Experiential marketing – tapping into a lifestyle

Last weekend, I attended an event Mercedes-Benz USA said was designed to promote its entry-level C-Class model line to younger buyers. Called the C Spot Drive Party, the consumer marketing event was one of 16 scheduled throughout the U.S. this year.
My invitation came in the mail. I was asked to visit a Web site, prompted to punch in a code contained on the invitation letter, and invited to sign up for one of three two-hour programs that would include test driving a number of C-class models and going along for a closed-course ride in a professionally driven AMG version of the C32. A sucker for weekend activities that are relatively free of cost (like motorcycling), I decided to take MBUSA up on the offer.
The program began with check-in under a big-top tent outfitted with accents and furnishings of brushed aluminum and black leather. Refreshments were offered to the estimated 75 to 100 people attending the noontime session, then, prior to accessing the driving area, we were asked to endure a short vehicle presentation filled with high impact visuals projected onto a floor-to-ceiling screen.
Associated promotions sprinkled throughout the venue touted technologies and products from partnering corporations such as Microsoft, Saks Fifth Avenue, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Continental Tire, Fine Living, LG Refrigerators, Mercedes-Benz Credit, The Ritz-Carlton and Wilson Sporting Goods. Attendees were asked to fill out a questionnaire at the end of their driving session, then offered a gift of a toy Benz.
To be sure, there were probably more people at this one-day event than would go visit the local Mercedes dealership during an entire week … month, perhaps.
MBUSA, Montvale, NJ, has about 320 dealers and employs just over 1,500 employees in 20 locations nationwide. Company officials say they expect more than 40,000 people to take part in the C Spot Drive Party. Michelle Cervantez, vice president of marketing for MBUSA, says one of the goals of the event is to create awareness and aspiration among future buyers.
What makes the C Spot event unique, according to Cervantez, is its targeted use of “experiential” marketing.
“The addition of our new sport sedans gives us the perfect combination of performance, style and value that younger buyers are looking for — with the authenticity of the Mercedes-Benz brand behind them,” Cervantez said. “With C Spot, we’ve taken this to the next level by working with partner organizations to create a total lifestyle approach.
“If you enter the event, look around at the products and services, and you feel as though you’ve stepped into your weekend, then there’s probably a Mercedes in your future. That’s the message we want to send.”
Cervantez says previous Mercedes-Benz experiential branding events have proven that when consumers can interact with brands on their own terms rather than being talked at, or sold to, the brand can become integrated into their lifestyle in a more meaningful and personal way.
MBUSA’s event had me thinking about programs offered by powersports vehicle manufacturers. While most of the major OEMs do hold promotional shindigs, it seems the majority of the events — demo rides and simple product displays — tend to be piggybacking on a larger function, such as a race, dealer open house, or well-known festival.
Honda’s John Seidel says Big Red uses three primary ways to market to its customers – through its Rider Education Centers, demo programs at dealerships, and through demo rides at nationwide events. Not exactly unique, but Seidel told me that obtaining a market-specific consumer base proves difficult in the world of motorcycling.
“Pre-qualifying a rider for a demo is extremely important, both at a dealer level or at the manufacturer level — especially if you’re targeting newer riders,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we do not have anything as extensive as what you describe,” said Vince Chiaro, press and event coordinator for Ducati North America.
Chiaro told me the Ducati demo fleet will visit many of the AMA races and a number of selected dealer events.
“Usually we provide the truck and bikes, and the dealer contacts their qualified, interested customers that they know of in the area to invite them for the demo ride,” he said.
Yamaha’s Brad Banister and Suzuki’s Glenn Hansen told me pretty much the same thing, although Banister reminded me of the multi-city tour the company’s watercraft division took in 2002, a function co-sponsored by Cadillac.
Indeed. I attended one of those events, at Lake Lanier near Atlanta. However, while it did have a similar feel, I told him, it was a much smaller scale and didn’t appear to attract many more people than would visit a dealership on a normal weekend afternoon.
Joanne Bischmann, vice president, marketing for Harley Davidson, Inc., says the Motor Company has been doing experiential marketing for years through its demo and event strategy.
“Sometimes we send out specific invites and many times we participate in broad-based motorcycle and related events with demos, our people and displays,” Bischmann said. “We are committed to being close to the customer, and our actions in this area will always support those attributes.”
H-D recently was named by Forbes magazine as the 25th most-recognized brand name in the world.
Fair enough. psb

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