“Those publishers that have diversified beyond print by investing not just in digital, but other initiatives such as experiential and membership programmes, are driving not just value to consumers but also to advertisers.”
-Ricardo Amboage, head of programmatic and display investment at Starcom & Spark Foundry
If you’re reading this, then I’m sure you’re aware that all is not well in the magazine world. Print subscriptions are dropping off, digital articles are being aggregated by services like Apple News, and new digital subscribers are being turned off by the prevalence of pay-walls. (Of course, pay-walls are necessary, but going from free print issues as a preview to one or two articles… not the best idea). Some magazines are managing to buck the trend though.
Publications like National Geographic, Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV Magazine, and Cosmopolitan have not seen their numbers plummet quite so much as their brethren. That’s because they’ve done exactly what Mr. Amboage mentioned above. They’ve diversified and focused on experiential marketing.
Experiential marketing is a tool in your marketing toolbox that very few magazines actually utilize. Everyone thinks of digital diversification (websites, social media, online video) but not a lot of publications focus on the experience of being a subscriber. The 360-degree view of what it means to be a subscriber to a particular magazine.
So what exactly is experiential marketing? Unless you’ve got a marketing officer breathing down your neck, you may not know. Well, it is a growing trend that involves marketing a product through experiences that engage the customers, and create emotional attachments to said product. Tangible, physical experiences are used to reinforce the value proposition of a product and make customers feel as if the product is a part of them.
There are a lot of things that differentiate traditional marketing from experiential marketing. Experiential marketing focuses on offering sensory, emotional, cognitive, and rational values to the consumer. It also intends to create a synergy between perception, consumption, and brand loyalty.
It’s a sort of… holistic form of marketing. Something that Apple perfected under the leadership of Steve Jobs. The communal experience of theorizing on messageboards as to what the next big product release would be… Watching live (either in person or online) as Jobs announced the new product and walked you through the new features… and then lining up together to buy it.
Marvel Studios, Disney’s most successful recent acquisition, has also perfected this. Beyond fans theorizing about what the next movie will be, who will play which characters, and what comic book storylines will make it to the big screen… There’s also the communal viewing experience of everyone showing up on opening weekend. Marvel’s brand has gotten so good at this that they barely had to advertise their latest giant blockbuster Avengers: Endgame. A movie that purposefully did not show the most exciting parts of the movie in the trailers. It advertised itself as a sombre, even depressing movie. But the experiential marketing worked so well that Endgame had the biggest opening weekend box office of all time, and eventually went on to become the biggest box office hit of all time (Not adjusted for inflation. No one is ever likely to come close to Gone With The Wind), beating out James Cameron’s Avatar… which Disney also owns after their purchase of Fox Studios.
After twenty-two movies, the fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t care that the trailers were advertising a potentially depressing movie. They didn’t care that it ran just over three hours long. They were going to show up, put on their 3D glasses, and EXPERIENCE the end of what has now becomes known as Marvel’s “Infinity Saga”. A masterclass of experiential marketing that Disney is taking to a new level with their new streaming service, Disney+, on which half of the MCU’s “Phase Four” will take place. They fully expect fans of the movies to sign up for the Netflix-like streaming service so that they can continue to follow their favourite superheroes. And now Disney is doing the same thing for Star Wars, with the theorized Knights of the Old Republic series, and the recently announced Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series. They expect people who flood into theatres to watch Star Wars movies (minus Solo) to sign up for Disney+ to experience more of what they love. And, based on the online chatter, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Now, not everyone can be Marvel and Star Wars… or Disney in general, really. Walt Disney basically created Experiential marketing by letting you visit your favourite Disney movie characters in the Disney World and Disney Land theme parks. But every brand, no matter how small, can take the principals Disney and Apple follow and use them for their own gain.
Can’t make 22 movies in ten years? Well, that’s pretty understandable. But you don’t need movies to get people involved! Write blogs! Blog about your products, your industry, your people, your plans for the future. Make videos that show the behind the scenes working of your brand. How ideas are developed, and the team behind them. Organize events! If you’re launching a new product, don’t just do a press release. Have an announcement, and livestream it. Use video, photos, and graphics to enhance the announcement. And promote the announcements for days, even weeks beforehand. Focus your social media singlemindedly on the upcoming announcement. Tease it. Build up the excitement!
And finally, assign a brand ambassador, and make sure they’re not a corporate communications type. Someone who is genuinely excited about the things you’re doing, and not because it’s making them money. Steve Jobs was such a good ambassador for Apple that people said that when he spoke, he created a Reality Distortion Field. No matter what he was describing, it was the most amazing thing on earth. Kevin Feige of Marvel has the same effect on people. He’s a fan. He’s a showman. Just look at the video of him announcing Captain America: Civil War from 2014 to see what I’m talking about. And before Kevin Feige, there was, of course, Stan Lee. Find a person like that and put them front and center.
Marketing shouldn’t just be analytics and ads. Marketing should create a feeling of love for your brand. A new product, a new movie, a new magazine issue… they should all be cause for celebration. And make your fans and followers feel welcome to that celebration. To that experience.
Here at Inovva, we just so happen to have an expert in Experiential Marketing on staff. We can take your next product launch from a press release to an experience.