What Is Experiential Marketing: The Trend Explained

Many brands use it in their marketing campaigns, but what is experiential marketing? Simply put, experiential marketing connects customers to a brand in a meaningful way by providing a unique or emotional experience, and this highly effective marketing tactic works in ways that traditional marketing does not.

image of neon sign that reads started by us finished by you over another sign that reads the levi's tailer shop miami where a counter and descriptions of services is listed.. Area surrounded by tropical foliage

What is experiential marketing?

In today’s marketplace where we fast-forward TV commercials or choose ad-free streaming services, traditional marketing practices don’t offer the same return on investment they used to. Instead, brands are increasingly turning towards experiential marketing where consumers can experience or engage with the brand, without being sold to directly. Experiential marketing can include live events, installations, trade shows, product launches and webinars. And the research shows it works. According to Eventmarketer’s Event Track, 85% of consumers are likely to purchase after participating in events and experiences, and over 90% have more positive feelings about the brands attending. So why is it so effective? Because experiential marketing is subtle, can evoke emotion, and oftentimes has little to do with the product being marketed itself. 

What to consider when designing the experience

There are a handful of key elements to consider when designing a brand’s experiential marketing approach. First, consider your audience. Understanding the key demographics of your customer will better inform the experience you provide them. A customer from generation X will better respond to a video game themed event than those from the baby boomer generation. Next, consider your goals. Are you looking to attract new customers? Develop brand loyalty? Or entice your audience to try your latest product? Your goal will drive the design of the experience, so be clear on your goals from the start. And it doesn’t hurt to have your key performance indicators, or KPIs, established. These will help you track your progress towards meeting your chosen goal. Take time to consider your budget as well. Having a defined budget will eliminate much of the guess work when choosing what to include in the experience. Finally, consider how you may connect the live experience with a virtual one. Customer interaction has changed dramatically with the rise in popularity of virtual spaces, particularly with the global pandemic, so don’t forget the customer who cannot be there in person. Use hashtag campaigns to track your campaign across social media, and increase visibility.

What not to do? Don’t make it too salesy. The customer is not there for a sales pitch. Come with a hard sell and you will turn them off, or even worse, share that they had a negative experience and compound the problem. If you are doing it right, consumers will say they feel more brand loyalty after participating in a brand experience or interaction, and 91% will be more likely to purchase the product or service

 

The building blocks of Experiential Marketing

A successful experiential marketing campaign will build a stronger connection between your customer and your brand. Here are some ways to build an experiential marketing campaign with impact.

Provide a wow factor

With the goal being a positive or unique experience, use high-impact elements to bring a sense of wonder or awe to your audience. Wow factors include a celebrity appearance, or super-sensory encounters like a light show, that are likely to be talked about by visitors long after they have left the experience. Another way to have impact is to use scale. Giant props or welcome treatments are an easy way to impress your audience. We built a giant version of a harmonic pendulum for Chevron’s STEM Zone, and visitors lined up around the perimeter to watch it in action.

giant harmonic pendulum made with blue bowling balls in front of a white tent with marketing graphics showing girls involved with STEM

And for the National Hockey League’s stadium series, we fabricated two massive goalie helmets through which the players entered the rink set up in the middle of Levi’s Stadium. 

Make it memorable

Providing a take home element or encouraging a way to connect with the brand after leaving the experience offers a follow-up opportunity to engage with the brand. Examples of this include take home swag like branded bags or water bottles, or unique photo booth images, like these taken with a thermal imaging camera for Chevron’s STEM Zone. 

couple taking photo in a thermal image selfie booth

Drive visitors to a web site where the customer can revisit the in-person experience, like GAP did with their Zoetrope activation. Visitors now find themselves on GAP’s website, which could lead to an online sale. Having that second touch point will allow you to reconnect with the customer after they have left the experience. The more positive touchpoints you can have with your customers, the better. And the more connected those touchpoints, the more powerful and compelling they become. A cohesive experience is key to winning customer loyalty.

gap commercial

Tap into emotion

An effective experiential marketing activation will foster some sort of emotion, and if this emotion is positive, the customer will now have a positive association with your brand. Experiences that harness joy, encourage creativity, or tap into nostalgia are extremely effective in building brand loyalty. For example, we built a pop-up called Levi’s Haus at Art Basil in Miami where visitors could purchase and then customize their own Levi’s gear while on site. While waiting for their finished product, they could socialize in a Levi’s branded bar or outdoor art space. The experience fostered creativity and connection in a beautiful setting with a custom take home element, an excellent way to engage with the brand.

Chivas Regal sponsored a competition for entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in the world titled The Venture, where entrepreneurs compete to win funding for their start-up. At The Final Pitch, an event for which we built out custom interactive displays for each of the finalists in the competition, entrepreneurs had to give their final pitch to investors, an experience undoubtedly filled with racing hearts pumping adrenaline.

chivas the venture what is experiential marketing

People want to know what your product does. More importantly, the driving force behind why they choose you over your competitor may come down to how your product makes them feel. Your experiential marketing should amplify the feelings that come when they use your product.

Engage all the senses

Customers want to feel a real human connection with your brand. In fact 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business. By using sensory engagement, you offer an authentic connection with your brand. Emotional elements like music and lighting can create a very memorable experience for the audience. This explains why brands, like our end client Rakuten, use live music as a way to engage with their customers. Providing a tangible reward in the form of a live performance by a favorite musician is an excellent way to show your customer appreciation.

usher performing on stage with giant Rakuten Optimism dimensional logo on back wall and lighting effects

Make it Instagrammable

Word of mouth has long been a reliable form of marketing, and social media takes it to a rapid extreme. Creating entertaining environments, particularly ones that make for the perfect selfie or group photo that visitors want to share on social media, is a useful and free way to amplify your brand. Oversized props or logos, like this Bacon & Beer logo we built, are eye catching and fun for visitors to engage with. Encourage visitors to tag posts with your event’s hashtag as way to track engagement, and leverage your exposure.

beer and bacon festival 4

Experiential Marketing - The Takeaways

With every marketing campaign you launch, find the fun factor. Positive association encourages the customer to come back. And consider how you might leverage your audience for growing your business. If they are your target demographic, they’re also the ones best-equipped to say what is and what is not working. An experiential campaign is one good opportunity to connect directly with your consumers and create enjoyable experiences in which they can provide perspective. 

 

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