Experiential Marketing Tips and Examples from the Pros

by Christy Roland    09.14.2018 08:25 PM
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“I hear and I forget. I read and I remember. I do and I understand.” This quote from ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius often surfaces in discussions of usability and learning theory. The axiom also has application in modern marketing. Today, to build brand loyalty, consumers need direct contact with and a happy experience with products and brands.

For the past century and more, marketing involved the broadcasting of a message through print, radio, television, and, eventually, the web. Marketing was a one-sided conversation, with ads and messages pushed to waiting ears and eyeballs. But times, technology, and consumers are changing. Witness the decline of network television as viewers stream media, when, where, and how they want. How does advertising reach customers when web users can quickly delete and even block ads?

What’s more, consumers now have heightened expectations of a quality shopping experience. A Rockefeller Corporation survey showed that the major reason for customers leaving a business is that they feel no one cares. Enter experiential marketing.

Around 2006, the term began to surface as the “it” methodology for what entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi has termed the “relationship age” to express the world beyond the mere information age, where emotion and empathy are highly valued and where the human element and cooperation merged with technology. Experiential marketing addresses the needs of the new consumer who desire a deep experience and relationship with brands. Through events, installations, and curated activities—and even inactivities, such as nap stations—marketers nurture a sense of connection and generate positive memories that encourage product loyalty and sales. And the time could never be better, as millennials show their value for experiences and activities over goods.

But new marketing fields also mean new thinking for marketers. “Smart marketing is changing its responsibility,” says Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory of The Consulting & Education Group of the Content Marketing Institute. “Marketing can no longer be the department (or person) that just describes the value of products and services. Marketing must create value, independent of the product or service, through the experiences that it has the opportunity to create for customers. And, this responsibility now extends across the entirety of the customer’s journey. Yes, marketing is a bigger job now than it has ever been.”

Experiential Marketing Defined

Tom MaherTom Maher is the Director of Digital Experience at Helios Interactive. He works with executive teams and brand leaders to create experiences and embed them in digitally-infused platforms. Maher explains, “Experiential is a brand’s opportunity to fulfill all the promises that it makes through its advertising and other promotional marketing.”

Experiential marketing, also known as event marketing, living marketing, or on-ground marketing, seeks to engage a customer’s senses and emotions. Physical and interactive experiences aim to build a consumer’s lasting emotional bond with the brand or product. Keywords to describe marketing experiences include immersive and memorable. Practitioners consider that experiential builds that connection faster than traditional methods, where a marketer, in one form or another, explains a product. Experiential marketing strives to create a personal connection between consumer and brands without a middleman. Indeed, sometimes the product is not even mentioned. More than “Show, don’t tell,” the theme of experiential marketing may be “Experience, don’t tell.”

Although some confuse experiential with live marketing or special events, experiential marketing is more than just an event. Experiential may include conferences and tradeshows, but may also be one-off events, or installations, or mobile marketing vehicles, such as buses or RVs. Experiential marketing focuses on physical and interactive experiences, either with the product or with other objects.

More than learning about a product or receiving product samples, experiential marketing sees consumers contribute to the growth of the brand. In contrast to traditional, top-down marketing through media such as newspapers and network television, experiential marketing is more targeted and less broadcast.

What Experiential Marketing is Not

Experiential marketing is not a publicity stunt or even solely event marketing—it’s a chance to interact with the brand in some way, even indirectly. An event may be one component, but the customer interaction at the experience is paramount; It’s more than passing out samples and coupons. “Campaign thinking starts with audience needs and builds out from there…experiential is no different,” declares Maher.

Seeing the engagement over a long continuum is something brands and marketers must learn. “Experiential marketing should be thought of as a campaign much like branding and advertising —even one-off experiential platforms like a one-day brand activation can be much more strategically marketed as a continuum of story-driven touchpoints pre, onsite, and post. After all, customers aren’t looking at the brand interaction as a one-time thing, they look at it as a valuable chance to interact with a product or service that’s relevant to them,” adds Maher.

