Why the human touch still counts in experiential

Digital communication is no substitute for human connection through travel” were the words uttered recently by Simon Lloyd, marketing director at Virgin Atlantic. It’s a sentiment that I strongly believe applies not just to the travel sector, but is a point that all brands should bear in mind when developing their marketing strategies.

There is no substitute for being able to see, touch, feel and generally interact with a product – to ‘try before you buy’. It is precisely this kind of immersion marketing that creates a bond between brand and buyer, builds loyalty and keeps them coming back for more.

Yet in this digitally driven age, it can become all too easy to lose sight of the value of the human touch. In the marketing world, we hurtle head on into finding ways to do everything digitally – from augmenting social media strategies to automating data capture. Even in experiential circles now, we’re beginning to see the real impact of technology on the field marketing experience. New digital innovations increasingly close the gap between on and offline worlds, creating user experiences that are interactive and socially integrated. Experiential retail can now take the form of anything from the use of augmented reality to let customers try on ‘virtual’ merchandise, to 3D – and even 4D shop front displays.

Brands will always want to push the boundaries when it comes to the use of digital techniques to enhance the experiential experience. But no amount of technology can replace the value of the human touch. To communicate and share experiences face to face is a tribal thing. In marketing terms, the experiential experience dates back to a time when shopping experiences took place at the local grocery store – with the local butcher or baker interacting one-on-one with the customer – selling by using the personal touch. This is what brands should still aspire to do more of. Whether they’re interacting with customers in store or on stands in shopping centres – the principle remains the same.

Morrisons, with its current sponsorship of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and Ant & Dec’s ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’ (pictured) is taking the experiential experience right back to its traditional roots. It is using the TV ad campaign to showcase the traditional skills of its thousands of trained bakers, butchers and fishmongers, in effect turning them into mini-celebrities in their own right in-store. That activity is then filtered down into actual in-store sampling and experiential activity. It’s a great example of a big brand like Morrisons being able to offer a personalised shopping experience (the ‘hey there’s the guy from the TV ad’ moment) and I’m sure it will do very well out of it.

What I’m not trying to say here is that the best experiential campaigns are the ones rooted to past tradition – technology has a pivotal role to play now and in the future of the retail shopper experience. There is of course the argument to say that for the consumer of tomorrow, virtual shopping and retail assistants as little more than holograms will be the accepted norm. But I think for the 25 and over group – who are by far the heavier purchasers of the FMCG products that rely heavily on experiential as a part of their marketing strategy – the human touch will continue to go a long way for many years to come.

Will Northover is Client Services Manager at Blackjack Promotions.