Does Your Business Have a Ball Pit?

A few months ago I visited a new church. I was navigating through this huge, former warehouse turned contemporary worship building when a women stopped me with a beyond bizarre question. "Hi, will you sit in the ball pit with me?"

I glanced behind her and sure enough there was a large, square edifice filled with the colorful balls that take me back to the days of McDonald's play dates. Taken off guard, and not one to be rude, I replied, "Um, okay, sure."

There I was sitting in a stereotypical child's playground not even five minutes after entering this church for the first time. Helena, the lady who asked me to join her, explained to me that the purpose was for church attendees to use the ball pit as a means to connect with, and get to know, new people. We spent ten minutes chatting, albeit immersed in balls, before the service began.

It was truly an experience I will never, ever forget.

No, I am not advocating you place a ball pit in your office (Although, the idea of suited professionals sitting in a ball pit is quite amusing), however I am lobbying for you to create unforgettable, emotion-driven experiences for your customers.

Does your business model, new customer acquisition process, consumer technology (apps, website), and overall marketing campaign stand out from everyone else in your industry? Your customers won't remember a run of the mill website, billboard, email campaign or retail experience. They just won't.

Large corporations, such as Target, Apple and Google have certainly set the bar high for advertising and holding consumers' attention. Of course many small businesses have miniscule marketing budgets compared to these mega companies, but they can still learn from their creativity and out of the box thinking, as it's what ultimately leads to lasting impressions. And, inventiveness is critically necessary in an era where consumers often rather turn to their iPad to make purchases.

Recently, Chick-Fil-A has found an ingenious way to create a memorable experience for their customers. Some of their franchises have begun placing containers on each of their restaurant tables for families to store their phones and electronic devices while they eat. The goal is for friends and families to have time to truly connect without technology muddling their time together. Groups that successfully leave their phones in the container during their entire meal can alert a staff member and receive a free ice cream cone. This certainly isn't direct marketing, but the simple and good-willed effort is cohesive with Chick-Fil-A's overall image, and it serves as an exceptional marketing and customer service tool.

Another example of a simple, yet powerful marketing campaign is TD Bank's YouTube video entitled, "Sometimes You Just Want to Say Thank You." During the four-minute clip, an ATM machine transforms into an "Automatic Thanking Machine" that speaks to, and rewards, TD customers. An older woman, and mother to a critically sick daughter, is dispensed a plane ticket to be by her side at an upcoming operation in Trinidad. Another hard working customer is dispensed tickets to take her kids to Disney World. Through her tears she exclaims, "I have never been able to take my kids anywhere!"

She certainly wasn't the only one brought to tears, as this YouTube sensation admittedly caused me, and surely many others, to get teary eyed as well. The video has over 23 million views, and the bank has gained invaluable brand recognition, and certainly a significant amount of new, and future, customers.

What makes these campaigns so successful? They evoke strong, memorable emotion. Greed, compassion, fear, excitement, shock, joy; that's what the advertising game is all about. Studies back this notion and have concluded that emotional marketing is actually twice as effective as promotional marketing.

It is time to step away, or perhaps run, from the boring, standard, "Here is our product and the price" marketing genre. Instead, use your branding efforts as a means to connect with your community. If you can connect emotionally, they will like you. And if they like you, they will potentially buy from you.

How do you begin? Consider appointing a Chief Innovation Officer. Never underestimate the power of one, or a few, bright, imaginative individuals that are fully empowered to do something new, creative, interesting, or even bizarre... Something so bizarre that it may just work to increase your companies brand recognition, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Find your ball pit and your product will sell itself in the process.