Why Do Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing is necessary now more than ever as people are deluged with TV, sky banners, and web ads and conversely, as consumers turn away from network television and deploy increasingly stringent ad blockers against intrusive advertising. Experiential removes the middle man from the browsing and purchasing activity. Technology allows customers to interact with brands and then to make purchases at the height of their enthusiasm, such as with Mastercard’s Swarovski presentation through VR goggles, which allowed participants to buy through Masterpass while viewing.

Robert RoseThe numbers seem to bear out the value of engagement marketing. Influitive, an advocate marketing agency claims that robust engagement can increase cross-sell by 22 percent, increase upsell revenue from 13 percent to 51 percent, and even boost order sizes from five percent to 85 percent. The 2012 Customer Experience Impact (CEI) report found that 86 percent of buyers are happy and willing to pay more for a better customer experience. Other surveys reveal that by the year 2020 the customer experience will be more important in the sales process than either price or product. Fortunately, marketers are listening. Almost two-thirds (60 percent) of CMOs recognize the power of brand experience to promote a long-term consumer relationship with the brand.

Contemporary advertising requires more than eyeballs and ears. “Today, attention is not our most precious commodity–it is trust,” explains Rose. “The value of simple attention has been reduced because of the amount of noise in the marketplace of ideas. And, so, it’s not gathering attention that matters most–it is holding it in a way that develops a deeper trust with that consumer. As a marketer, you have precious little time to make an impact on a jaded, distrustful consumer. So, you must deliver a valuable experience at each and every opportunity that you can. That means you must deliver value. That value might be entertainment, inspiration, education or just plain usefulness. But today, people are loyal to the experiences they have with your brand.”

Features of Experiential Marketing

What are the elements that distinguish experiential marketing? There are quite a few things that marketers should focus on including:

  • Engage all five senses, and spark emotions that form memories.
  • Provide something of value to consumers beyond the product or service.
  • Aim to create synergies among meaning, perception, consumption, and brand loyalty.
  • Promote one-on-one dialogue between consumers and brands in a multidimensional conversation.
  • Emphasize building trust with consumers.
  • Emphasize displaying shared values and aims with the customer.
  • Make encounters not just about items, but about the relationship.
  • Consumers must feel they receive value or contribute value, aside from exchanging money for goods.
  • It is targeted, rather than broadcasted.

What Does Experiential Marketing Require from Marketers?

The new approach means new behaviors for marketers. First, the deep context of experiential marketing means understanding consumers more deeply through a wider assortment of research techniques. In this area, some brands may have the advantage, such as credit card and other financial institutions, who may have more consumer data to help tailor an experience.

Second, experiential marketing is a conversation. Marketers are no longer pushing a message. They must trust that listening will benefit the brand. Third, short-term strategies do not work for this methodology. Consumers are frequently well into the purchasing process before their first contact.

Benefits of Experiential Marketing

The clear benefit of consumer engagement is that it drives brand loyalty. A positive and rewarding experience is a fast track to marketing goals, far faster than traditional methods through traditional media.

As consumers foster word-of-mouth advertising—advertising generates itself. And, as individuals review the experiences they’ve captured in their photos or videos, they sustain the good feelings toward the product or brand. When they share these sentiments with friends, the effect is multiplied since consumers are more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations than by any media ad campaign. Social sharing of product experiences amplifies message reach. The strategy, thereby, resonates well beyond the immediate target and event date. From social sharing, marketers, in turn, receive metrics that provide a view into the effects of their strategy.

