July 3, 2018 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
The best books and movies make you forget that you’re reading or sitting in a dark theater. They draw you into an experience where you become part of the scene and a companion of the characters. And when that experience is over, many times you leave changed. That change may be as small as leaving the theater happier than when you entered or as significant as causing you to reconsider your worldview.
Businesses can harness the power of experiences by crafting content that engages with audiences and draws them into a situation where you have the wheel. Before we suggest some ways that can be done, let’s delve into the underlying psychology of selling experiences.
Image via Flickr by leanforward_photos
You may be able to sell a product easily enough, but simply because you sell to one customer doesn’t mean you’ve bought that person’s loyalty. You want to do more than make money off a single product; you want to build a customer base that continues returning to your brand. In order to accomplish that, you have to sell more than an air-conditioning installation service or a piece of clothing. You need to sell an experience.
As Brad Bane at AdAge said, “While happiness isn’t the end goal — sales are — there’s clearly a correlation between product satisfaction and repeat purchase.” Bane’s argument relies on substantial research, conducted by Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, illustrating that consumers get far more happiness from experiences than they do from actual products. Gilovich and his associates found that when a consumer anticipates a purchase, especially when the purchase is an experience, their happiness with the purchase increases. Thus, the buying of the product and the associated anticipation or journey becomes an experience in itself.
James Hamblin of The Atlantic summed these ideas up nicely: “Satisfaction in owning a thing does not have to come during the moment it’s acquired, of course. It can come as anticipation or nostalgic longing.” We could amend this and add that satisfaction can also come from your audience reaching the end of the road, a road where you’ve shown them (or acknowledged) a problem and provided a solution in the form of your product or service.
Turning content into an experience can also be about much more than anticipation. A blog post, for example, can be an experience. The key is immersion and identification. If you can quickly prove that you understand your audience, you can help them imagine themselves as part of the content. You can walk them through problems to which they can relate, and when you provide a solution, they feel like their experience has reached a satisfying resolution.
There are many ways to transform content into an experience, and which method you use will largely depend on the type of content, the needs of your strategy, and your audience. The key with any type of experiential content, though, is to actively engage your audience. Your goal is to invite them to participate in one way or another as the content unfolds. That engagement could be more passive, such as when watching a video, or more active, such as leading someone through a process infographic. Here are a handful of ways you can turn content into an experience.
What may be a satisfying experience for one member of your target audience may be a bore for another. A CEO, for example, may appreciate an infographic leading them through an experience while a younger member of your audience may enjoy a lighthearted podcast with some humor sprinkled in.
Show your audience that you understand by illustrating the fear or problem that your content will come to resolve. By identifying the problem, you’ll make your audience feel like you recognize their needs, and that recognition can draw them deeper into the experience. You need to see your audience as more than a collection of demographical information and as real individuals with genuine concerns.
This is where that anticipation can come into play. Your content doesn’t always need to influence a reader into buying a product that day. Rather than publishing a single blog post or video, consider building a story that takes place across different media and over several weeks or months. If you make your content engaging enough, you’ll have your audience wrapped up in the experience, waiting for the next “episode” of your content.
Maybe this takes the form of how-to videos that, piece by piece, guide the viewer to building something useful. Or maybe you use anticipation to your advantage and write a series of content posts that identifies problems within your audience and ends with the revelation of a new product or service.
Infographics are all the rage with content marketing today. They can add a visual spark to what otherwise may be quite dry on paper. Infographics can be customized to the needs of the content and the needs of your audience, with the possibilities being virtually endless. The many types of infographics make it easy to tailor them to your advantage.
Perhaps you want to use a process infographic to walk a member of your audience through one of your business’s services, or maybe you use a data infographic to show your professional audience how many have benefited from your product. In both cases, you provide an engaging piece of content that encourages participation from your audience.
In addition to infographics, use other forms of digital media to make your content more engaging. Videos are a fantastic way to draw your audience into an experience, especially if you illustrate the video’s characters experiencing problems to which the audience can relate.
Contests combine the best of engaging content and the power of anticipation. Invite your audience to share user-generated content, like a selfie or a video, to be in the running for a grand prize. You can also supplement contests with other pieces of content that make people want that prize. You’ll engage your audience, and the anticipation of winning the prize may be enough to convince a runner-up to buy the product or service anyway.
While you always want an experience to be engaging for an audience, never lose sight of the greatest advantage of an experience: influence. By guiding someone through an experience, you help them convince themselves that they need what you’re selling. All you need to do is provide the nudge in the right direction.
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