FIRE Sessions Recap Part 3 – Max Lenderman and the Power of Experiential Marketing

The third and final re-cap post from @mackcollier. But first, a look at what our kick-off looked like. Long live David Bowie.

If you’re a mobile provider in the United States, you have a plethora of traditional marketing channels available to you to reach new customers. But what if you are a mobile provider in India trying to reach potential customers in rural areas? Your problem is two-fold; First, simply getting your message to these remote towns and villages is a struggle. Second, many of the people in these areas don’t own a mobile phone, and have no idea why they SHOULD own one. So you have to educate Indian villagers first on why they should want a cellphone, then you have to convince them to buy from you.

So how are mobile providers in India accomplishing this? As Max explained, they are sending trucks into remote and sometimes even forgotten villages, to connect directly with the people. Providers such as Nokia send trucks full of brand evangelists into these areas where they set up shop in the middle of town, then let residents try out the phones, as they explain how owning one could benefit them. The trucks don’t even take orders for phones, they are there simply to educate residents about what a cellphone is, and to build awareness for Nokia’s handsets.

But here’s the thing; Before any of this happens, the trucks arrive playing popular Bollywood songs, and then the evangelists performs skits for residents. The plots of these skits are always similar to ones the residents have likely seen in popular Bollywood movies, and the characters work in the usage of a Nokia handset into the production (which goes back to the educational element). The arrival of the trucks and their performances can create a carnival-like atmosphere for these remote villages, and gives them a very-appreciated source of entertainment. Then, if they want to stick around and learn more about Nokia handsets, they can.

This approach works because mobile providers first create something of value for the customers. Again, these trucks are going to very isolated areas, in some cases, they aren’t even sure if the village they are headed to is still there or not. So an impromptu source of entertainment is very appreciated by most of these townsfolk. By first giving these villages some free entertainment, that makes these villagers more likely to stick around and learn more about the cellphones.

According to Max, event marketing such as this example is the 2nd fastest-growing area of marketing. But it isn’t working just in rural areas of India. Max also told about how the Army slashed recruiting costs via event marketing. In years past, recruitment costs was a staggering expense for the Army, with the average recruitment cost of each new solider being $18,000! So in an effort to lower that cost, the Army created The Virtual Army Experience, which gives potential recruits a taste of what life in the Army could be like. This virtual experience includes putting recruits in a jeep and simulating a live battle. The results have been remarkable, with the Army noting that recruitment costs have fallen from $18,000 per solider, to just $800 with the Virtual Army Experience.

Other examples: In the past, Charmin has created branded public restrooms in the middle of NYC that are not only extremely clean (and available!), but individually staffed by employees that are there to keep it clean and take care of the patrons. Tide sent trucks into areas affected by Katrina to clean clothes for hurricane victims. As Max explained, the service Tide provided wasn’t giving these people clean clothes, Tide gave these people back their dignity.

“The way to think big in this world is to create experiences without expecting anything in return, and customers will follow” – Max Lenderman

This is an important lesson for brand managers everywhere. Create an experience, something of value for the people you are trying to reach, and they’ll not only be more likely to buy from you, but to evangelize you to others. Max closed with a great point about knockoffs. Think of how popular brands such as Nike and even BMW are falling prey to copycat and knockoff products. As Max asked “What’s the point of branding, if your brand can be knocked off completely?” The difference lies in the experiences we have and associate with that brand. That cannot be copied or knocked off.

I have to say, as I was listening to Max, and having absorbed a simply overwhelming day at the FIREsessions, I thought to myself ‘This must be what being at TED is like’. For the first time in years, I attended an event where I felt like I was experiencing what TOMORROW would be like. I wasn’t hearing about what was hot NOW, but what is going to be talked about and discussed in 2011, 2012 and beyond.

I feel like I saw the future. And that was inspiring.

I want to end this by again thanking Robbin, Greg, Geno and everyone else at Brains on Fire for inviting me to the FIREsessions, and for being extremely gracious hosts to all of us. Those of you that read this blog regularly already know this, but the BOF gang is amazing. These people just ooze passion and enthusiasm for their clients and the good work they do for them. Thanks again to them for hosting us, and thanks to Robbin for letting me recap this amazing event, and thanks to ALL of you for reading!

Thank you, Mack, for being our guest and providing wonderful coverage.

  • Sean

    These recaps are terrific, and will really help when my colleague and I share what we learned with our team members. Very appreciative of the time you’ve put into them! Thanks!

  • Mack Collier

    Thanks Sean! Seriously, the FIRE Sessions were easily the best event I’ve been to in at least the last year. I’d definitely encourage anyone to attend if they are lucky enough to be invited by the BOF gang!

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  • Mendel Potok

    I have to agree, the fire sessions truly showcase what experiential marketing is capable of. It isn’t all about getting your name out there, it’s building a relationship with your customers.