Marketer Opportunities in Experiential/Event Marketing

As consumers recoil and avoid traditional marketing, which increasingly seems pushy and intrusive, marketers can leverage a consumer’s desire for connection. Indeed, the value of user generated content (UGC), at events, or otherwise, is not to be underestimated. In 2009, luxury clothing manufacturer Burberry implemented the first successful campaign with happy customers sharing photos of themselves

User generated content, involves brands that encourage users to share and upload photos of themselves and their friends participating in branded events and activities, or using the product. UCG serves multiple purposes: It provides customers the sense of membership and community they crave, contributing to the positive connection with the brand. Companies can measure content sharing metrics to get a view into consumer interests. Brands can package the images and messages in future campaigns. As customers continue to refer to the images over time, the connection to the brand increases, thereby prolonging the viability of the content.

What types of consumers want to participate? For example, what kind of person wants to see his picture on a soda bottle (Jones Soda) or have a portrait of himself on a bank landing page (BECU)? “Probably none of them if you ask them,” explains Rose. “Developing an experience has little to do with adding someone’s picture or name to your product. Having said that, the occasional stunt that can amaze or entertain a consumer by including them in a brand experience can be an entertaining way to deliver value. For example, I quite like what Dos Equis did with their Are You Interesting campaign a couple of years ago. As they transitioned from retiring Most Interesting Man In The World to the new one, they launched an interactive app that quizzed you about your travel, and activities to score whether you are actually interesting and gave you a score. Those things can be fun and effective.”

The other key consideration for contemporary marketing is virtual experiential marketing (VEM). Through the web or virtual reality technology, unique experiences become possible for almost any product and any marketing budget. Instead of a costly one-off experience, VEM also offers repeatable experiences. Also, like social media, technology can offer details on what consumers participated in and for how long, to provide a deeper examination of customer interests and of how they received the experience.

What Events Rely on Experiential Marketing?

Although event marketing is not the same as experiential marketing, events do leverage all the benefits of experiences. Experiences can make a conference entertaining and memorable by capturing moments in photos and/or provide attendees with a personalized souvenir. While user generated content that appear in photos and social shares generate advertising for the event. For new brands and tradeshows, experiences offer a means for attendees to try out new products or simply form a connection to a brand. Some examples of events the benefit from experiences include:

  • Brand launches
  • Conferences
  • Trade shows
  • US Open
  • Ted Talks
  • SXSW

What Types of Experiences Support Experiential Marketing?

The experience you offer is limited only by your imagination. Some experiences lend themselves naturally to marketing, such as tastings, which don’t need to be limited to wine but could also be for beer, candy, or other foods. If consumers are interested in the taste of a product, they might also be interested in the creation story behind the product. Tours of chocolate factories, wineries, and farm fields are not uncommon. Behind-the-scenes tours even have a role beyond food production, for such things as theatres or stadium operations. Other experiences may allow consumers to feel better with free classes, such as Athleta’s yoga and meditation classes, The North Face’s endurance workshops or Gatorade’s Athlete of the Future which allowed participants to experience an NFL Combine test on high tech analysis equipment. Consider some of these highly successful examples from assorted brands.

