Think of the last time you visited a cell phone store or kiosk with the intention of selecting a new phone. What were the top things you wanted to know about the phones you were considering: How was the sound quality? Was it easy to operate? Did the buttons feel solid--like they'd take a beating over time? How heavy was the device?
And which of these questions could you answer by picking up the phones at the store? First of all, you might've been lucky to pick them up at all, since many stores have the phones bolted to the wall. Even if you could get it in your hand, what you likely found was a dummy phone with dummy buttons, no "guts", and no battery. If this was your experience, you were able to answer absolutely none of the primary questions you had about the product.
Apparently Verizon finally figured out that it is in the cell phone business, because they're making news for opening a series of "Experience Stores." According to MediaPost, Boston's "6,600 square foot store... offers consumers a high-tech and hands-on experience with wireless voice, data, music and video services. The store, one of about 100 now open across the country, displays more than 55 working phones, broadband services and integrates kiosks for easy check and bill paying."
What interests me isn't so much that a mobile company's store is allowing consumers to actually experience the mobile company's phones but how they're promoting the new store: they're letting the experience and the consumers do the talking. As discussed here in Maslow's Hierarchy: Why People Engage in Online Communities, sparking a marketing community or WOM begins with a differentiated brand experience; no differentiation means no desire to tell others which means no WOM.
Verizon knows this, and that is why a significant portion of their store promotion plan relies on WOM and blog chatter to help attract attention and drive traffic to the new store. A consumer market research expert is quoted in the MediaPost article pointing out that Verizon's advertising phrase "Can you hear me now?" has become so well known that there's no reason to spend serious money to advertise services. "The phrase has arguably reached iconic status, which adds to the experience message Verizon tries to communicate in the stores."
Verizon has created a solid foundation for success: The combination of a differentiated marketing message and a differentiate shopping experience can ignite a great deal of WOM. Thanks to Erik over at the Experiential Marketing Forum and Swivel Media for sharing this article.