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Experiential, Immersive, and Multisensory Marketing: What’s the Difference?

A primer to understand the difference in three valuable types of marketing.

These three terms might seem like different sides of the same two-dimensional triangle. However, there are major differences between them. All three can include events, experiences, and videos, which is partially cause for the confusion. They also all create memorable experiences and connections when done well. So what’s the difference?

Experiential Marketing

At the heart of experiential marketing is creating a personal interaction with customers thanks to (preferably) an in-person experience. It should be memorable, and it’s sometimes called event marketing/engagement marketing (just to add to the confusion). Consumers should leave feeling like they had a real connection with the brand and on a positive note. Examples include tours, tastings, classes, workshops, parties, pop-ups, and anything that bridges the digital-real life divide. 

Media stunts like Red Bull’s Stratos skydive are engaging forms of media, but certainly aren’t experiential (except for Felix Baumgartner – the jumper).

Digital marketing tools are fantastic for optimizing these experiences and measuring them, but aren’t at the core of them. Often we find brands will leverage hashtags linked to the event in order to foster sharing and employ tools to help participants spread the brand love. After all, not everybody can make it to the in-person experience. If the activation is done well, consumers can’t resist sharing. They should be Instagram-worthy and memory machines. I was sitting in a meeting last week and one of the attendees started telling us about his experience visting Laphroaig’s Distillery in Scotland. His eyes lit up as he told us about his adventures (10 years ago) cutting peat, seeing the floors covered in malted barley, and tasting his way through the Scotch. That is experiential marketing at its very best. The brand certainly made a brand champion for life, and his re-telling of his experience is the highest form of social sharing.

Creativity around a hands-on experience is key when crafting real-world experiences. Experiential marketing breaks through the digital clutter to offer a real experience using digital tools as tools, not the whole shebang. Social sharing (of all types) is the lubricant to amp up buzz.

Immersive Marketing

Immersive marketing is a trending buzz word that’s so relatively new (the term, not the approaches) that it’s tough to pin down a definition. However, immersion suggests that the consumer is transported—literally or figuratively—into an experience. A lot of immersive marketing examples highlight the latest tech including virtual reality and augmented reality. By nature, this tech shifts how we “meet” content. I’ve long argued that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are powerful marketing tools, but fall under “immersive marketing” rather than experiential marketing. Immersive marketing can bring consumers into the content rather than presenting media in a static space.

Augmented reality surrounds us—just think about the apps you use to better your selfies, or Pokemon Go. No hardware is necessary (like it is with virtual reality), which makes it more accessible and affordable. Of course, as VR tech becomes more affordable, it will likely become a bigger player in all types of marketing. (It is, after all, the ultimate digital immersion!). 

With VR, a brand’s story comes to life. The shoe brand TOMS uses it to give consumers a “Giving Trip” via VR to see exactly where TOMS shoes are donated around the world.

Ultimately, immersion is about making the consumer the hero, the protagonist.

Viewers can experience a TOMS “Giving Trip” via a virtual reality video online or through a virtual reality experience in one of the company’s brick-and-mortar stores.

Multisensory Marketing

Multisensory marketing is an subset that is often found in experiential marketing. It’s an homage to the fact that the vast majority of traditional marketing used to be visual and one-dimensional (newpapers, magazines, and billboards), then it was visual and auditory (TV and radio)—but what about the other senses? Multisensory marketing taps the full range of senses. However, with experiential marketing, it’s not a “requirement” that all five senses get tapped.

The power of other senses like smell can be powerful, and there’s no rule that scent doesn’t play well with digital marketing. Brands like Panera have shifted their baking times to work hours to lure in pedestrians, or think of how you can pick up and smell a handful aromatic hops being used to make beer at breweries like Anchor Brewing in San Francisco.

No expensive equipment is necessarily required. Smartphones can do a great job of tantalizing other senses, such as with vibrations with a swipe. A tactile approach, or multisensory marketing, is upping the marketing game and a key part of both experiential and immersive marketing.

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