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Interview on Experiential Marketing with Prof. Schmitt Bernd
    2007-09-18 12:10:21     CRIENGLISH.com
About Prof. Bernd Schmitt:

Bernd Schmitt is a professor at Columbia Business School in New York, he is also a best-selling author and consultant. Schmitt's business and marketing theories, laid out in his books "Experiential Marketing" and "Customer Experience Management" (among others), are used by companies worldwide to gain a competitive advantage and spur growth. His new book, "Big Think Strategy", will be published by Harvard Business School Press in December 2007. Heralded by Business Week for his "fertile mind" and "artsy, downtown attitude," Schmitt has also written pieces for the New York Times, Asian Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. He has been profiled on CNN's Business Unusual and has appeared on the BBC in the UK, NHK in Japan and appeared on several Chinese TV channels. His website is: www.MeetSchmitt.com.

Recently Xing Zong, of Duke University Chinese Students and Scholars Association held an exclusive interview with Prof. Schmitt Bernd, on the topic of experiential marketing.

Xing Zong: Prof. Schmitt, first, I would like to thank you for meeting with me. You wrote in your highly acclaimed book, "Experiential Marketing", about a new revolution in marketing that focuses on the experience of customers. Could you please introduce this concept to our readers? To what extent do you think they are different from traditional features and benefits of marketing?

Schmitt: Traditional marketing focuses on the product, its quality, its features and benefits. Experiential Marketing, in contrast, is a customer focused concept. Take the iPod by Apple. Sure, it has good quality and the right features. But that is not what makes the iPod really successful. In the US, the iPod has a market share of 75 percent! This success is due to the lifestyle appeal and cool image, which comes from a true understanding of consumer experiences---what appeals to their senses (through design), what makes them feel good and how they want to live. So, to differentiate brands and be successful in the marketplace, companies must go beyond a standard knowledge of traditional marketing. They must become experiential marketers.

Xing Zong: Experiential marketing seems to be quite abstract. Do you think it can be measured in a quantitative way?

Schmitt: I don't think it is really abstract. Product design, the look of a website and the smile of a salesperson are all very concrete. And these are the things that produce positive experiences. And yes, experiences can be measured. I have developed a measurement scale to do exactly that. And research results with this measurement scale show that more experiential brands are evaluated better by customers.

Xing Zong: In China, most brand theorists treat brands as identifiers. What are your thoughts about transitioning from more than just identifiers?

Schmitt: The focus in China for many years has been on product quality (think: ISO 9000) and then to identify the quality product through the brand name and logo. That was a good idea in the early nineties when I first visited China. But that's not enough nowadays. By now, that's just the basics. In fast moving cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and in secondary cities as well, a brand must mean more. Consumers want quality, but they also want the latest technology, and they want cool lifestyle products (whether it is ice cream or cars). They want to feel the brand!

Xing Zong: You summarized five types of experience: sense, feel, think, act and relate. The first one is sense. Sight, sound, scent, taste, touch are five fundamental human senses. Let's take McDonald's in China for example. Could you please explain to us how it creates aesthetic pleasures to attract young customers?

Schmitt: You know the new McDonald's campaign "I am lovin' it?" That's supposed to create positive experiences. And in addition, McDonald's uses nice images that appeal to a consumer's sight; interesting tunes and music, and of course good taste and smell. as much as this is possible for a fast food product. And even touch is important---of the product, the packaging, the tables etc.

Xing Zong: For the "feel" category, which emotions are experienced during consumption?

Schmitt: A huge variety of emotions. It depends on the product---a mobile phone, a food product, a hospitality service, or whatever---and how customers are treated, emotions can include pride of ownership, joy, even love, and also negative emotions like anger or frustration when the experience is bad.

Xing Zong: Think marketing seems to be quite mysterious. You conclude the think principle to be: a sense of surprise, a dose of intrigue and a smack of provocation. Could you please elaborate?

Schmitt: To surprise customers is important because it gets a marketer beyond satisfaction. Satisfaction means meeting and fulfilling expectations---but surprise creates delight. I also feel "intrigue" is important, getting customers to think at times about the product and brand. And a bit of provocation really gets them to pay attention, and helps with word of mouth.

Xing Zong: Act marketing aims to affect customer lifestyle or longer-term behaviour. How do you think Chinese companies can apply this to its domestic market?

Schmitt: Take a city like Shanghai, which I have visited more than fifty times over the last 15 years. It is a great city and becoming world class very quickly. By creating act experiences---that is, getting people to show what it feels like to live in Shanghai, to be a Shanghainese---companies can affect lifestyles and behaviours. This can be a great experience for customers and project a great image to the rest of China, saying "here is a city and contemporary lifestyle we can all be proud of." So, makers of beauty and fashion products, as well as operators of the Maglev (the fast train from the airport to Pudong), have a real responsibility here. They define the image of Shanghai for China and the world at large.

Xing Zong: Relate marketing goes beyond the previous four, and relates to individual and other people and cultures. Now many Chinese companies are eager to embark into the US market? What are your thoughts in terms of relate marketing, especially for a different culture?

Schmitt: Relate marketing can be used to relate a brand to a group, for example, the ideal drink for the modern woman; to a nation, a great brand coming from China; or to the world, a global brand. Which positioning a company chooses depends on its business objectives. I would encourage Chinese companies to think big and develop global brands. Right now, there is Lenovo and Haier. But why not global car brands, electronics brands and lifestyle brands?

Xing Zong: Prof. Schmitt, you have worked in China for quite some time. In your opinion, are Chinese customers sophisticated enough to embrace experiential marketing?

Schmitt: They definitely are, especially consumers I have seen in the big cities, they are getting more sophisticated. As Chinese are now travelling abroad more and more, they see how Chinese brands compare to foreign brands and they demand not only quality from Chinese brands but also experiences. Recently, I have seen Chinese brands doing experiential marketing very well, especially small, upstart brands. There is a new casual clothing portal, called bananapapaya.com, which sells T-shirt on the Internet. It's very cool and the site is all experiential. The owner is an ex-Columbia student who took my course and I have advised her a bit. But even big companies like airlines are now caring more about customers and treat them better and better. In conclusion, Chinese companies are becoming more and more customer oriented---and that is good news for Chinese consumers.

(Photo by Lu Canghai)
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