Experiential marketing

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing (sometimes referred to as engagement or event marketing) is marketing strategy which aims to provide audiences with unique, branded experiences. The objective is to influence the customer’s brand perception and buying behavior vis-a-vis their active participation in the brand experience.

Experiential marketing campaigns can take many forms. Examples include pop-ups, tours, brand activations, classes, workshops, seminars, one-off events or parties. Experiential marketing helps diversify marketing efforts, allowing brands and companies to move beyond the traditional monologue of visual advertising. In doing so, customer-focused experiences offer brands an opportunity to differentiate their products, voice, and identity.

It’s also common for brands to refer to experiential marketing as multi-sensory marketing, as brands can use sensory components to boost their experiential efforts. Experiential marketing can occur both online and offline, with many brands leveraging innovative softwares to measure the success of their efforts. Experiential marketing’s creative nature enables marketers to utilize a variety of sub-strategies to excite and influence consumers through memorable, real-time experiences.

Experiential vs event marketing

Live events are the most common form of experiential marketing and although event marketing has traditionally been the more commonly used term, it is beginning to converge with experiential marketing.

Events are capable of entertaining consumers, integrating social media, and adding context to a brand, service, or product that a consumer is able to experience and learn in real-time. Therefore, events are able to dynamically incorporate a variety of experiential sub-strategies, such as sensory marketing, immersive marketing, and engagement marketing.

In today’s post-Covid environment, experiential marketing events no longer have to be in-person as well-- virtual events have exploded in popularity among marketers. There are no a plethora of online event platforms which enable marketers to create a unique digital marketing experiences which can engage users over the internet.

Another growing trend is hybrid events which combine elements of real-life events with virtual experiences. Hybrid events can be the best of both worlds, bringing together the in-person networking and talks with online elements such as live streaming, social media engagement via hashtags, and more. Sharing sessions from a live event later in a virtual format later can be a great content marketing strategy which allows marketers to repurpose quality content that has already been created.

Why invest in experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing works. In addition to helping brands differentiate themselves in a crowded market, experiential marketing is marketing tactic which aligns precisely with what consumers today desire: experiences. Data has revealed that consumers are 4x more likely to invest in experiences and that the value attributed to an ‘experience purchase’ increases over time.

Consumers across all demographics, from GenZers to Baby Boomers, agree that experiences provide a chance to develop meaningful social relationships and that experiences become a meaningful part of one’s identity. Therefore, experiential marketing offers brands an opportunity to engage and interact with consumers on a personal level in a format that they are actively seeking.

Memorable experiences are inherently personal and capable of humanizing a brand. They offer one-on-one customer engagement, leading consumers to feel like they are purchasing from a familiar personality, not just a company. Because of this, more than half of all marketers have begun to invest in immersive experiences as they generate more leads, sales, and long term loyalty than traditional marketing efforts.

Over time, experiential marketing can be a powerful tool in increasing brand loyalty by building emotional connections with passionate customers, leading them to become brand ambassadors and influencers who help to spread the brand’s messaging to their networks.

The benefits of experiential marketing

Experiential marketing provides an opportunity to directly communicate with consumers through an interactive dialogue. Experiences are not perceived by consumers as traditional marketing. Therefore, brands can leverage experiential marketing to effectively articulate their values, demonstrating that the customer is the focus of their care, concern, and mission. It allows brands to meet consumers where they are in an increasingly fast-paced, digital world and move away from traditional touch points that consumers already expect and often ignore. Experiential marketing also offers real-time insight into how consumers may perceive and engage with a brand.

Moments of engagement and interaction can generate valuable first party data through registrations, sign ups, or social media use.

Some experiential programs build awareness for a new product or service, such as offering samples at a pop-up.

Others aim to foster long term loyalty - for example, driving experiences or online classes that demonstrate the value, function, and personality of a product or service.

Experiential marketing best practices and measurement

When creating an experiential marketing strategy, it’s best to map out and discuss the various components that will make up the experience as a whole. It’s essential that the experience helps humanize your brand and that a ‘buzz’ is ultimately created.

How will the experience trigger the customer’s senses? What type of sounds, visuals, or scents will be incorporated? Sensory marketing aims to incorporate all five senses to subconsciously influence consumer behavior. Studies have revealed that tapping into consumer senses not only amplifies the effectiveness of experiential marketing but also helps develop long term customer loyalty.

Evaluate what is known about your audience to incorporate props, games, socially relevant content, and/or music that would most strongly resonate with your customer’s interests and complement your brand’s values.

Establish a measurement framework in advance of the experience. Registrations and attendance are hard to tie back to revenue and true impact. Many brands are leveraging metrics like net promoter scores (NPS) and brand conversions as leading indicators of success and are looking further down the funnel at purchase intent and revenue impact.

Be intentional with design - it’s critical that the experience ‘wows’ customers and leaves a lasting impression. This is particularly important in a post-Covid environment where interacting with customers is largely limited to a digital medium. Whether your experience is hybrid or fully online, always think of the customer experience and create something memorable, whether that's a live experience or a virtual browsing experience.

It’s important to listen to your customers. Collect feedback through surveys that are tracked and centralized to derive actionable insights. Feedback will indicate how your consumers perceived the experience and what feelings they may have walked away with. This can help evaluate the success of the experience and also improve future efforts.

Experiential marketing examples

The following are examples of experiential marketing experiences which helped major brands grow their brand awareness and loyalty:

  • BMW’s Track Day is an event that incorporates sensory marketing to enhance the participant’s experience. The event is situated in a sporty garage and exposes attendees to the smell of tires and oil. Participants hear the cranking of wrenches and the revving of BMW motors. Multiple cars and models allow attendees to experience BMW’s high quality interiors and sporty contours through physical touch. All of these sensory experiences help shape the impression of BMW and their automobiles that potential customers ultimately walk away with.
  • Adidas launched the ‘D Rose Jump Store’ as an interactive pop-up where participants could try to snag a pair of Derek Rose branded shoes from a 10 foot high shelf. The event helped introduce Derek Rose and his branded Adidas line of shoes to a new target audience in the UK. By physically participating in the pop-up event, consumers walked away from a memorable, interactive experience that left them with a new impression of basketball, Derek Rose, and Adidas shoes.
  • Coca-Cola is known for running many innovate experiential marketing campaigns. One notable example is a Valentine's Day campaign that Coca-Cola ran in which an 'invisible vending machine' appeared on a wall in NYC only when a couple happened to walk by. The vending machine then asked the couple for their names and created a personalized keepsake that many couples shared, leading to a viral marketing experience and increased word-of-mouth awareness.