The Wilderness Downtown is Value Experience / by Dan Weingrod

It’s great when we can add value, but its even better when we can create a value experience.

How can you sell something that’s free? It’s a hard enough question when we are trying to get customers to purchase or engage, but what if your goal is simply to change behavior without actually selling something. The usual answer is to provide something of value. Offer a coupon or a trial. But when a product is free what else can you do short of directly paying people to use it? Recently Google provided a new approach to this question by providing value in a unique experience. Google has been working very hard lately to grow adoption of the Chrome browser. The browser world is a tough marketplace, especially when you consider that all browsers are free and in some cases come with the advantage of being pre-installed. When you are asking someone to change browser preference you are asking a lot. Aside from the download and installation you are also asking for a consumer to change some very basic, ingrained daily habits and preferences. You are really trying to change behavior at a very elemental level.

To date Google has put out some great television and YouTube ads.They have been very creative, but have primarily focused on features such as speed, usability and consistency with other Google tools. But Google’s most recent approach completely changed the game.

Under the banner of “Chrome Experiments” Google launched a brilliant online experience called “The Wilderness Downtown”. This collaboration with the band Arcade Fire and directed by Chris Milk brings the song “We Used To Wait” to life using multiple windows, custom rendered maps, real-time compositing, procedural drawing, 3D canvas rendering and other tools too complex for me to detail. A key feature of The Wilderness Downtown is that it begins by asking participants to enter a street address and then blends data from a variety of Google mapping tools into the experience. The result is a highly interactive, and based on multiple reactions, very emotional work that blends music and memory in surprising ways. The other important thing to know about The Wilderness Downtown is that it can only work within the Google Chrome browser.

What does this have to do with value? For me, and I suspect others, the Wilderness Downtown worked to change behavior. I already use Google Chrome pretty actively, but this experience cemented my loyalty to it and, I am convinced, converted others who use competitive browsers. This happened not because I received something with tangible value that convinced me to switch. It happened because Chrome gave me a unique and highly personal “value experience”. An experience that was only accessible within its product and tool set. New research has shown that positive experiences can create much more compelling and long lasting value and loyalty than expensive purchases. The success of the Wilderness Downtown is in the way it extends this idea into a value experience that can changes behavior and build loyalty for a free product without the exchange of items of tangible value.