Ralph Failla is an account director at Inspira Marketing Group, an experiential marketing agency headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, with offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. An experiential marketer by trade, he previously managed tours for adidas, Nintendo, and vitaminwater.Throughout his 15 years in experiential marketing, Ralph has executed more than 150 campaigns. He currently manages programming for Norton by Symantec, Entenmann's and Virgin Atlantic.
Ten years ago, Greek yogurt represented less than 1% of U.S. yogurt sales. Today, it's almost half of the total market.
What changed? In a word, Chobani. Launched by Hamdi Ulukaya in 2007, the Idaho-based brand introduced Greek yogurt to the American palate. Chobani now controls 38% of the Greek category, significantly outpacing former heavyweights like Yoplait and Dannon.
America goes Greek
The man responsible for Chobani's rise, perhaps just as much as the brand's founder, is CMO Peter McGuinness. Hired in 2013, McGuinness saw that the Greek yogurt market had become oversaturated.
His solution? Rather than brawl with competitors for the limited pool of Greek yogurt consumers, McGuinness sought to expand the market. At that time, Greek yogurt was still a novelty in the American market, and many consumers had yet to try it.
To introduce consumers to the product, McGuinness turned to experiential marketing. Every week of the year, whether it was at the brand's SoHo cafe or on streets across the country, Chobani doled out yogurt samples to curious crowds. How did attendees react? Well, Chobani is the biggest brand today in the booming Greek yogurt category, isn't it?
But Chobani didn't stop there. The brand has continued to host events all year long, communicating what differentiates it from its competition. Chobani's campaigns continuously display unique ways for consumers to experience its products, opening a world of possibilities beyond the basic breakfasts often associated with Greek yogurt.
Eating is believing
Without experiential marketing, Chobani almost certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. But it's hardly the only food brand taking advantage of the technique. In fact, 77% of marketers use experiential marketing in some form, and of those, 65% say it has a direct impact on sales.
How can food and beverage brands leverage experiential marketing? Chobani and others utilize it in four primary ways:
1. Trade on taste
People, as Chobani discovered, aren’t as receptive to typical tactics such as price, packaging or promotions. Although they have their place in an integrated marketing campaign, mailers, social media, radio ads and coupons don’t measure up to the memories created when customers taste a product for themselves.
Don’t believe it? Interactions, a sampling service provider, saw a 300% increase in sales as a result of its wine samples. Even more impressively, it realized a 600% sales jump with its frozen pizza samples.
Samples work not only because they give consumers a chance to try before they buy, but also because they build relationships. Seventy-four percent of consumers have an improved opinion about a brand after a hands-on marketing experience, and 98% feel more inclined to make a purchase afterward.
2. Unwrap customer insights
Marketers have more information at their fingertips than ever. But all the data in the world can't replace the value of face-to-face conversations. By meeting customers where they are, marketers receive direct, honest feedback about customers' preferences and behavior.
There's just something about face-to-face interaction that spurs insights. When researchers studied brainstorming sessions that were done in person, over the phone and via video chat, they discovered that face-to-face sessions produced about 30% more ideas than the other two formats.
3. Dish out educational experiences
Once consumers make up their mind about a product, it's difficult to get them to see it in a different light. While digital advertising can help sway some opinions, it can't match the power of organic interactions. Fortunately, at live events, marketers have unparalleled opportunity to give consumers a brand education.
To educate consumers about its tequila products, Don Julio took its powder blue tequila truck to events nationwide. Not only did it create an eye-catching physical presence, but it also gave the brand a down-to-earth setting to authentically tell its story.
4. Create delectable content
Content is an increasingly important component of marketing, and experiential marketing can provide marketers with an abundance of it. That's not to say, of course, that marketers should create a program just for the sake of content. But by sharing authentic, in-the-moment memories across social media, marketers can create powerful, effective advertisements at a fraction of the cost of traditional ads.
For example, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines turned an activation into a message that reached millions. In its viral video, travelers are seen in the Amsterdam airport alone at Christmas time. As unsuspecting fliers took seats near a gate, a table filled with gourmet food lowered from above to greet them, creating a family meal among strangers.
Ultimately, experiential marketing is just one of the many marketing tactics that food and beverage brands have to choose from. It is unique, however, in its ability to create lasting brand-consumer bonds. For Chobani and others looking to convert consumers into customers, a taste is all it takes.