The Marketer’s Guide to Experiential Marketing

Engaging potential customers on an emotional level is the best way to build a strong connection between people and your brand. Give us a remarkable experience — whether we’re working or playing — and we will forever associate your product or company with that memory.

Marketing tactics that require audience participation are far more successful at fostering relationships and loyalty than most ad campaigns could ever hope to. More than ever before, marketing professionals in both business and consumer sales are beginning to make in-person experiences a top priority. A range of industry data backs this up:

  • Over 90 percent of consumers claim to have more positive feelings towards a brand after attending a live event;
  • 85 percent say they are more likely to purchase a product or service after attending a live event;
  • 9 in 10 marketers agree that live experiences drive compelling engagement with their audience(s).

Why Does Experiential Marketing Matter to My Business?

Marketing, like all businesses, continues to evolve: The rise of social media and streaming services has transformed advertising and outreach communication into an entirely new challenge. From podcasts and apps, to Facebook and Spotify, the average person has more options for consuming media than ever before. Not only that – at home and at work people have more control over the kinds of messages they choose to receive, if they choose to receive them at all.

Want to stop seeing popups when you’re surfing the web? Install AdBlocker into your browser. Don’t want to watch commercials during your favorite cable show? Watch it on Hulu instead. Sick of seeing certain ads in your Facebook feed? Mark them as irrelevant.

Breaking through the noise and cultivating a lasting relationship with your audience is the key to the successful execution of brand marketing. How do you know if people are even seeing your messaging? That’s both easier and harder than ever before. Marketing teams across the globe are starting to see measurable, long-term results in their experiments with experiential marketing. Brands are now on the lookout for new ideas to create that emotional connection — the surest way to connect directly with people at any stage of their buyer’s cycle.

It doesn’t matter if you are in fashion, consumer technology, home/decor, beauty and skincare, retail or any other market, experience sells. Getting the consumer as close as you can to experiencing that product in context is the goal of experiential marketing.

Experiential Marketing: The Meaning Behind the Buzz Word

Experiential or “engagement” marketing invites audience participation rather than observation. Instead of passively digesting slogans, logos and other facets of traditional advertising, live engagements turn consumers into active participants by immersing them completely in a moment. It’s a strategy that creates memorable, long-lasting connections between an audience and the activating brand.

Experiential marketing is a bit of a catch-all term that includes a host of different concepts. There is no one-size-fits-all “experiential solution.” We have developed this content to help companies understand what kinds of experiential efforts will likely resonate with potential buyers. Let’s start by reviewing a few different types of experiential marketing and what makes them unique:

Event Marketing

When people think of experiential marketing, the examples that come to mind are often related more precisely to event marketing. Event marketing involves person-to-person interaction between company representatives and their customers at events like concerts, fairs, trade shows, and sporting events. Event marketing efforts directly associate a brand with an audience that has a specific interest and objective, rather than engaging a company’s audience at-large.

Whether the event is an exclusive party, access to a show or concert, special product introduction, or creating an interactive exhibition in a public area, the most successful event marketing efforts give attendees a chance to experience something beyond the brand product or service. Attendees should feel like the brand has provided an added value to the core event, not simply pushed a sales message.

Guerilla Marketing

Guerilla marketing is an advertising strategy that focuses on low-cost, high ROI, and often unconventional marketing tactics. The name was originally inspired by the term “guerilla warfare,” which is a form of warfare consisting of small-tactic strategies that depend on elements of surprise. Guerilla marketing strategies tend to consist of highly imaginative, low-cost tactics that aim to surprise consumers and generate social buzz. This experiential marketing tactic is often ideal for urban markets where brands are eager to reach a large audience cost-efficiently.

Brand Activations

Think about what is happening when a business first opens: nobody knows who that business is, and they sure aren’t aware of the brand. The brand is effectively lifeless. The goal in brand activation is to attract the attention of press and influencers so that consumers will learn that a new or expanding brand exists at scale. An additional goal is to associate that new or expanding brand with an appropriate culture.

The need for brand activation doesn’t just apply to new products or services. If a business wants to rebrand itself, it can’t just make a few changes and hope people notice. The marketing and sales teams need to go through the process of switching people’s minds over to the new concept and making them aware of it. It might sound like this is just brand marketing, right? Sort of, yes. Except brand activation specifically refers to the process of getting a brand from one state to another better state. Brand marketing is the all-encompassing, ongoing process of promoting and maintaining your company’s brand(s).