  • AmEx at U.S. Open: RFID enabled wristband captured any attendee experiences in a personalized email that was forwarded to them after the event.
  • Aston Martin on Ice: For a fraction of what hosting a one-time event on a real race course might cost, a virtual reality installation allowed participants to be James Bond and drive the iconic car at high speeds through the mountains.
  • Budweiser Beer Garage: The SWSX Budweiser Beer Garage included a bar with Bud on tap, in addition to an Oculus VR virtual tour of the beer making process. When VR users opened the cooler, they felt a blast of cool air. When they were working with hops, employees presented a jar of hops for participants to smell.
  • Coca Cola: Small World interactive vending machines in Pakistan and India helped individual pop machine users in the two countries connect in real time.
  • Delta Stillness in Motion: Delta created heart rate synching and glowing orbs to help participants understand what calm feels like. Participants could keep their orbs.
  • Facebook – Facebook IQ Live: This event created tableau vivant to depict in three-dimensions the type of data being collected to show business people how their product worked.
  • GE: Healthymagination: GE created sets representing rural healthcare contexts around the world as a venue for health care provider presentations. The immersive nature aided in promoting dialogue between presenter and audience.
  • Google – Building a Better Bay Area: For the 2015 Google Impact Challenge, Google installed interactive posters at bus stops around the Bay Area. Riders and passers-by could click the poster to vote for the project they found most worthy of an award.
  • Guinness: Guinness Class: This aspirational experience from the historic Guinness Brewery saw street teams dressed as flight crew enter pubs with the offer of prizes to those who bought a pint of Guinness. Participants then shook a connected device to reveal prizes, such as keychains. But one prize a night included a trip to Dublin on a private jet for the winner and four friends.
  • Lean Cuisine #Weigh This: In a Grand Central Station installation, the frozen meal brand asked women to identify which qualities they would want to be weighed. These qualities were then painted on a scale-shaped tablet and hung in the temporary station gallery.
  • M&Ms – M&Ms ARcade: To promote new caramel M&Ms, the company created an augmented reality cell phone app that transformed Times Square into an M&M-inspired game arcade. Customers at home could play by scanning a code from a treat bag.
  • Misereor: This German charity conceived of a way to show donors where their money is needed and reward them by providing a sense of how it’s helping. Their credit card enabled Charity Donation Billboard depict images of the types of problems the charity sought to solve. For example, a loaf of bread represented hunger. As the donor swiped, the image appeared to show the credit card slicing the bread.
  • Refinery 29: Lifestyle magazine Refinery29 and their creative director, Albie Hueston, have become legend for its New York Fashion Week installation, 29 Rooms, which it brands as “an interactive funhouse of style, culture, & technology.” Selected brands set up playrooms where participants could play, create, and explore, like big kids.
  • 3D Oreos: Oreo brand featured a 3D Oreo cookie machine that created custom-flavored Oreos for individuals.
  • VW Piano Stairs: German automaker Volkswagen installed musical steps onto a subway staircase. Train riders avoided the escalator to make a musical exit and also made music together as they negotiated the stairs.
  • Zappos – Google Cupcake Ambush: Partnership can help to reach additional targets. Here, to promote a new photo app, Google set up a food truck offering cupcakes for the price of a photo taken with the app. Participants could eat their sugary treat. Until another option appeared on the scene when online shoe and accessory retailer Zappos sent a box to walk up next to the food truck. If participants fed the box their cupcakes, the Zappos box dispensed shoes or other wearable goodies.

Experiential Marketing Tactics

As the VW Piano Stairs and Lean Cuisine experiences show, a direct reference to or involvement with the product is not always necessary for a meaningful experience. The most important thing is that the experience reflects well on the brand. Yet, the #WeighThis, a branded hashtag, generated 204 million impressions.

Consider including these elements when crafting your experience:

  • Possibly using technologies unrelated to your brand for a unique approach.
  • Take inspiration from pop culture trends for your engagement strategy. Research the interests of current customers and your target audience for ideas.
  • Leverage gamification to make the experience personal to participants so they’ll

share the experience with others. Ensure that your experience is of consistent quality from end-to-end to make it authentic and memorable.

  • Provide something that participants can take away, whether an object, like refreshments, or free sketches, or something intangible, like newfound knowledge.
  • Enable users to help make the world a better place.
  • Engage multiple senses.
  • Offer exclusive experiences.
  • Provide multiple channels of engagement.

However, marketers need to understand one key point: The difference between personalized and personal. “They aren’t equal. Using my name, or showing explicitly that you know something about me isn’t the same as being personal,” says Rose. “Really relevant and personal experiences are, in fact, rarely personalized. Think about it this way, when you meet your friend in a restaurant they don’t greet you by first name, last name, and then demonstrate some personal knowledge about you as you walk in. They are just your friend. They just know what you like.”

