Building Permanent Experiences

I recently spoke with an industry analyst about out-of-the-box experiences and the process and thoughts behind these programs’ development. With our industry dominated by so many launches and announcements, it’s very common for brands to “launch and leave” their latest product and move on to the next one. While it’s certainly understandable to keep the marketing department and product development teams moving, it’s the initial purchase-cycle experience that gives you a considerable chance of maintaining a long-term customer.

Pre- and post-product purchase experiences are essential to overall brand building. With so many choices in the retail pipeline, it’s never been more vital to invest in experiences during all aspects of product consideration. From their brands’ initial announcements through their warranty and service periods, brands like Apple, Volkswagen, and Nike have always made a significant investment in the public relations, packaging, communications, and service experiences to put together exceptional out-of-the-box experiences.

A crowded marketplace begins with the innovators. Unless you’re a first mover in your market, it’ll take more than product parity or a lower price to gain your market share and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. If your product’s comparable in function to your competitor’s, you have a tremendous opportunity to compete with an emotional appeal that can be applied during all aspects of a product’s lifecycle: pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase.

Consider my recent purchase of a new SD-format memory card for digital cameras called the Eye-Fi.

I first learned about the Eye-Fi about a year ago when it was announced as a product concept that one day might be available (you never know in tech). The product’s simple promise: to wirelessly transfer digital photos from my camera directly to my computer, without taking out the memory card or attaching a cable to my camera.

Over the summer, the company announced that the product was being developed and would eventually be available for sale. While waiting, I followed its development, read the initial hands-on reviews, and watched the functionality demonstration videos on popular retail sites. I also learned that the functionality was changing: the device would also upload my photos to one of many popular photo-sharing sites (e.g., Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, etc.).

As soon as it was available, I headed to a popular retailer carrying the product. Knowing the quality of the retailer’s staff, I knew I’d have to work hard to convince the clerk that (a) his store was carrying the product and (b) it would be in the memory card section. Much to my surprise, the clerk handed a unique box to me within 10 seconds of asking from a rack of similarly vacuum packed memory cards from about six manufacturers.

Upon getting home, I opened the box to find a unique and clever method of packaging (imagine, no sinister plastic packaging!) with simple operating instructions. In fact, all the software I needed was preinstalled on the memory card. In less than two minutes, I was up and running and my photos were being transmitted to my computer and to Flickr seconds after snapping each photo. I was hooked. After spending more time with the card, I learned there’s more to come with this $100 investment. Eye-Fi will continue to upgrade its functionality and eventually offer additional features and services.

Here are some tips for developing programs that appeal to the cycle:

  • Pre-purchase. The Internet and blogosphere represent a low-cost way to get the word out about how your product will change lives. By providing early access to what you will soon be launching, you can lay the groundwork for the emotions you wish to appeal to. Will you make the workday shorter? Make it easier to get from point A to point B? Allow people to remain better connected? These are all appeals that can tug at consumer emotions. With early access, you’ll likely capture some interest and get people talking and, more important, waiting for your launch.
  • The retail moment. When your product becomes available, how will you excite customers? How will you distinguish the product on the shelf and educate the sales force that may be out of your control? Will your product be easy to find? Will a sales rep be able to answer questions by exploring your package? Will the retail staff know what customers are talking about if they don’t know the product’s name? Will it be fun for customers to go out of their way to buy the product? What happens when the customer takes the package home; what surprises do you have in store for them?
  • Post-purchase. If you’ve done your homework and your communication plans have convinced a customer to purchase your product, do you end the relationship there? How can you continue the customer’s investment? What more can you provide to make the product feel new every three months? Have you considered post-purchase communication programs that go beyond the standard warranty and registration programs?

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