Today, brands vie for your attention through screens. And screens are everywhere: your house, your iPhone, your car, and, in many cases, your bathroom. That’s why people use experiential marketing. But what is experiential marketing?
Though it may seem like a recently coined buzzword, experiential marketing has been around for more than a century, going back even as far as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. But since then the number of brands and ways to market themselves has exploded, increasing emphasis on creating a consumer experience that forges brand loyalty.
That’s why we’re breaking down exactly what experiential marketing is, why it’s become a vital part of brand awareness and growth, and how marketers both new and old can use experiential marketing campaigns to expand their reach.
As its name implies, experiential marketing is a type of marketing that involves an immersive, participatory experience for the consumer.
Traditional marketing like television commercials or store catalogs require little effort on the part of the customer, making for a passive experience. In contrast, the foundation of successful experiential events is being able to tap into what is tactile and tangible—not only sight, but also touch, smell, sound and even taste.
Experiential marketing brings the consumer on an interactive journey that hopefully provokes an emotional response in the person experiencing it. It’s that emotional impact that fosters a positive association with the brand and the willingness of the customer to either return to the brand, promote it to others, or both.
A pop-up restaurant. An AR booth. A store takeover. These are just a few experiential marketing examples.
However, what ties these disparate examples together are their intentions and goals.
This is perhaps the most obvious of the intended outcomes of experiential events, but its importance cannot be overstated. Participation can vary in nature from taking a photograph to engaging in an AR game to eating in a temporary coffee shop or diner. No matter the direction that participation takes, it’s having the customer interact with the brand that matters.
If a customer doesn’t interact with an experiential marketing event, odds are they won’t be exposed and/or take in the brand’s intended message. And ultimately, that too is a key component of interactive event marketing—to relay to consumers what the brand is about and why they should support it.
What makes for a happy union between brand and customer is an alignment of their values, which can range from a common interest in conservation to fitness and physical endurance.
As mentioned, brands ultimately want to foster customer loyalty by means of return business or brand promotion. Neither typically occur if that brand cannot successfully demonstrate its long-term worth for the consumer.
Especially in an age where companies have dozens if not hundreds of direct competitors, showing customers that a brand deserves their ongoing support is a critical component of experiential marketing.
Experiential marketing can be a powerful tool for brands for the same reason that a rock concert or baseball game can have a positive effect on the person experiencing it—because it leaves an indelible emotional imprint on the consumer.
Especially when an interactive event marketing campaign successfully includes the three key components of customer participation, brand messaging and a demonstration of long-term worth, the experience felt and memories created by that campaign can result in a new lifetime customer and brand advocate.
Given that nearly 75% of consumers say that meaningful engagement with a brand would make them more inclined to buy its services or products, experiential marketing is a part of the marketing world that a brand cannot afford to not use.
Experiential events come in the proverbial “all shapes and sizes,” which can make it difficult to categorize them. But with the rise in popularity of interactive event marketing, certain types of immersive events have come to the forefront of this marketing revolution.
One of the more common types of experiential marketing is the ubiquitous pop-up, which can mean a pop-up retail store, a pop-up butcher shop, a pop-up spa and more. The term “pop-up” refers to the speedy nature in which the shop is assembled, as well as its short duration, which can be just a few days. Pop-up shops are often successful because of this very element, as consumers flock to the location to experience it before it’s gone.
Similar to a pop-up shop is the brand takeover of an existing commercial space. What sets a brand takeover apart from other experiential marketing examples is that the brand is partnering with the other commercial entity so that both of them can come out successful from the experience.
Not all experiential marketing campaigns involve recently created strategies. Some rely on tried-and-true immersive experiences that have been part of society since well before experiential marketing was born.
Classes, normally thought of strictly as a teaching tool, can make for highly effective experiential marketing events.
Some of the best event campaigns require only the solo consumer’s presence. While yoga classes and pop-up diners typically function most successfully with a group of consumers at once, some experiential marketing events are designed for the individual in mind, like AR booths that bring a customer into the virtual reality world or branded obstacle courses that require solitary participation.
In many ways, experiential marketing is still tied to traditional marketing in that experiential events come with goals, value authenticity, and often tell a story through the experience.
Where experiential marketing has been able to move past the typical returns of traditional marketing is in its ability to better retain a relationship with the customer through the following means:
One common element of the best event campaigns is collecting the contact information of those who engage in them. In most cases, it’s creating a database of email addresses, which often is the result of consumers needing to sign up ahead of time to book a time or buy a ticket for the event. However, it might also include Twitter or Instagram handles so that consumers can be tagged or contacted directly during or after the event.