Pursuing a strategy is more than just picking cool, or enriching, or heart-warming activities. An experience must be set in a context of preparation and follow-up. According to Tom Maher,

“Campaign thinking starts with audience needs and builds out from there…experiential is no different. Thinking about experiential as a story-living platform and as an interrelated ecosystem of touchpoints is the big mental leap most brand leaders need to take.”

Consider setting your experience in context of these approaches:

  • Building Awareness and Anticipation: Extend beyond mass emailing to a data-driven approach that targets individuals. Retarget visitors who don’t buy or sign up for events. Create branded websites and hashtags. Use social media platforms for native advertising, which also provide a way for participants and event attendees to communicate. To build anticipation, make event agendas available online before the event.
  • Encourage Networking: Leverage LinkedIn groups and allow event participants to get to know each other through attendee lists. Create a Facebook event page.
  • Share in Real-Time: It’s literally what the cool kids are doing. Consider live tweeting events and frequent Facebook updates. Live video streams and tweets record events and also extend the audience beyond those who appear in person.

Experiential Marketing Measurements

Because of the relative newness of the field, precise, accepted measurements do not yet exist for experiential marketing. Of course, it’s not enough to create an experience. You need metrics on how the experience was perceived by participants and ROI.

Gathering Data

Consider what in your brand helps you to understand the details of buying habits. Track engagement through blog posts, branded hashtags, and social media. You can always resort to surveys.

Metric Types

Counting something like unique impressions provides hard metrics. But experiences also yield soft metrics in the emotional responses they invoke. Such intangibles can still be gauged by observing participants reactions, their sense of calm or excitement, laughter or quiet composure. You can also use the elements of the experience that attendees capture in pictures and videos and detail in words.

Experiential Marketing Challenges

While the possibilities of experiential marketing are exciting, challenges exist. As a new field, metrics and collection methods are not established, such as with Arbitron and Nielsen. Some consider that measuring impact is ephemeral because of the complex nature of engagement. In addition, conducting the strategy well so that the campaign reaches the right target audience takes resources- (time and money).

Best Practices

  • Be customer centric—empathize with the customer to understand their perspective and make their experience great. Positive experiences create brand champions
  • The experience lends itself well to storytelling and is underpinned by it. Stories build connections.
  • Set clear goals and outcomes.
  • Determine ways to measure those goals and outcomes.
  • Identify and exhaustively research your target market.
  • Remember why experiential marketing works—presumably because it builds connection and loyalty.
  • Devise a creative, exciting, and impactful activation.
  • Find ways to maximize online engagement through social media and other channels.
  • Give people something of value.

Most Common Platforms for Sharing Engagement Marketing Experiences

Social sharing offers opportunities for brands and organizations to reach out to customers, but also for consumers to spread the word about a brand or experience themselves. With mobile devices, participants in events take photos, videos, and share them with family, friends, and others on social media platforms. The most commonly used platforms by both brands and consumers are the following:

  • Facebook (organic and paid)
  • Instagram (organic and paid)
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • SnapChat
  • LinkedIn

Common Online Engagement Marketing Tools

Keep in mind that different channels appeal to different age groups. According to Rose, “The general rule of thumb is the newer the channel, the younger the adoption. But that’s a rule of thumb and not a law.”

  • Blogs
  • Social Media
  • Webcasts
  • Email Campaigns
  • Crowdsourcing

Common Offline Engagement Marketing Tools

Tools for experiential marketing aren’t limited to social media and the web. A passel of high- and low-tech options can also offer powerful impact.

  • Visual and audio elements leveraging still or video images, colors, and music and other audio can create a mood or suggest the context for the product.
  • Event management, or event marketing, where large gatherings such as conferences and festivals where you can include brand installations.
  • Market through amenities, or free services such as Wi-Fi or sponsored fitness equipment or flower arrangements.
  • Develop mobile marketing tours through branded RVs, buses, trucks or cars, which may also provide a location for an experience.
  • Street marketing, conducted by street teams, is a subset of guerilla marketing, intended not just to mention or share a product, but to provoke a response in viewers.
  • Youth marketing, or entertainment marketing, which includes paid product placement in programs and influencer marketing
  • Employ immersive storytelling supported by immersive technology, such as virtual reality devices, video, wearable technologies, touchscreens, and more.
  • IOT devices to tally participation or other figures and share the totals on social media.

