One of the sad truths about business today is that people simply lack the creativity to change the ways in which they talk about their products. Companies invest millions in developing products, but they spend very little time and money thinking about how to showcase them. The laws of marketing don't allow you to just be good at a few things - if you want success, you have to fire on all cylinders. So step up, pretenders!
Businesses would see much stronger returns on their investment (ROI) if they'd focus their effort on shaking up the conversation. The best way to do this is by demonstrating what a product has to offer.
While we've become a much savvier society as far as technology is concerned, one thing remains true: we like to sample things before we buy. Showrooming is a concern for brick-and-mortar stores that are losing customers to their lower-priced online competitors. Instead of complaining about it, why don't more retailers use that in-store experience to their advantage?
Consumers are more engaged when they're part of the selling process, rather than viewing the selling process. Consumers who physically handle a product have a much higher probability of buying than those who don't - the simple act of touching an item increases a shopper's sense of ownership over it.
Demonstration not only entertains a customer, but it also educates her. Having a prospective buyer use a product allows her to draw on her own experience, rather than consider an experience she's being told about. This makes it easier to assess the value of the product. It also makes it easier for her to share her experience and insight with someone who's influencing the decision-making process.
Sharpening Your Hook
Demonstration offers a great opportunity for companies to get creative. Unfortunately, most companies stop short of doing that. Businesses in a category where no one demonstrates their wares have a big opportunity on their hands. Similarly, industries in which demonstrations are nearly identical routines offer another big opportunity.
To determine your brand's hook, take a field trip to a club store/warehouse (à la Sam's Club or Costco). There, you'll find everything from food to power tools being demonstrated. Your team should observe these interactions and hold an internal brainstorming session to see how you can adapt - and improve upon - these methods. Imagine how customers use this item outside the store, and try to bring that inside.
Of course, not everything can be demonstrated inside a building - you wouldn't ask people to use hunting weapons or gas generators where others are present. This is where our love of technology serves us well; smartphone demos are equally worthwhile. In some cases, we need to use technology to our advantage.
Doing the Deed
A few companies have found impressive ways to demonstrate their products. When shoe shopping, most people try on a few pairs and buy one after walking a lap around the small retail area, hoping the shoes will hold up under more intense circumstances. The Nike Store in Chicago, however, wants customers to know their shoes will hold up. Runners who are considering their shoes are placed on treadmills within the store; they're videotaped, and the sales associates then explain which features are most needed, based on the runner's style. They enable people to use the product the way they intend to, and that drastically increases conversions.
Elk Castle Shooting Sports in Fort Worth, Tex. allows customers to shoot guns on its range before buying them. In the same vein, many golf stores enable consumers to hit with their clubs before making a possibly regrettable purchase. And even e-tailers are getting in on the action, like Zappos.com's use of video demonstration, which has helped it boost conversions up to 30 percent.
A Few Caveats
If you're taking the plunge with demos, it's essential that your sales, marketing, and research and development teams work together. Sales will help you understand what kind of limitations the retail environment has. In some cases, retailers charge a fee to have demonstrators present, and sales can keep you aware of these costs. Marketing can offer the creative perspective, while R&D can offer insight into how products can be tweaked or used to meet a customer's needs.
The education piece is critical - you can't simply place a remote in a customer's hand (how many of us are still struggling to figure out how to use our own DVRs?). Without comprehensive training, you'll hurt yourself more than help. If it's highly technical and difficult to train on, you're better off opting to show a video, where you can control the message.
There's nothing worse than seeing a sales associate at the mall attempt to guide his toy helicopter along the aisle and back to his audience - and not being able to do it. It's not only embarrassing for the salesperson, but it raises doubts in consumers' minds that hadn't been there before, a double whammy. If your product is difficult for a sales associate to grasp, takes a long time to demonstrate, requires extensive cleanup or tools, or is space-prohibitive, your item probably doesn't qualify for a live demo.
Mitigating risk is a huge psychological factor to overcome, and demos can very visibly do that for your customers. By negating the fear of making a buying mistake, you've upped your own chances of a very successful sale.
Because this article was published, a donation will be made to Reading Is Fundamental so a book can be given to a child.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Mark Quinn is a Segment VP of Marketing with Leggett & Platt and has more than two decades of experience. Quinn writes a bedding industry and marketing blog called Q's Views.
March 19, 2014