Experience Marketing: What It Really Means

Jimi Hendrix famously asked, “Are you experienced?” And these days, you can’t throw a stone without a hitting some marketer (this guy included) talking about customer experience or content-driven experiences or the fabled buyer journey. So, what’s this experience talk all about? Let me attempt to answer. Start with a Google search that turns up 455,000 results, including references to customer experience marketing, curated experiences, customer expectations, and putting the audience first. OK, not a bad start, but let me save you the time of going down the rabbit holes of multiple agency/consultant websites or reading the long Wikipedia entry for engagement marketing.

Experience marketing starts with restoring the humanity to marketing. As DJ Waldow and Bryan Kramer are fond of talking about, marketers frequently fall into the trap of trying to be too clever, too exact, too efficient … and alienate people as a result. Obviously, overreaching is big mistake, one that could cost you customers, contrary to your intended effect. Nobody wants to be this guy. Remember, just because you have a absurd amount of data about your customers at your fingertips doesn’t mean you have to be creepy about it. Nor should you let the machines call all the shots. Translation: Just because you have the ability to flaunt your message in people’s faces all the time doesn’t mean you should. Always ask yourself whether the latest rabbit you pull out of your mar-tech hat is worth tossing onto your unsuspecting audience.

Another consideration the proliferation of technology brings is a Space Odyssey 2001 question: Are you a robot on an intergalactic mission far removed from the rest of humanity? Getting too mechanical in our communications is a risk as prevalent as the opportunities for connection are convenient. As marketers, we don’t want to get lost in the tech sauce, both in terms of our understanding of the technology and its limits, but also in terms of how we use the technology to actually communicate. We may be living in the digital era, but basic manners still apply. Your busy buyers don’t appreciate interruptions. They don’t want to be annoyed. They’re not impressed with your bragging. And they certainly don’t want to be “sold” to. Simply put, bad experiences will make them walk. On the other hand, good ones will encourage them to come back and/or tell a friend.

Experience also connotes connection (which evokes the terribly overused term engagement, but let’s embrace the spirit of it). We should think about what truly connects us to our audience on a human level. As a marketer, you need to know how the buyer perceives you in any given type of communication. What are you putting this person through? Is your message welcome? Does it make sense based on who this individual is and where they’re at in the process?

The ubiquity of tech-fueled marketing begs a responsibility of us marketers to not abuse our power. We must have self-control and resist the urge to shout in our megaphones, despite what traditional mass marketing and our entrenched habits tell us. You wouldn’t do that to a friend; your customer deserves (indeed, expects) no less.

Let’s bring it back to experience. I think this word should remind us why we—along with our buyers—want to be relating to people. Yes, actual people. Not faceless buyers. Not data points. Not robots. Not abstract notions of a brand. Or, put another way, the faces and relationships associated with a brand are what make the brand come alive. From the marketer’s perspective, knowing that the person on the other side of your communication is … well, a person … must dictate the experience you create.

So, the next time someone talks about customer experience or experience marketing, ask yourself if you’re relating to people as a genuine human being or if you’re an actor following a slick sales script. (No offense to actors.) If the answer is the latter, go back and determine what your customers really want. And what you would want were you in their shoes.


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