For thousands of years, sellers of goods and services have understood the most important step in the process of getting someone to make a purchase is to first get them involved with what is being sold. For food products, this can be achieved by encouraging customers to try the product through the use of free samples. For furniture products, take-it-home-and-try-it promotions are widely used. And for online services, it is common to see free 30-day trials.

While the idea of getting people to try something before they buy it is far from being new, so-called experiential marketing methods, designed to immerse potential customers in a product prior to making a commitment, have grown rapidly. Unlike old-style product giveaways, experiential marketing is as much about the environment and the interaction as it is about the products being sampled. One of the most common experiential marketing approaches is to attract a large number of people to a specific location, where products are then consumed as part of a social event. To do this, brands may engage an experiential marketing specialist to coordinate the event. For instance, a company like House Party, offers marketers the ability to have their products be the centerpiece of hundreds of parties, often held on the same day.

Other examples of how companies are deploying experiential marketing are discussed in this Shopper Marketing Magazine story. One example looks at how Target’s after-hours shopping spree, aimed a college students heading back to school, not only helps the retailer but also is used to promote major product suppliers including Coca-Cola. Other examples include Meow Mix cat food, which placed a special mobile recording studio in New York City, where hundreds of people recorded their own version of the now classic “meow mix” jingle, and Chobani yogurt, which promoted its new breakfast product outside train and bus stations, and even offered people a bike ride to work while they sampled the product.

Social Media Sites Add Buy Now OptionIt has been over eleven years since our Marketing Stories section first posted a news item related to social media impact on marketing. That story from E-Commerce Times wondered about the future marketing opportunities social sites offered, though the only social media outlets mentioned at the time were LinkedIn and, two sites that are now gone, Friendster and Orkut. By 2009, when we first discussed social media in one of our first Marketing Blog postings, the effects social media was having on marketing was becoming a little clearer though there were still many who wondered whether Facebook, Twitter, and other sites would ever grow to become the power players they are now.

One of the problems in seeing the future of social media back then is that, from a marketing perspective, social media does not fall easily into just one Marketing category. Instead, it offers benefits across many marketing areas including customer service, public relations, advertising, sales promotion, marketing research, and the list goes on.

Because of the benefits it offers marketers, social media is akin, to say, using Excel. How? Well, spreadsheet calculations help marketers with many marketing decisions, from defining markets to estimating product demand to assessing the best price to charge and many more. Social media is also quickly becoming a tool for nearly all marketing areas. Of course, the big difference is that customers do not interact with a marketer’s spreadsheets, while interaction is required for social media to be effective. But just as all marketers need to be skilled in using spreadsheets, the day is quickly coming when those involved in research or product development or promotion or distribution or pricing or customer service or most other marketing tasks will need to be well-schooled in using social media.

And just to drive this point home a little more, the influence of social media continues to expand, as companies are finding new ways to obtain value. As discussed in this Re/code story, the leading social media sites are actively moving to offering social “Buy Now” buttons in an effort to expand retail sales. These buttons would not only be tied to sponsor-supported promotional postings, but may also be displayed when someone comments favorably about a product or service. While the story notes there are still challenges ahead before “social commerce” can take hold, given how social media has overcome naysayers in the past, don’t be surprised if social “Buy Now” buttons are the next big thing.

One topic we regularly discuss in our postings is how marketers often are confronted with difficult decisions. For instance, a few weeks ago we looked at how market conditions forced Restoration Hardware to make the hard choice to re-position their brand in a way that targets an entirely different market. And last October, we discussed how Target made the tough decision to alter its overall marketing strategy to appeal to changing customer demographics.

Another difficult situation that may require tough decisions be made occurs when companies are faced with determining if a popular trend within their target market is something they need to pursue. What makes these decisions hard is trying to estimate whether customers will continue to react favorably over the long run to the emerging trend. For instance, over the last few years we have experienced many fads that created excitement only to run out of steam. While in hindsight it is pretty easy to see why the interest in these fads has now diminished, for the marketer the tough decision is whether or not to take advantage of opportunities long before it is evident what will eventually happen. Even more, if a trend is not a fad but something that will create a real market, being late to the market may present problems if others have built strong positions.

We now have another example of a trending idea that will have some marketers asking the “is-it-a-fad-or-is-it-for-real” question. As discussed in this Fortune story, a craft brewer in Illinois, Small Town Brewery, is generating interest with a new type of beverage – Root Beer. Of course, the emphasis on this product is the beer, as it is an alcoholic beverage and not a carbonated soft drink. What is interesting is this product now ranks within the top 30 of all craft beers in the U.S.  As the story notes, other brewers are jumping in with their own Root Beer, including Boston Beer, maker of the Sam Adams brand.

Even if alcoholic Root Beer is more than a fad, it likely will be perceived as a seasonal beverage and not something with consistent year-round sales. But then again, it could tap into an unrecognized need and find a niche market in the same way Mike’s Hard Lemonade has done. Certainly something to watch and, for those of legal drinking age, something to taste!

When deciding where to direct promotional funds for Internet marketing, marketers often focus on options that will offer a clear view of the return it will provide on their investment. For instance, when it comes to online advertising, a popular metric for estimating success is the percentage of clicks for each time an advertisement is presented to site visitors. Additionally, marketers will also consider whether a potential advertising placement is on a website that is of interest to their target market. For example, a company that manufactures rock-climbing equipment is likely not spending money to advertise on a food magazine website.

Another factor marketers may consider is the perceived reputation of the Internet site where an ad may run and whether it matches what the marketer believes is appropriate to its organizational values. If it does not, the marketer may not consider advertising on the site even if the target market provides high traffic to the outlet.

A good example of an Internet site, whose reputation may be causing advertisers to turn away, can be seen in this Los Angeles Times story. It reports on how companies seem to be avoiding advertising on Reddit, a popular website that may best be classified as a social interaction website. The site, which some ranking services list as one of the top 50 global websites, is struggling to attract advertisers. The big reason is the reputation that surrounds Reddit. Over that last few years, Reddit has been impacted by a number of controversial issues.

Given their business model, which gives the impression that nearly anyone can create an interest area, the site appears to be at the mercy of their users, which may not be such a good model for generating advertiser revenue.