Before we begin, please imagine a pair of red high-heel pumps, and think of a few words to describe them, and the emotions they make you feel. Got a few? We’ll come back to that in a moment, so remember the shoes and how you described them.
In the past, we’ve touched a bit on why experimental pop up shops are successful, and we’ve covered how to measure the success of one too. We’ve talked about how brands like Cadbury’s, Facebook, Porsche, and even Colgate have used pop up shops to create epic experiential marketing campaigns as well. Clearly, experiential marketing is a huge deal, but what exactly is it about it that makes consumers excited about brands? In short: we’re hardwired to respond to them, but knowing that isn’t enough. If you want to use your pop up shop to launch a successful experiential marketing campaign, you’ll also need to know the science behind why a well-deployed campaign elicits such a strong response.
What is Experiential Marketing?
As the name implies, experiential marketing is all about giving your audience an experience, or a first-hand account. It’s sometimes called engagement marketing or participation marketing. Others may simply refer to an instance of it as a special event. Rather than using the event or pop up shop to sell things, you’ll use it to bond with your audience and create memories with them. For example, Cadbury’s had the Cadbury Crème Egg Café, which was done up in colours everyone could recognise from a kilometre away, and each menu item was created with a crème egg. Now, Cadbury didn’t open the shop to sell us more eggs; they gave us a fun experience we’ll remember forever, and we’ll associate those good feelings with the brand for life.
Decoding the Neuroscience: Why Experiential Marketing Works
It’s estimated that 90–95% of our decision to make a purchase is emotional, not logical. When we feel good about a product or brand, we buy it. What’s more, we don’t actually realize we’re doing this, nor can we generally recall an instance in which we’ve done it. This is evidenced in a many situations.
Emotions Drive Decisions
Those who have the emotional centres of their brain damaged struggle to make decisions. This has been noted by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, as he talks about one of his patients by the name of “Elliot.” At one time, Elliot was a successful attorney with a decent marriage and good life- that is, up until his doctor diagnosed a brain tumour. Surgery was performed, and it was a success. Elliot came through with flying colours. He was able to return to his normal life and his IQ remained intact. However, Elliot no longer felt any real emotion about anything. His marriage fell apart. He remarried and divorced again. He got into ethical dilemmas. His career failed. Eventually, he found himself couch surfing and unable to do much of anything. He attempted to get disability benefits and was denied, so the neuroscientist began looking into things.
As it turned out, Elliot had left all kinds of projects undone. “He might spend an entire afternoon trying to figure out how to categorize his documents,” recounts one story. “Should it be by date, pertinence to the case he’s working on, the size of the document, or some other metric?” Elliot couldn’t decide, and so he didn’t. The neuroscientist tested him further by showing him lots of emotionally-charged images and by talking to him about the tragedies in his life. Elliot didn’t respond to any of the images. When spoken to about his own life, Damasio noted of Elliot, “Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the protagonist.” In short, Elliot didn’t only lose emotion. When emotion went, he lost the ability to make decisions. He could come up with lots of logical outcomes, but, even when he crafted his own list of choices, he still couldn’t make sound decisions.
Your Brain Goes on Autopilot
As odd as Elliot’s story sounds, similar research has been carried out with the same results. There’s actually a good, and generally beneficial reason for this. Our brains are hit with countless messages at once. It’s a lot to take in, and so your brain doesn’t. It can only focus on one thing at a time, but it will make educated guesses as to what’s happening around you while you rapidly shuffle through tasks. You go on autopilot. Your intuition guides you. Emotions guide you. All this happens in the background because your brain is dedicating itself to one thing at a time. That’s the reason why you don’t have to think your way through the route home every day after work, why you use a potholder to get something hot out of the oven- you don’t really think “I need to use a potholder or I’ll burn myself.” You just know it, and you instinctively grab one.
How does this all relate to marketing? Well, by age 65, you will have seen more thantwo-million commercials. How many specific commercials can you remember right now? Probably not many, even though you’ve likely seen at least one-million already. However, even if you can’t remember many, they’ve likely impacted how you feel about brands; in just the same way you’d grab a potholder on autopilot, you’ll grab the brand you feel good about.
This is incredibly difficult to prove outside a lab with no brain scanning tools, but let’s go back to the red high-heel shoes for a moment. How did you describe them and how did you feel about them? Chances are, you associated them with sexual allure or power. Maybe you pictured something befitting of a lady of the night, a vintage pinup girl, or perhaps your own sassy ensemble that you wear for a girls’ night out or when you’re feeling fierce for a day at the office. If this exercise didn’t predict how you felt, try it on some people you know. Chances are, the majority will always come back to allure or power. Why? Because this is what we’ve been conditioned to think time and time again. And, chances are, if you see a woman wearing red high-heel shoes, you will automatically transfer your feelings about those shoes to judgements about the woman and her personality as well.