Agencies Active in Experiential Marketing

Interested in using experiential marketing for your brand? There are agencies that specialize in the process. These are just some of the marketing agencies involved in experiential marketing across the U.S. and beyond:

Benefits and Limitations: Technology and VR for Engagement Marketing

Technology and experience marketing certainly go hand-in-hand. From the assorted uses of the internet to video, technology can provide a rich experience for participants. Examples include big screen billboards, geolocation tools, drones, photo booths, and more. Audio QR tags offer the possibility to scan a tag on your cell phone as you shop to hear more information about the product.

One technology that Tom Maher understands well in the experiential marketing space is virtual reality (VR). “There are few other creative engagement mediums with the power to immerse a user into a brand’s world than VR. For however long the user is in-world, you have their total and complete attention,” he enthuses. “That’s a rare and powerful thing, an important moment in time to really offer something new and valuable to the consumer–whether that’s an energy bar company engaging runners at a marathon expo or a software enterprise IT professional evaluating technology in a trade show booth.”

To traditional marketers, he says, the limitation is that VR typically is experienced by one person in isolation, without the possibility to share the experience contemporaneously. But new technology is surmounting those limitations. “Some exciting collaborative experiences are happening in VR, with tablets, mobile phones, and other inputs, so that multiple people can participate at once with the ability to compete or compare experiences,” he says.

As always, technology without user context is often just wires and graphics. According to Maher, “Marketers need to keep in mind the idea of storytelling and how VR can actually be quite boring if care isn’t taken to craft a compelling in-world journey based on great content and experience design.”

Originally the mere notion of recreating physical spaces or interactive products was exciting. “Now what we’re seeing is a growth in choose-your-own-adventure stories that map in concrete ways to the brand’s message or to the value proposition of a product or service,” adds Maher.

His favorite examples of VR include mixed reality (MR) efforts that blend digital and physical elements as demonstrated in the IBM experience at SXSW that used Watson AI to allow visitors to virtually cycle around Austin, Texas and Samsung’s U.S. Open installation that allowed golfers the chance to play a high resolution scan of the golf course. “Everything from rumble vests to wind fans that activate at key points in a VR experience can immediately transport a VR participant further into the world-making we’re after,” Maher explains.

There are even more tech possibilities for experiential marketing. Take augmented reality (AR), which layers a computer-generated image over what a viewer sees in the real word. The digital layer often includes additional information. For marketing purposes, this is accomplished through the lens of a tablet or smartphone. Current examples include the newly introduced Snapchat Shoppable filters, such as the Clairol Hair Coloring filter, and others from Facebook and Google. “AR is probably going to deliver the largest possible audience of users to developers today, and there’s no special hardware or software required for users to get engaged immediately,” notes Maher.

Indeed with all the possibilities of tech, it can no longer carry the engagement on its own, for either B2B or B2C customers. Maher thinks that engineers need a better understanding of the creative design process. He adds, “The engineering is vital, but the creative really makes or breaks success.”

Robert Rose concurs, “Great developers are artists. I think of them as true creators pushing the envelope of what’s possible. But, many need to realize that neither the experiential business, nor the marketers, are quite there yet. Making existing technology and experiences better and more seamless is just as worthy a cause as pushing the boundary of the next new thing. For example, most marketers are not even slightly ready for Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning anything yet. Great developers should sometimes be the impedance on the overclocked processor that is the marketing brain.”

The desire for experiences with brands shows no signs of waning. Consumers want shareable interactions. Indeed, UGC may become a larger part of experiential marketing campaigns. However, no matter what the medium or the message, the focus must continue to be on the needs, wants, and views of the consumer.


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