Try this

Getting your brand into the consumer's hands is a good thing. But getting your hands into your target's hands and developing a relationship in the process is even better.

Getting your brand into the consumer’s hands is a good thing. But getting your hands into your target’s hands and developing a relationship in the process is even better.

That’s why savvy marketers are moving beyond ‘sampling’ towards ‘tryvertising,’ by allowing consumers to interact with product on their own turf and without pressure to buy. Sure, it costs more and requires more effort, but the benefits can be enormous – from getting potential customers closer to purchase to stealing loyal brand users away from the competition.

Christopher Lynch is senior manager at Toronto-based Deloitte & Touche’s customer channel strategy practice. His firm surveys 50 marketers in Canada every year and 200 globally and he says that in the last six months tryvertising has become more popular. ‘The challenge with sampling has been low targeting – a 1% to 2% hit rate,’ he points out. ‘Tryvertising targets a high-value segment.’

One smart way some marketers are tapping into segmented audiences is through hookups with established brands courting the same group. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, recently struck a deal with the Ritz Carlton south of the border. Visitors who opt for the ‘key to luxury’ package at the hotel chain also get a Mercedes CLS500 for use during their stay.

It’s happening in Canada too. In fact, as a Super Elite member with Aeroplan, Lynch himself was offered the opportunity to test drive a BMW. ‘I received a phone call where I was asked if I would like to experience the car for a weekend. I took my car in, they cleaned it and changed the oil, and I got a sales pitch at the end.

‘If they can track me and I purchase the car, it gives a tangible connection between marketing and ROI.’

BMW Canada’s focus on tryvertising has definitely accelerated in recent years. The automaker, for instance, just hosted its third annual Mini Test Fly event weekend in Toronto last month, as well as Montreal and Vancouver. Bronya Cuddy, retail marketing and communications manager for BMW Group Canada’s corporate stores, says about 1,700 people were invited to Downsview Park in Toronto, where they could ‘experience’ the car over two days.

Attendees were broken into groups of 20 and given a run-down on Mini. Once that was over, they could climb in and steer through a course designed by professional drivers. ‘These were [mainly] potential customers who have visited a Mini store, expressed interest, but haven’t made a purchase,’ explains Cuddy. ‘It’s great for people who are hesitant to go into the retail facility.’

David Nichols, co-founder of Vancouver-based Inventa (along with his brother Brent Nichols and Geoff Cribbs), says this is a key point – if there is no pressure to buy, marketers have a better chance of developing a significant relationship with the target. He should know. Inventa is the agency behind the Nike Test Drive program, which allows runners to lace up brand new shoes for a 5km or 10km jaunt, with no strings attached.

For the past three years, Inventa has packed up a van with 250 Nike sneakers and hit running clubs and clinics, plus larger events, like last month’s Vancouver Sun Run, where the Nike Lounge housed not only product for trial, but also massages, drinks and snacks.

Next up for Inventa is the ‘Nintendo Too Much Fun Tour,’ which plans to expose the brand’s current product – Game Cube, the Nintendo Dual Screen System, plus new titles – to over three million Canadians. A souped-up Hummer and interactive trailer carrying enormous flat-screen TVs will visit large and small summer festivals across the country starting this month. Staff will carry devices around on specially produced waistbands – that way they can answer questions and offer tips as they go.

The cost of a tryvertising program with Inventa ranges from as little as $30,000 for a one-day event in one city to several hundred thousand for a multiweek campaign.

Adds Nichols: ‘In the last four or five years, tryvertising has become more relevant as a strategic marketing decision, as opposed to a tactical add-on. Now we’re being involved with companies at a strategic level, at the same time as a traditional ad agency.’

Nichols points out it’s also no coincidence the marketing tool is being adopted by brands in categories where consumers tend to be loyal – like cars, running shoes and technology. Converting brand loyal customers was an overall objective for Nike, he admits. ‘They identified that [the Test Drive Program] is how they can really connect with the core running community.’

This has been the impetus behind HP Canada’s tryvertising campaigns too. Says Michael McAvoy, director of consumer marketing at the Mississauga, Ont.-based brand: ‘People have passions around photography brands or computing brands – a number of people only buy Brand X. We not only want to convert a brand user, but traditional photographers.’

With that goal in mind, HP recently introduced its second annual ‘You Rock! Tour,’ only this time, it’s starting a couple of months earlier. First launched North America-wide in August 2004, the initiative involves two-member teams who drive around in decked-out Escalades. They visit malls, entertainment districts and other popular hangouts, where they invite passersby to test HP Media Center notebooks, Photosmart printers and digital cameras. HP reps hand out materials that send participants to an exclusive URL to potentially win prizes, making the campaign trackable.

This month, the brand will also be visible in Famous Players party rooms, so that families celebrating kids’ birthdays have access to digital cameras.

‘It provides an impression beyond traditional advertising and other means that are getting a little stale these days. It makes it real,’ says McAvoy, who adds the tryvertising efforts are part of HP’s overall marketing strategy shift away from tech-specific messaging towards focusing on how people interact with the product in advertising.

But does tryvertising work? Recent cases suggest so. In the States, for instance, General Motors has had success with its 24-hour test-drive program. All but a handful of vehicles were included in the initiative that first launched in April 2003, and in five short months, more than 330,000 potential customers had taken the bait. GM rang up more than 110,000 sales during that period.

And Nichols points to a research study conducted by Toronto-based IMI Canada on behalf of one of Inventa’s clients. The study included a control group, consisting of average consumers exposed to all forms of marketing for a new brand, and then a test group of consumers exposed to a tryvertising campaign. There was a 50% increase in future intent to purchase among the latter.

He adds: ‘When you look at traditional forms of advertising, there are some questions about things like potential reach. With this tactic, you are one on one with consumers. You’re much closer to allowing that consumer to think about the brand differently and to leading them down that path of purchase.’

Sounds like tryvertising is worth a try.