Naming the Drive In

There’s a crucial element to digital success that hasn’t been given a name, which has made it complicated to explain to clients. So, we gave it one: drive to experience marketing (DTE), defined as a balanced diet of paid media, earned media and social media activity that makes people aware of and drives them into digital experiences.

Why is DTE needed? Simple. If you build it, they might not come. This reality makes the question of “How people will find out about this?” the missing piece of the puzzle online. It’s the secret weapon that can give your experience an unfair advantage.

Say your brand has just invested a few million dollars building an engagement platform to help travelers find restaurants near their hotels. Or you just splurged on a snazzy microsite with lots of high production value, e.g., an interactive fashion video. Or maybe you created a really cool iPhone game application that now sits alongside the other 100,000+ apps in iTunes.

Although it’s feasible that you could just put it out there and hope that it “goes viral,” the overwhelming odds are that it won’t. There are simply too many things competing for a finite amount of attention — and relying solely on word of mouth is a recipe for disappointment. That doesn’t mean no one will like your game or your fashion microsite and send it to their friends, or that you should shy away from investing in creating interesting experiences online. It just means that you need a little push to set the spark. And that’s where DTE comes in.

There are a few challenges. First, when it takes the form of digital ads, DTE sits right at the intersection of brand advertising and direct marketing. It can change perception and generate awareness like brand, but it’s about getting people to do something specific like direct. And that’s a
possible source of confusion for clients who are used to thinking of advertising as either one or the other.

Second, clients typically don’t build in media and production budgets for DTE and don’t see where it fits in the big picture. I’ve worked on innumerable projects where we showed great DTE ideas, but they often end up on the cutting-room floor.

Some realignment in thinking is needed, but the payoff can be huge. In fact, changing the way you think about driving to experiences can transform your whole approach. The idea of DTE helps construct a framework for creating bottom-up, digitally focused brand campaigns.

Start with a core experience on the Web, mobile or in social media. It can be entertaining, informative or useful. Add DTE to drive people into it. Then layer brand
messaging on top of that to put the experience in context. It’s the opposite of the traditional approach, which starts with a message and works its way down.

So, now that you have this handy acronym, what’s the best way to use DTE to your advantage?

1. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until your project launches to wonder why there’s no traffic coming in. Considering DTE in the conception phase can also help you craft simple experiences that people will be more likely to
adopt and share. This is especially relevant if you’re launching a utility. It’s easy to get caught up in the technology it uses and what it does, and forget about how to make it interesting to people.

2. Let the experience drive the ads. Think about bubbling functionality and content from your experience into online advertising, rather than trying to push an offline message down into it. For instance, for your travel platform, run a banner on that pulls in relevant restaurant info while people are researching hotels. Doing something like this can shift brand perception, provide useful information and draw people into your platform all at the same time.

3. Earn your place. They call it earned media for a reason. If you’re trying to enlist people to spread word about your experience on Facebook and Twitter, you need to approach the space in the right way. Focus more on showing people that you’ve created something to entertain them, provided an interesting diversion or given them a tool they can use, and less on telling them all about your new tagline.

4. Feed the fire. Managing online buzz is a highly dynamic process. It’s important to monitor developments closely and maintain the right balance of paid and unpaid approaches. Adding fuel at the right time can really make the difference between success and failure.

Jay Zasa is ecd of The Barbarian Group. He can be reached at