Emotion Through Fried Brakes

When it comes to creating an emotional brand experience, forget copy, taglines, imagery and brand iconography.

There’s nothing like touching and feeling a product first-hand. Tasting the product is even better.  Especially when that taste is vaporized rubber and burning brake pads.

Of course you have to be a gearhead, enjoy automobiles and love driving.  That’s why Audi’s Driving Experience is perfect in terms of targeting and likely a big success in generating sales.

On Saturday, I attended Audi’s complimentary two hour session at Summit Point racetrack in West Virginia, as the the result of an invitation I received as a current Audi owner.  I thought it would be a great way to spend a few hours on the weekend and get a ride in the 2009 A4.

Instead, I experienced a great example of experiential marketing and even witnessed a prospective Audi customer turn into a likely purchaser.

During the session, we had the chance to run the new A4 on an autocross track against three competitive models: Lexus IS250, Mercedes C300 and the BMW 328xi.  All models were comparably equipped and all featured all wheel drive.  While I admit an Audi bias going in, I found the A4 to be the best drive on the autocross track, showing a great balance of power, handling and luxury.

I drove in the car with a couple who were in the market for an automobile in that class and I was able to watch their preference swing very strongly to the A4 after they’d driven the other three models around the course.  It was clear to me that after driving the cars head-to-head–and a lot harder than they would get the chance to in a standard dealership test drive–that this couple was off the fence and preferred Audi for their next car.

Of course, that’s exactly what Audi was hoping for. What I experienced with my co-driver was probably exactly the way Audi and Emotive white-boarded it in the planning stages.

After the autocross, we had the chance to go out and drive the A4 at speed on the racetrack for several laps, following a professional driver.  Talk about a great way to end the day, and not even have to worry about tires, fuel and brakes!

Of course, Audi ensured that the experience was all true to the brand.  The signage was beautiful.  The complimentary continental breakfast in the lounge reminded me of a luxury European hotel.  And all the furniture, including stainless steel tables and chairs, and modern white sofas was brought in specifically for the day.  Nothing at all was left to chance, even the use of high-tech iPod Touches to capture the post drive survey and the very cool Audi caps handed out as thank you gifts.  Vorsprung durch technik indeed.

What should you consider when undertaking an experiential marketing campaign?  My takeaways:

  1. Budget appropriately. In order to do this right, Audi spent a fortune.  From purchasing competitive vehicles, to detailing them (they were impeccably clean), to the furniture, food signage and impeccably-groomed young staff, everything was perfect.  When you’re trying to sell $48,000 cars, nickels and dimes spent on the presentation do matter.
  2. Don’t be afraid of the competition. Don’t hesitate to let your prospective customers compare your product head-to-head, especially when you believe your product can stand up.  Bring in a reasonable set of the products likely to be cross-shopped and let your customers touch and feel those products as well.
  3. Don’t be afraid to guide the conversation. While you can let people make up their own minds about your product in relation to the competition, Audi did a fine job in the pre-drive briefing letting us know how to test the cars and what to look for.  Of course, Audi was bound to do well in that comparison because we knew what to think about during the drives.
  4. Sweat the details. Is the coffee good?  The pastries of best quality?  Is the upholstery clean?  All of this matters and all of this costs almost nothing to get right.
  5. Have a plan. The logistics of having hundreds of people come through to drive the cars must have been mind-boggling (the presenter indicated they brought 70 cars with them).  Yet, everything ran very smoothly.  Clearly, Emotive (the group that put together the day for Audi) had a lot of experience and a very good plan in place.

How have your experiential marketing experiences gone?  Have you had similar good experiences?  Or ones that went awry?

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