To keep the consumer engaged and those positive associations with the brand robust, the brand can then take that contact information to reach out to the consumer for any number of reasons. One of the most important examples of where following up can have a significant impact is through post-event surveys. In this way, customers have an opportunity to speak directly to the brand-keepers to tell them what worked—and maybe more importantly—what didn’t. Following up with event participants might also translate to informing them of future events or exclusive offers.
Perhaps the most important way that experiential marketing has changed customer interaction and evolved the marketing world is through social media promotion. One element you’re bound to see at an experiential marketing event is a selfie or other opportune photo op, as well as the social media handles of the brand on display for use. By giving consumers the opportunity to reach out through their own social media circles, the brand in effect creates brand ambassadors with each tweet, Instagram post or TikTok video.
Experiential marketing gives brands the opportunity to have consumers participate in an event or experience with the hope that it fosters future brand loyalty or promotion.
Experiential activation is a measure of how successful that experiential marketing campaign can be in terms of its emotional impact and social media currency.
As mentioned, one of the goals of experiential marketing is to convey the brand’s messaging or to show the customer what the brand is really all about. That’s why one aspect of an experiential activation is the establishment of a meaningful connection between brand and consumer.
And while the success of the best event campaigns can come in the form of financial revenue if tickets are sold for it or products or services are offered during it, success can also be measured in posts, tweets and other social media sharing.
A campaign that results in a portable experience is the second component of an experiential activation. This is in large part why so many would-be consumers have come to expect selfie stations at experiential marketing events. It provides the chance for them to convey that emotion and share that experience with others, hence solidifying the customer’s loyalty to and promotion of the brand.
There’s no shortage of cool marketing campaigns, and Gatorade is front and center among inspired experiential marketing examples.
SXSW is a film and musical festival that draws thousands to Austin, Texas each spring. While a great opportunity to connect with other creatives and take in more screenings and shows than there are hours in a week, this festival can also quickly leave attendees feeling fatigued from too many activities and too little time. Gatorade to the rescue.
The brand set up a pop-up store at the festival that provided an opportunity to not only refresh and rehydrate participants, but also introduce them to the brand’s newest line of beverages. The pop-up also included an augmented reality space so festival attendees could learn more about each Gatorade product.
One particularly successful experiential marketing campaign involving a brand takeover was when select 7-Eleven locations across the United States were transformed in 2007 to resemble the cartoon’s Kwik-E-Mart as a promotional tool for The Simpsons Movie. Customers could even purchase a sandwich or slurpee to receive a special game piece for a contest where the winner would be turned into an animated character on an episode of the television show.
The campaign was also a financial hit for 7-Eleven with a 30% increase in sales at the converted spaces.
The brand Lululemon sells athletic apparel, and though it is little more than 20 years old, its name has become synonymous with yoga pants. To emphasize its commitment to a healthy lifestyle, select Lululemon stores close their retail locations each week and use the space for complimentary yoga classes open to the public.
Classes are divided not only by type of yoga, but also beginner, intermediate and advanced. They also have options for couples’ yoga, men-only yoga and more for a truly personalized experience.
This international nonprofit organization created what they called Hope Lockers that were outfitted with videos relaying the struggles of individuals around the world who did not have access to clean water.
These videos would play when swimmers had finished their laps, and at the conclusion of them, the athletes would be asked if they wanted their locker fee returned to them or donated to the charity. Though perhaps a campaign with relatively little monetary return, it certainly checks the emotional impact box.
Among all experiential marketing examples, this perhaps is one of the more unusual and arguably ingenious brand experience ideas, as many parents can attest to the power of a child’s passion for cartoons and toys. The Disney show created a clinic where children could play the role of Doc McStuffins and give their diagnoses for a stuffed teddy bear. And the kids who were waiting for their turn? They got to play with the merchandise and watch the cartoon. Not surprisingly, the experience also resulted in a greater propensity to buy that merchandise.
The obvious benefit of experiential marketing has given rise to marketing companies that specialize in this type of consumer experience, as well as new divisions created at existing traditional marketing entities.
Two marketing companies that have multiple highly successful and cool marketing campaigns under their respective belts are HELO and JNProduction. Both have managed to pivot nimbly in light of how effective brand experience ideas and campaigns can be among their marketing services, and their respective repertoire of high-profile clientele speaks to their innovation and creativity in this field.
Experiential marketing is a game changer. If you want more ideas for your next campaign, check out our post on the Best Experiential Events of this year.
If your company is in need of an easier and more dynamic payroll system, contact Wrapbook today to learn more about how we can simplify and streamline your next experiential marketing event.
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