Why you need to sell the experience as much as the product

Azadeh Williams

Steve Jobs was onto a winner when he realised selling the experience was more important than just selling a product - and the wizardry of Apple has inspired thousands of brands to follow suit. So what can you do to sell an experience customers can’t forget? Here, some industry experts share their ideas.

Adapting to shifting customer expectations

With the proliferation of technology and the abundance of choice, the pressure is on businesses to offer better and more groundbreaking experiences to stand out from the crowd.

“Products are just commodities - they always have been, but as technology advances it’s harder and harder for businesses to offer a unique advantage purely based on product,” says co-founder and director of Buzinga App development, Logan Merrick. “Focus on what makes your team or your business unique. Then sell that.”

At Buzinga, Merrick says the company learnt early on that its clients love its company culture of fun, transparency and passion.

“So we focused on this element and have subsequently built up a following of people who love us and buy from us for this exact reason,” he explains. “Customers want heart and soul, so don’t be afraid to show yours!”

CEO and founder of professional health and fitness site, ‘The Healthy  Mummy’, Rhian Allen agrees. She believes experience is such a big thing in today’s online and socially fragmented space, that buyers all over the world are trying to connect with consumers on a different level, and it’s not just about the price anymore.

“Selling anything today is vastly different to what it was ten, twenty years ago,” she adds. “It used to be that you would have a product out, a price on it and it would sell. But with the emergence of the internet and media fragmentation, people are so suspicious of what they buy, because they have hundreds of messages coming at them. So it’s more difficult to get the message through to the customer to get them to simply purchase something.”

CEO of Appliances Online and Winning Appliances, John Winning, adds selling a great experience both online and offline has become the key way for retailers to become unique and ground breaking.

“With the emergence of the internet people can shop 24/7 and that abundance of opportunity means that for customers to choose one retailer from the millions, they must really stand out from the rest,” he says.

“Selling anything today is vastly different to what it was ten, twenty years ago.”

Building trust and brand loyalty

With customers becoming more suspicious about all the brand messages around them, Allen stresses companies need to offer great experiences to build a stronger, more trusting relationship.

“If a consumer is just buying something because it’s on sale, why would they buy it again?” she says. “There’s got to be a reason to believe in that product to come back and get it again. Consumers are fickle, and you need to be able to build trust.”

For instance, at Healthy Mummy, Allen says the site creates a positive community environment where mums feel they are supported and safe.

“This, in turns, means they allow us to talk about our products because

we’ve created trust,” she adds. “We don’t batter them with messages, but they allow us to talk about it. If we created a community where all we talked about was our products, they wouldn’t be there. I know that not all people are going to buy within that community, but that’s OK, because it’s also about providing support and giving back to the community. You just have to go back and think about each customer, and consider, is this what they want? It’s about look at how can I help them, rather than how can I sell to them.”

At Appliances Online, Winning also claims offering customers a great experience is critical to building brand trust and loyalty.

“According to research conducted by our online business Appliances Online, the single most important consideration when buying a large appliance online is ‘an online supplier that you can trust,’” he says. “The impact that a customer’s trust has to your company is invaluable.  Trust leads to word of mouth business and repeat business.”

Having a great engagement strategy

One of the ways to give customers a positive experience is to up your online engagement strategy, according to CEO and founder of beauty ecommerce platform Adore Beauty, Kate Morris.

Customers are more engaged with (and more forgiving of) brands that make them feel listened to, so it's a great way to build loyalty,” she says. “There are also tremendous benefits for your business in terms of customer insights - it's a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and what interests them.”

Morris suggests being proactive across all major social channels and encourage customers to enjoy a more interactive experience with your business.

“Make sure you have a monitored presence on all the major social channels, try live chat on your website and provide opportunities for your customers to review both your products and your service,” she adds. “Be proactive and actually ask your customers to interact.”

Winning suggests offering an experience based on something unique, that no other business can offer - or showing the customer that you care about them.

“You don’t need a lot of money to sell the experience, it’s often the way you communicate and interact with someone that matters, but the customer has to be at the centre of everything that you do,” he says. “For instance, we have a customer experience team, who are dedicated to helping resolve any issues with customers and we also write our customers handwritten letters.”

Winning adds an offline experience strategy can also be essential to helping a brand stand out from the crowd.

“For instance, our Winning Appliances Flagship Redfern Showroom includes world-first displays where appliances are showcased in a lifestyle setting, as opposed to being stacked on top of each other,” he says. “Our stores also offer cooking demonstrations so customers can see first hand the difference certain appliances can make in the home.  We have changed the way people shop for their appliances and we also have our own Winning Working Kitchen, where customers are offered coffee and treats baked daily.”

“You don’t need a lot of money to sell the experience, it’s often the way you communicate and interact with someone that matters."

Which companies are getting it right?

One company getting it right by effectively selling a great experience is energy drink brand Red Bull, says Allen.

“They spend all their money on motorcycling, crazy adrenalin sports, because it’s what their community is interested in,” she says. “They stay relevant to them by being in the right place and supporting those things their community loves. We stay relevant to our mums by creating a community that’s interesting to them – that’s what Red bull does in a different space. You can see it’s a lot more strategic, but it’s all about experience rather than just: ‘I’m trying to sell 500,000 Red Bulls a day.’”

Another example is carshare service Uber, Merrick adds, which has focused its marketing tactics on selling a great, positive experience.

“I’ve been really impressed at Uber’s experience marketing lately,” he says. “Their TV ads, magazine and social media highlight real driver stories and passenger testimonials. It’s hard to give a global on-demand taxi app a personality, but they’re doing well to go for more than the obvious ‘cheaper and more convenient’ sell.”

Winning agrees. He says globally, you only have to look at how the Uber experience has changed how we get from A to B.

“And take a look at how Net-a-porter’s and Mr Porter’s black boxes have become a fashion institution and make the customer feel that they have purchased something luxurious and unique, even if it’s lipstick, and how Apple stores have become city icons where people congregate and feel that they are apart of a community,” he adds.

Closer to home, he highlights furniture retailer Coco Republic, as a brand that has created an experience that includes choice, service, inspiration, curation and something unique. 

“From the way that they merchandise their showrooms and even their warehouse sales right through to their café experience, customers who go to their store recognise that they are experiencing something far superior to anything in Australia,” he says. Not to be bias, but our Winning Appliances and Appliances Online businesses offer customers world-class experiences.”

Azadeh Williams

Azadeh Williams is a former business and finance news editor at Thomson Reuters, Azadeh Williams has written over 3,000 articles in her 15-year international career on business, technology, marketing and innovation for the likes of The Times, CMO Magazine and Fast Business. She has also lectured in business journalism and media law at Macleay College.

Image: Red Bull Facebook page