Retail Installations

Retail installation success today lies in giving consumers more than what they’ve come to expect from the shopping process in years past. Going into a physical store or buying online should be a personal experience that feels less like a path to purchase and more like a first date that went really, really well. This mindset ties into a larger shift in both business and retail consumption values: People now look to experiences and relationships instead of just buying whatever is “at the store.” A product on a shelf is no longer enough. As competition thickens, it takes more than price, convenience, or selection to earn sales.

In the future, retail will need to adopt a fully integrated experience to keep and sustain attention. Retailers need to strike an emotional and meaningful connection throughout the shopping experience. The connection should be so strong, consumers feel compelled to come back for more and share the experience. To leverage these connections, the smartest companies will find innovative ways to build kinship among shoppers to maximize ROI.

While the tactical execution varies between these kinds of experiential marketing, there is a common thread that runs between them. Brands must find a way to reach potential customers that can shift perceptions and create real emotional engagement. These marketing events must bring up positive feelings in people’s minds for them to become loyal customers and continually purchase products and services, and most importantly – tell others about their experiences. The thing that leads to success within each of these campaigns is the ability to identify your target audience correctly and create an experience that will stick with participants for years to come.

What is Experiential PR?

Experiential public relations is a nod to the simple fact that members of the media are just like the rest of us – they respond to great experiences too. Sending journalists and morning show editors yet another press release or glossy product flyer has a great danger of being ignored in a pile of a hundred others. However, putting products and services in context helps members of the media experience a bit of the culture that is part of a brand’s experience. The idea is to connect great lifestyle journalists with unforgettable experiences in settings that are both true to brands, and unforgettable for those who attend. Journalists, social influencers and editors, come away from these experiences with tons of pictures, video, and ready-to-write stories that make for compelling content in their publications, shows, and social channels.

Pros and Cons of Experiential Marketing

Humans are inherently emotional creatures; we love to tell stories and revisit the pivotal episodes that have shaped our lives. Brand experiences are meant to invite an audience to participate in something unique. By the end, a participant should be eager to share their experience with their community, whether it’s in writing, pictures, video, and more. If you can use the experience to get a potential or existing customer to that point, they are more likely to associate your brand with that memory, long extending other communication efforts on billboards, TV commercials, or Instagram stories.

If you recognize the advantages of experiential marketing but need tangible benefits to convince your boss, consider using the following:

Data Collection Opportunity

In the digital age, what every marketer under the sun wants is customer data. We want to know who our customers are and how we can best reach and engage them. The great thing about events is that they encourage consumers to share their personal information (emails, contact info, buying preferences, etc.). Consumers typically have little problem sharing their data if it means being part of an event they’re genuinely interested in. Once you’ve collected your customers’ data, you will be able to use that data, learn from it, and run future campaigns more efficiently.

Product Familiarity

As marketers, we are constantly striving to enlighten people about the advantages of our product or service. Live demonstrations promote a better understanding of a product than traditional advertising and marketing efforts because it encourages direct interaction between the user and the brand. In the age of digital media, it can help break through the clutter and reach your customers in a way they won’t simply forget.

Experiences Meet People Where They Are

Rather than forcing consumers to listen to or watch an ad, experiential marketing allows customers to engage with a brand in a setting they actually want to be in. By interacting with them in a comfortable, desirable setting, you increase the chance of invoking a positive response to your product or service, lengthening the bond with the brand over time.

Generate buzz

A key aspect of all experience-based marketing efforts is getting people to talk about and share their experience. Think in terms of messaging “scale” when planning media, business, or consumer, experiences with your products and services. Any time an experience can be designed and executed in such a way that there are many natural-feeling moments to take pictures, shoot video, send tweets, encourage blog posts, or simply re-share compelling content your team or participants are creating – you’re on the right track to “generate buzz.”

Media Exposure

Designing experiential tactics that make those experiences work as sharable content for people who didn’t attend (but found the experience compelling), such as local news shows, un-paid pick-ups by social media influencers, area weekly papers, hashtag adoption, or trade publication coverage, can be anticipated when well-executed. Media exposure can extend and enhance a brand’s cultural relevance far beyond the specific experience design and paid exposure elements.

Enhance Connections Between Brands & Customers

At the end of the day, the real purpose of all these creative new ways of providing experiences is to understand how to use new tactics to achieve the age-old marketing goal: derive brand loyalty and hold a “top of mind” spot for people looking to buy a solution to their problem. Looking at all of your touchpoints, from websites to social media, from press events to retail and trade shows, let no opportunity go unexplored in finding compelling ways to enhance and grow real connections between buyers and sellers.

