This morning, I went through the Chick-fil-A drive-through. When I placed my order, they asked for my first name. The person thanked me for my order – by name – and the next person at the window greeted me by name and wished me a nice day – again by name.
I never experienced a fast food drive through with this level of personal service. I was mildly amused by their effort, and joked in my head that next time through it would funny to give a joke name (this is Han Solo…ha ha).
But they called me Scott. As I received my chicken biscuits, I did like hearing my name.
This is nice, but it’s also part of Chick-fil-A’s marketing strategy. They’re striving to create the friendliest experience in the fast food drive-through market. And it’s working. In the last few years, they’ve generated more revenue per restaurant than any other fast food chain.
By contrast, I recently visited a BBQ restaurant near my home that was closing their doors in a week. The owners lamented losing their business as they tended bar.
It was 8 o’clock Saturday night. An old stereo meekly played music from a country western radio station, complete with a blathering DJ and commercial interruptions. Old TVs with poor pictures played a sports event nobody cared about. The dimly lit, dated looking dining room had all the energy of funeral parlor.
We ordered some chicken wings that came out soggy and bland.
The place was empty – with good reason. The experience was a dud.
As I had a beer and spoke with the disgruntled owners, I mentioned I worked in marketing and bounced around a few ideas that might have helped their restaurant. They wondered if an innovative ad campaign or some kind of publicity stunt would have saved them. But it was just talk.
I knew no marketing plan would have saved this restaurant. It would be like trying to give a donkey a facelift.
When The Experience You Create Is Your Marketing
It’s common for people to think of marketing as something separate from the product or service they offer. The widget you built is your product. The website and videos you developed are your marketing.
However, this assumption is both dangerous and inaccurate. Today, the experience people have with your offer is a major component of your marketing. In fact, it’s often arguable that this experience is your marketing.
Chick-fil-A gets this – as any restaurant should. The product is the marketing in the restaurant industry more than most business verticals. This is also true for any kind of resort, hotel, or location-based business that offers services and amenities. It’s true for service professionals like massage therapists, chiropractors, or yoga studios. Salons and barbershops gain an advantage by creating a superior experience.
In fact, some experiences lend themselves to marketing so well that the benefits happen almost automatically. In Colorado (where Marketing 360® is based), the popularity of micro-brewery pubs is remarkable. They are one of the most successful types of business in the state.
As more and more micro-breweries open, you’d think the market would be saturated. Just how many of these pubs can our state support?
Yet as new breweries open, each one is successful. Seats are filled all the time.
The breweries have a formula for the experience. They all tend to have a slightly modern yet rustic feeling interior. Some are restaurants, but many focus only on beer.
The experience of going to a local brewery and sampling the beer is something Coloradans love. Few of these pubs develop large advertising campaigns. The experience markets itself.
Word of Mouse (and Tap of the Thumb)
If the local BBQ restaurant had created a lively, upbeat experience with great food, music and atmosphere, the place would have marketed itself. How?
Within the town, they would have gotten positive word of mouth. Buzz creates buzz. People hear this is a happening place with great food so they try it.
But today, word of mouth is also word of mouse. Many people communicate this buzz through their social media channels and by writing online reviews. From Facebook recommendations to Google reviews, word spreads by the click of the mouse (or more today with the tap of the thumb on a mobile screen).
Word of mouse shows how customer experience becomes marketing. User-generated content online is a major factor in how people learn about and decide on experiences, services, and products. These users review and comment on their experience with the offering.
This is not a branded advertisement alluding to a fabricated lifestyle. It’s the reality of how people feel about your product or service.
Put Experience Into Your Marketing Strategy
Marketing does help you create business and expand your reach. Strong branding and persuasive advertising are important elements of success.
However, with today’s consumers, one of the most difficult things you can do is put out a mediocre product then hope an inventive marketing campaign will make it successful. If your customer’s experience with your offer isn’t exceptional, marketing and advertising can only do so much.
If you’re in a competitive market going against many similar offerings, you must develop a value proposition that gives you an edge. In many cases, what distinguishes you from your competition is the experience you generate.
This is why more physical retail stores are developing concepts that create a unique experience eCommerce can’t match.
It’s why businesses targeting millennials are using experiential marketing so that the advertisement becomes part of a meaningful experience (that gets shared on social media).
This also taps into the increasingly effective tactic of influencer marketing. When the person who experiences and loves your product has a large audience of their own, marketing exposure is targeted and persuasive.
What all this adds up to is that when you start your business, a major part of your marketing strategy is creating a product where the experience of your customers is something they want to share with their networks.
Buzz is not just a byproduct of your product. Today, you need to design for it; you plan popularity to create more popularity.
If, like the BBQ restaurant, your blah, “me too” offer is faltering, you do want to market. You need to get the word out, and you need it to spread.
But this will only work if the message is something people want to hear. And today, they want to hear about what’s happening. They want to go to the hot spot everyone’s talking about. They choose services with a bounty of positive reviews. They want to wear what’s popular, and try what influential people recommend.
This needs to part of the word you’re marketing. If it’s not, your marketing will be an uphill battle.