Experiential Marketing: What does it mean and how can it work for me?

Experiential Marketing: What does it mean and how can it work for me?

Do you need to increase positive brand impressions and awareness?  Perhaps build customer loyalty to increase sales?  Whether you represent a B2C or B2B brand, it may be time to look harder at building in some experiential marketing and connecting to your clients with a unique and dynamic branded experience.

What defines “Experiential?”

Live marketing, activations, immersive environments, engagement marketing…whatever you name it…the process of actively involving a customer in a memorable brand experience is “experiential.”

Now, we can’t create a meeting, workshop, training, promotion, or event and call it experiential just because people are there in person.  The art of experiential is not about telling your story (passive)…it is about actively making the attendee PART of your story. The primary differentiator in experience design is that the audience engagement is very intentional.  It is a highly personal experience that is built to create emotional connection.  That connection is the key to how people learn, are motivated and actually act on something.  This is meant to forge a relationship between a brand and that consumer or business purchaser.

Welcome to a new era of marketing and service in which your brand is defined by those who experience it.
– Brian Solis, Industry-Leading Futurist

Why are brands (of all types) embracing it?

When a brand connects with a customer in an emotional way, that customer not only wants to buy it, they become loyal customers.  By bringing your participants into the brand story, they will feel connected rather than sold to, which will make a significant difference in how they see and interact with your brand.

IKEAAn experiential engagement provides:

  • Authentic Engagement – firsthand encounters/genuine connections
  • Enhanced Brand/Product Awareness – and the hopeful word of mouth factor
  • Targeted Audience Reach – events/channels that are specific and trackable to key demographics
  • Data and Insight Collection – real time input that can impact brand changes
  • Competitive Advantage – the positive impressions and increased loyalty influences sales

What are the essential “best practices” in an experiential campaign?

Understand Your Customer Base

Before beginning any planning, it’s important to look at your current or projected customer data to find out what kind of experiential marketing would resonate with your audience(s).  Consider customer segmentation to determine the kinds of experiential campaigns that might be worthwhile for specific targets.

Solidify your Goals and KPIs

KPIClearly define specific goals with a comprehensive outline of what you expect to attain.  Do you aim to enhance brand awareness and exposure, raise the number of leads, or shift potential clients towards the sales funnel?  The goals you define will dictate the techniques you choose and how you will implement them.  The strategy must be centered on your intended audience(s) and measurable.  Look at your intended goals, find out how to best measure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and find out what data you’d like to glean from customers during the campaign.  Experiential marketing is a great method to obtain nuanced customer data and to solicit in-person feedback from participants.  Identifying your KPIs can help your company make better choices.

Plan to Collect & Measure Data

Experiential platforms work as an ideal means to collect essential insights and feedback from clients about how they perceive your brand.  Many people are more than willing to share their opinions.  Whether you record audio/video impressions, collect data in a game interaction, provide a questionnaire or poll–there are great opportunities to grab input.  And your previously defined goals and Key Performance Indicators will help you to determine the method and technology with which you will measure the success of your engagement.  For example, if you want to raise brand awareness, you should make sure to track your social media shout-outs and engagement levels.

Don’t Start Without a Budget

When planning for any new type of campaign, a budget is necessary to ensure your desired return on investment.  This is especially true of experiential marketing, since it often includes more moving parts and works in tandem with traditional marketing tools.  Be realistic, perhaps budget in buckets or phases across a timeline for pre, at and post.  Make sure that all stakeholders are clearly informed.

Tell A Story, Be Authentic

Each successful experiential campaign delivers a fascinating story and welcomes attendees to take part in that story.  The narrative might target customers’ problems with accompanying solutions or delve into more powerful or more socially conscious direction.  You need to employ a proper strategy that suits your brand’s identity and offers an authentic insight.  Analyze what differentiates your brand from the competitors.  Avoid being too “salesy” in this approach.

Implement a Cross-Channel Marketing Plan Across the Whole Campaign

Depending on your project, your experiential marketing might be featured at a physical location.  Remember that experiential marketing does not have to be just one form of interaction.  Your live experience can develop content for simultaneous or post-event streaming, workshops, social media, etc.  Perhaps your effort is built to attract media or industry-specific attention.  It is key to put in place a process to follow up and continue the engagement with participants–expand the momentum and build the relationships.

70% of consumers said they felt more brand loyalty after participating in a brand experience or interaction, and 91% were more likely to purchase the product or service.
– EventTrack

What are some examples of Experiential Engagements?

There are many types of multi-tiered experiential campaigns.  The live engagements could be workshops, pop-up exhibits, presentations, samplings, contests, or other.

Consumer brands have understood the experiential approach for quite some time.  Bring the brand concept directly to the people.  Think of numerous product engagements with soda, snack, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, personal electronics and bottled water brands.

Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThisTake, for example, Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis campaign. Women were invited to “weigh in” about something important about themselves other than their weight.  The responses were then collected and painted onto a gallery wall in Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  Responses ranged from “I care for 200 homeless children each day” to “I am back at college at 55 years old.” The brand then created a promo video that spoke to women about what they wrote and why.  The important aspect of the campaign was that at no time was anyone offered a Lean Cuisine product, but there was the powerful message about women being more than a number on a scale.  It worked: The campaign collected more than 204 million impressions.

BrandcastAs a good example of B2B engagement, to remind advertisers about its key platform for the modern consumer, YouTube in Canada created a one-day thought leader marketing hybrid event in Toronto called Brandcast.  The event was simultaneously live-streamed on YouTube to a hyper-targeted group of c-suite decision makers across the country.  Hosted by Canadian top talent, the event featured custom video of recent YouTube moments, pre-show spotlight performances, and insightful and interactive fireside chats with content creators.  This wasn’t about garnering a massive reach, it was about successfully connecting with the right people that would impact future advertising spend.  After the show, the interest continued and a majority of guests remained for additional engagement with contributors and a deeper connection with the brand.

Currently, 77% of marketers use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategy.  65% of those brands see a direct boost in sales.
– HubSpot

In a business environment where it is challenging to earn customer loyalty, experiential marketing is possibly THE most effective way to create brand activation and affinity.  But companies should avoid the pitfalls of moving forward without proper research and preparation.  They should also avoid the temptation of creating too much of a hard sell in the experience.

Can you devote the time, effort and money to doing it right?  Do you have the right partners in place to help identify project goals and finetune execution?  If so, an experiential marketing campaign or even one experiential component added to your mix can strengthen your business by increasing positive interactions and adding to your loyal customer base.

Bonnie Hansen

Bonnie Hansen

Bonnie is a seasoned event industry professional with more than 30 years working in client account and project management. Her creative and strategic approach to events as a component of marketing has led to stunning live platforms that include business theatre, themed events, experiential design and interactive engagements. Bonnie’s aim is to provide both high value insight and design as well as unsurpassed logistical fire power.
Exclaim, Inc. is a Creative Experiences Agency that partners with worldwide clients to build relationships with audiences via strategic and creative platforms in EVENTS & EXPERIENTIAL, VIDEO & MEDIA, and DIGITAL & DESIGN. From planning to execution, Exclaim offers a valuable extension to your team for comprehensive campaigns or single projects.