While there is plenty of good to be said for a successful experiential marketing program, we wouldn’t be the true experts if we didn’t counsel you on the disadvantages. Let’s consider them:

Inexperience Can Be Costly

Whether you’ve hired social influencers to participate, need to secure permits for your location, or invest in custom decorations, hosting an unforgettable experience for consumers can come with a high price tag. If your internal marketing team doesn’t have much experience coordinating the logistics of an event, consider hiring a professional consultant to help you use your budget strategically, and make sure you make enough room in your budget to make sure someone is tasked with designing measurement processes. The only thing worse than going over budget is completing a huge effort and having no idea how the effort made any headway in achieving company goals.

Intangibles Can Happen

Despite your best efforts, an unpredictable factor that is out of your control can always arise during an activation or event. Even if you’ve planned for months to hold an experience outdoors, you can’t prevent the weather from turning sour that day. Likewise, if you’ve invited local news crews to attend, you can’t stop a breaking news incident from occurring nearby at the same time and stealing the spotlight.

Control of the Narrative

When you invite the public (and even media) to an experience, you are opening your brand messaging up and allowing anyone who participates an opportunity to develop their own messaging about your brand. Whether it’s word of mouth, a social post, or commentary to a reporter, the public are always eager to share their opinions. Your company needs to be comfortable with that reality, and ready to jump on spontaneous developments (good and bad) that might come out of those experiences.

Experiential Marketing Best Practices

With these risks in-mind, pursue a strategy that will allow you to wring the greatest value from your planned experience. Don’t rely too heavily on one channel – media, social buzz, or your own paid promotions – to achieve success. Having contingency plans in place will help you optimize your experiential project, arm you to tackle unforeseen negative communication, and get your team ready to take advantage of spontaneous positive response that could go far beyond expectations.

Here are some insider tips to include in your experience design strategy that will help you pull off killer brand experiences:

Clearly Define the Goal(s)

We like to use the phrase: “data kills the tyranny of ideas.” For those of us who love the creative space, it isn’t terribly hard to dream up fun experiences for press and consumers. The key is to clearly understand what your company’s goals are to know if your creativity will result in achieving those priorities. Are your company leaders looking for lots of shared social content? Email sign-ups? Increased brand recognition? New customer leads? It is vital to make sure everyone involved understands the goals the company is trying to achieve to maximize the effectiveness of every creative effort.

Know What You Want From Each Audience

Critically examine each experiential marketing tactic idea carefully by thinking through what it is you are expecting participants to do during and after the experience. It is perfectly reasonable to create a visually appealing experience and enjoy massive quantities of shared social posts full of beautiful pictures. But if you really want people to sign up for new subscriptions to a service, that social campaign had better be designed to make it really easy for people to get from all those social posts to your new subscription page, or you will likely not get the audience participation you were looking for.

Promote Experience Exclusivity

If your experiential effort is designed to feel special, unique, or temporary, it is important to make sure messaging conveys exclusivity. Industry research indicates that people tend to become emotionally invested in experiences that are not available to everyone, at all times, forever. Whenever there is an opportunity to convey a special, exclusive element to an experience, it will behoove you to do so.

Find Partners

From sweepstakes to event sponsorship, from sports competitions to beauty influencers, partnering with brands that are a natural part of the culture of your customers is a great way to increase relevance, excitement, and messaging scale.

Hashtag It

A post with at least one Instagram hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag. Creating a hashtag strategy on social media platforms for your experiences will help the stories about the event become exposed to a far broader audience than those who already follow the brand, influencer or media personality. Using relevant, targeted hashtags on your posts and stories is still one of the best ways to get discovered by new audiences on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If your business goal is to earn more engagement, more followers, and more customers for your business, a rigorous hashtag strategy is a key communication plan to work out and share with all relevant business teams.

Experiential Marketing: The Take-Away

Engaging potential customers on an emotional level, whether in-store, at a trade show, on a website, or out in public, is the best way to build a strong connection between people and your company’s brand(s). People remember and talk about remarkable experiences. Whether these compelling experiences take place at work or while playing – both professionals and consumers will long associate your product or company with that memory.

Now that you better understand what experiential marketing is, and how to think through strategies for different approaches, you can read more about how to measure experiential marketing efforts, and download our experiential marketing tactics checklist.