebrate the company’s 11th birthday, their end of year 2011 Bollywood theme party had a major impact on the company’s employer brand, already rated as one of best in Russia’s. Thousands shared their videos and photos from the events reinforcing to their customers why they do business with them!

**** This post is co-witten by with Brett Minchington, Chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International. Brett is an International strategist, corporate advisor and author on employer branding. You can follow him on twitter @brettminch or at www.brettminchington.com

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