08/23/2012 10:57 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

Business Marketing: Taking a Cue From Politics

In politics marketing a candidate is about building a personal relationship between the candidate and voters. Photo ops, shaking hands with constituents, and offering a chance to win dinner with the candidate are all time-honored practices used to humanize and personalize the voters' impression of the candidate.

Businesses, on the other hand, tend to focus on marketing products, not people. Our company decided to change that paradigm by offering an experience with executives in the company -- resulting in the effective engagement of our consumers on a much deeper level.

Typically, when one thinks of consumer product daily deal websites like, fishing in Pine Island, Florida, doesn't come to mind. But in a recent promotion, we offered two of our Facebook fans a fully paid fishing trip (catch and release, of course) with our company executives. An unconventional approach to say the least, but we wanted to give our customers an experience, not just another gift.

The trip created a lot of positive buzz, with Yahoo Finance, Miami Herald, Reuters and other news agencies picking up the story announcing the winner of the fishing adventure.

"Why fishing?" and, "What connection does fishing have to branding a daily deal website?" After all, our 500,000-plus social media fans didn't sign up to Field & Stream or Outside Magazine. They signed up to get access to deeply discounted electronics, jewelry and family goods.

Many questioned the soundness of our strategy calling it counterintuitive at the least. But with our incredibly tanned Florida fishing tour guide ready to lead the adventure, we launched the sweepstakes. The feedback was immediate and encouraging. Within hours, we received thousands of entries and our Facebook page was flooded with hundreds of enthusiastic comments.

When asked how they would feel if they won an all-expenses-paid vacation/fishing trip to Florida, one person wrote, "ECSTATIC!!! It would make me want to spend THOUSANDS of DOLLARS" with your company. Hundreds of fans responded positively and all were equally excited about a chance to win the trip.

Excitement is exactly the response we strive for with our social media promotions. We often host contests, sweepstakes and rewards for our social networking community, after all that's what makes them follow us- exclusives. But we're looking to give our customers more than just exclusives; we want them to have an experience.

Most e-commerce companies shy away from experience-based prizes. They focus on website coupons, cash and tangible rewards. We focused on giving our fans a personal experience that connects them with us -- and it worked. After all, isn't that the purpose of social media, to build relationships?

Personally speaking, my strongest connections in life have been built through experiences with others -- not receiving gifts. Catching my first trout with my father has had a greater impact on me than any gift. Experiences reinforce connections.

"We don't tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object," one widely published study showed. "Experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy... the need for social connectedness and vitality."

When reinforcing customer loyalty, as with courting voters, the goal goes beyond a single sale or election. A politician hopes that the experience he or she creates will remain with the voters for many more reelections. This is the experience businesses should hope to imbue in their consumers. It's not just about "the next sale" but about creating experiences that will keep your brand seared in customers memories and hearts.

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