Logic Justifies the Decision You’ve Already Made
We’d all like to think our decisions are logical, and that’s partially correct, but logic comes in after our emotions have made a decision for us. Maybe you’ve even been arguing with this page the whole way through. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you really do take the time to rationalize that whatever you’re taking out of the oven is hot, and, perhaps it wasn’t the red shoes that made a certain lady look flirty- you really did see her chatting up her co-worker and twirling her hair. That’s why you thought it. It had nothing to do with the shoes. And, you choose products because they’re the best ones, not because someone has hijacked your emotions. Yes, we’re onto you. That’s not going to fly. There’s more neuroscience here.
Michael Gazzaniga, a professor of psychology, has been working with “split brain” patients for decades. His patients are unique in that they’ve all had their left and right hemispheres surgically divided to help treat severe epileptic seizures. Gazzaniga’s research explores how the different sides of the brain communicate, and what happens when they can’t communicate anymore. On the one hand, the radical surgery often proves effective with seizures. On the other hand, it leaves the patients with hemispheres that no longer communicate with one another. In some sessions, patients were shown an image or word that only their left brain could pick up- this is the side largely responsible for language and speech. Patients had no issue speaking the word they saw.
However, when the right brain was shown an image, patients could not remember, nor articulate, what they had seen. The catch- if they closed their eyes, they could draw the image with their left hand. In fact, half their brain did remember the image, but the other half did not. Gazzaniga continued with more “tricks,” by providing each side of the brain with half of a message and then asking the patient to draw the image. Sarah Zhang of Discover Magazine explains:
In one of Gazzaniga’s favourite examples, he flashed the word ‘smile’ to a patient’s right hemisphere and the word ‘face’ to the left hemisphere, and asked the patient to draw what he’d seen. “His right hand drew a smiling face,” Gazzaniga recalled. “’Why did you do that?’ I asked. He said, ‘What do you want, a sad face? Who wants a sad face around?’.” The left-brain interpreter, Gazzaniga says, is what everyone uses to seek explanations for events, triage the barrage of incoming information and construct narratives that help to make sense of the world.
Of course, Gazzaniga didn’t stop there. He also used the power of suggestion to convince patients they wanted some water from the drinking fountain down the hall by showing their right brain the message. When the patients got up to get the drink, he asked them what they were doing. Because the language centre never saw the message, it created a reason every time. For example, one remarked that it was cold, and he was getting his coat. He genuinely had no idea why he was getting up.
Emotions Can Provide Sound Judgements
While all this may sound eerie, your brain is incredibly good at what it does, and most of the time, its intuitive abilities serve you well. The Iowa Gambling Task demonstrated this perfectly. The goal of the infamous study was to see if people would catch on that some of the decks produced better results overall, while others offered occasional high yields, but produced poorer results overall. Interestingly, it took people about 50 card pulls before they changed their behaviour and began to pull from the good decks, but they couldn’t articulate why they switched until about the 80th card.
The kicker- test subjects were hooked up to a machine that measured their anxiety throughout the experiment. After just 10 draws, the participants began to become anxious each time they reached for one of the risky decks. Even though they didn’t change their behaviour for 40 more pulls, and they couldn’t explain that certain decks produced bad results for 70, their intuition knew early on.
Improve Your Experiential Pop Up Shop with Science
Create positive associations. Remember the Pepsi Challenge of the 1980s? That was legit. People really prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke in blind tests, yet Coke outsells Pepsi. Why? Branding. Coke has been warming your heart with adorable polar bears, Father Christmas, and pure happiness in its ads for decades. When you throw the labels back on the bottles, Coke actually tastes better than Pepsi. It’s no farce. Your brain associates Coke with happiness, and so the soda genuinely tastes better. The same thing has been tested with wines. When researchers tell test subjects a wine is more expensive, they enjoy it more.
Share a written story. When you read, you imagine everything that’s happening in the story, down to the movements, sights, sounds, and even tastes being described in the text. Your imagination is so vivid about creating the experience for you, that it actually turns on the centre of your brain that picks up these experiences in real life. In other words, supplying your visitors with a short blurb before experiencing your pop up shop will prime them to be responsive to the environment you create.
Follow through with your promises. Remember, you’re hosting your experiential pop up shop to build relationships, and you’ve gone through lots of effort to give your visitors a good experience they’ll remember, but your job doesn’t stop there. Just like Coke with its messages of joy, you’ll need to provide a consistent brand experience across all platforms. This helps ensure the customers who trust your brand remain loyal. If you biff it, you can take another page out of Coke’s book. Apologize and make it right. That’s exactly what the brand did when they chose to reformulate the drink after Pepsi started capturing sales from its Pepsi Challenge. New Coke was despised, and sales sunk. After customers complained, Coke brought back the classic recipe, and sales skyrocketed.
Give them logic. Yes, the decision to become loyal to your brand will be emotional, but you should always give them a logical reason to stay, whether you have top-notch products, amazing service, or great prices, they’re going to need a justification for choosing you. Granted, that should be a normal part of your business anyway, but considering how much we highlighted the importance of emotion and brand association here, it’s worth restating. You need emotion and logic in your marketing campaigns.
Select Your Perfect Pop Up Shop
If you’ve got big plans to win over a new market or create more loyalty for your brand, you’re going to need an epic venue. That’s where we come in. Popertee has all types of pop up shops available, ideal for launching experiential marketing campaigns and more. Browse our listings today.