The Modern Marketer’s Guide to Selling Experiences

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

In order to compete for the modern customer’s attention, brands big and small alike must get creative. Here's how to step it up.

In order to compete for the modern customer’s attention amidst an array of other brands, products, and services clamoring for their consideration, brands must get creative.

Selling experiences are just one way leading brands are achieving this goal.

Selling an Experience

Let’s say you and your friend purchase two tickets to a baseball game on Friday night. While at the game, you have a blast. The music is great, the in-game entertainment is unique and engaging, there’s a free giveaway at the gates, and there are even fireworks after the game concludes. In all, you and your friend have a wonderful time and end up telling everyone you see over the course of the weekend about how awesome it was.

While the baseball team sold you a physical product the ticket they didn’t stop there. They ended up selling you an experience, which is much more powerful and memorable. As a result, you’re much more likely to tell your peers about that experience and return in the future. From a business perspective, there is immense value in selling experiences.

Related Article:Inbound Opportunities: 5 Ways to Generate More Sales Online

“People all over the world are telling themselves a story about your product or service,” says Fraser Larock, marketing and branding expert. “Without a brand or an active message to support it, you can’t control the story they tell. Products are 25 percent of what you sell. The rest is an intangible feeling tied to the product.”

In other words, 75 percent of what you’re selling is an experience. Either you control this experience through your own marketing and execution, or someone else will tell your story in their own words.

This emphasis on experiential storytelling has become more dominate over the past 10 or 15 years, as the Internet and social media have given rise to powerful platforms for dissemination. Before the dawn of the internet, brands could get away with selling products and slapping some simple branding on it. Now, competitive brands must surround their products with palpable stories that ignite the senses and keep customers coming back for more.

3 Tips for Selling Experiences

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. As you’ll see, it can be a college education, energy drinks, painting classes, or anything in between. Every product should come with a brand-controlled experience. Here are some tips designed to help you sell experiences the right way:

1. Use Video

Since much of your brand storytelling and experience selling will occur online, it’s imperative that you identify ways to reach customers, without losing that sense of palpability that exists in the real world. Video is one of your greatest allies here.

The human brain is hardwired in such a way that video leaves a much more lasting impression than any other content medium. Thankfully, there are a plethora of video-based tools available in 2016.

To see just how powerful video can be in terms of selling experiences, let’s highlight Rush University’s College of Nursing. While the product itself is a nursing degree, Rush University makes it something much bigger. Check out the video on their landing page titled "From Nursing Student to Nursing Leader: The Rush Experience". The video brings life to the experiences students go through and sells the overall benefits of the education, as opposed to just the degree.

For any brand attempting to start selling experiences this year, video must be at the foundation. It’s the only way to connect with customers in today’s Internet-driven marketing landscape.

Related Article: Together at Last: How to Achieve Sales and Marketing Alignment

2. Engage Brand Ambassadors

An experience doesn’t need a large audience to happen. A single person can enjoy an experience. However, in order for an experience to thrive in the marketing sense, there needs to be an audience of people consuming it. The best way for brands to grow their audiences and reach them in unbiased, meaningful ways is to tap into the power of brand ambassadors.

This is something the popular energy drink company Red Bull does very well. When you think about Red Bull, what comes to mind? Other than the drink itself, most people think about the X Games, extreme sports, crazy stunts involving skydiving and snowboarding, music festivals, and parties. How has a drink company been able to make its name synonymous with thrill seeking experiences? They’ve consciously developed a consistent story and used raving customers to further perpetuate it.

Red Bull has a massive brand ambassador program where they recruit satisfied customers and athletes who are excited about representing the brand in their everyday lives. They select college students and other young people who they feel reflect the brand well and utilize them in their communities to host events and spread the word.

“In my opinion, Red Bull does a lot of things right in terms of branding and marketing,” says Alan VanToai, a former Red Bull brand ambassador. “But one thing they absolutely nail is community. There was such an awesome community around Red Bull. It’s a lifestyle brand that people are proud to be a part of. And in many cases, we were rewarded with all sorts of awesome perks for being a part of the family. By design, it was a super fun experience plain and simple.”

A brand ambassador program only works if the members are genuine customers who get excited by working with your brand. If you can find these people and tap into their excitement, there’s no limit to the experience you can sell.

3. Create an Experiential Value Ad

For some companies, it may be necessary to create new value ads in order to effectively sell an experience related to a product. Take the Painting with a Twist franchise as an example. This “paint-and-sip” company has been in business since 2007 but found that the only way to connect with millennial customers, which make up roughly one-third of the clientele was to offer a cost-effective experience.

So, during the recession, Painting with a twist launched two-hour group sessions, with supplies included, for just $35. Additionally, they let customers bring their own wine and snacks. Suddenly, an art class became more than just an event. It became an experience that customers could tell their friends about and try again.

With more than 10 different competitors now copying the company’s approach, Mike Powers, the company’s managing director, believes it’s the experience he’s created that’s instilled loyalty in his customers. But he also realizes that one of the keys to selling experiences is never being satisfied. “We have to continue to evolve and never let the experience become a routine thing,” he says. This rings true for all businesses, regardless of competition or industry. Selling experiences are about continually reevaluating and always staying fresh.

Related Article:8 Ways to Successfully Disrupt Your Competitors' Sales Funnels

Stop Selling the Product

Ironically, the best way to increase sales is to start focusing on selling experiences. When properly executed, this strategy will draw customers in and gently encourage them to make a purchase. It can be scary to shift your focus, but just remember that somebody is going to tell your story.

Shouldn’t you be the one to take control?

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