What is experiential marketing and how is it different from event marketing? These are just two of the questions Michael O’Connell, AnyRoad’s VP of Marketing answers in this 10 minute guide.
Consumers today value experiences more than goods and services, a phenomenon the Harvard Business Review has referred to as the ‘next step in the progression of economic value’.
Brands and marketers have begun to think about how they can align with today’s experience economy and provide their customers with unique, memorable real-life experiences.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss what constitutes experiential marketing, what its advantages are, and how it differs from more commonly used tactics like event marketing. We’ll also cover some examples of experiential marketing, best practices, measurement tactics, and how brands can approach experiential marketing in a digital-first world.
So what is experiential marketing?
Experiential marketing helps brands develop long term customer loyalty, engage with consumers on a much more personal level, and differentiate themselves by taking a nontraditional approach to marketing. Where marketing was once a visual monologue, brands have begun to view their efforts as an interactive dialogue that should directly incorporate the customer. This is because interactive customer experiences are inherently personal and able to develop an emotional connection between the customer and brand.
Experiential strategies can vary by size, type, and subcomponent, all of which we’ll discuss further below. No matter the strategy, the objective of experiential marketing remains the same: influence the customer’s long term buying behavior and perception of the brand through a direct, personalized interaction.
Although the term experiential marketing may be new, the idea of providing customers with interactive experiences has been around for quite some time. Take for example a B2B company hosting a party for their clients and prospects. Corporate parties aren’t necessarily a new phenomenon. Experiential marketing, however, acknowledges the fact that this party ultimately provides folks with an experience and that this experience should be positive, impactful, and memorable.
Approaching this B2B party through an experiential lens, we begin to recognize the factors and characteristics that influence the experience attendees will have. Everything from the invitations to the music to the atmosphere and ambience will influence how attendees may walk away perceiving the B2B brand and the experience they remember having.
It’s also increasingly common for brands to refer to experiential marketing as multi-sensory marketing, as brands can use sensory components to boost their experiential efforts in real-time. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts has experimented with sensory marketing to increase coffee sales. The coffee giant tested the release of a faint coffee aroma on buses during rush hour after playing a short jingle and found that store locations along ‘sensory’ bus routes indeed saw an increase in sales when compared to control groups.
Sensory marketing leveraged the customer’s physical senses to help amplify their perception of a brand, product, or experience. Sensory marketing is typically one component of a broader experiential strategy, one that also incorporates engagement and live events marketing.
Is event marketing the same as experiential marketing?
Not exactly. Take the Dunkin’ Donuts example from above. The use of coffee aromas on buses isn’t really an event per say but a sensory experience. It’s best to think of event marketing as an application of experiential marketing. Any event should be evaluated on its ability to provide the customer with a positive, impactful experience.
Event and experiential marketing have begun to converge, with the latter becoming the more commonly utilized term. However, this doesn’t mean that brands are no longer using events or established event marketing strategies. It’s actually quite the opposite. Events are becoming more and more popular. However, they are now being viewed and evaluated through an experiential lens. What this means is that marketers are no longer focused on simply providing customers with an event and judging success based on attendance or registrations.
Rather, their goal is to influence long term customer behavior and brand loyalty through an interactive brand experience. This new approach to customer engagement has caused experiential marketing spend to reach new heights, totalling 62 billion dollars in 2018 following years of steady single-digit growth. As budgets have increased, so has creativity and innovation, with new metrics, strategies, and softwares developed to help measure the success of experiential marketing campaigns.
Experiences hailed as pillar of modern marketing
So why has experiential marketing suddenly become so popular? McKinsey recently released a report highlighting the importance that consumers place on experiences. Numerous studies have shown that consumers value experiences over goods because experiences help foster social relationships and are personally enriching. Overtime, consumers attribute more value to an experience. Consumers are looking to not only invest financial capital but also emotional capital when making buying decisions.
These trends tee-up brands to explore and implement robust experiential marketing campaigns that diversify marketing touchpoints, align precisely with today’s experience economy, and drive higher levels of engagement than seen with traditional marketing. It’s because of this that 4 out of 5 marketing executives say that they plan to increase event, engagement, and experience budgets moving forward.
Experiential marketing also offers an opportunity to adapt to today’s digital-first age. Brands can combine digital and engagement marketing tactics to deliver experiences right to the customer’s doorstep. For example, Fleetwood Paints offers a live, online color consultation that incorporates products mailed directly to the customer’s home. These consultations offer participants a live, interactive experience that is complemented by Fleetwood’s products and designated influencers who lead the online consultations.
Examples and applications of experiential marketing
Although we’ve already covered a couple examples of experiential marketing so far, let’s explore some of the most common formats that brands are leveraging today:
Pop-ups allow digital-first brands to bring their brands and products to life through a physical, immersive and live marketing experience. Customers can walk into a room or space and fully experience a brand with all their senses. Pop-ups leverage the allure of exclusivity to attract customers and can employ creativity to the fullest extent to experiment and test new ideas while providing a new browsing experience. Adidas’ ‘D Rose Jump Store’ is a great example of an interactive pop-up. Participants were introduced to the new line of sneakers by attempting to snag a pair of Derek Rose branded shoes from a 10 foot high shelf.
Launch Parties and Celebrations
Launch parties and celebrations create a buzz around a milestone or recent success. They highlight the meaning and significance of the work a brand has been doing and their commitment to the customer. They also offer participants an opportunity to feel like they themselves are a part of the brand and the work that is being celebrated, helping customers feel like they are emotionally invested in the brand and products. Take for example Apple’s yearly launch event that celebrates new products and technologies. Prior to the launch event, Apple does an excellent job building an atmosphere of anticipation, mystery, and speculation that excites and incorporates their customers.
Workshops, Classes, and Seminars
Workshops, classes, and seminars can help humanize a brands’ identity, values, and mission. They also help brands establish credibility in their respective space, developing loyalty and trust with customers. They can be offered in-person or online and can leverage guest speakers and materials to complete the branded experience. Michaels Stores is famous for its in-store – and now online – classes that creatively enable and educate their customers. Through these classes, Michaels introduces customers to new products and builds a lasting emotional connection with participants through the arts and teaching.
Tours can provide a personalized, interactive experience and introduce customers to a brand’s home. They offer an opportunity to directly communicate precisely what a brand’s values and mission are all about, helping develop customer loyalty. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company offers customers an opportunity to explore their brewery, smell the hops, and taste the beers right when they are ready to pour. Through the tour and activation of the physical senses, customers are exposed to Sierra Nevada’s commitment to excellence and the quality of the products they use to brew their beer.
Your product is an experience
Although the examples above illustrate how experiential marketing events interact with customers on a personal level, marketers are in no way limited to events alone. As research continues to reveal how sensory marketing, embodied cognition, and human learning influence decision making and behavior, marketers can use this information to approach marketing, product, and design in a unified way.
A Journal of Consumer Research study revealed that consumers were able to much more easily recall a pencil brand that imbued its pencils with a tea tree oil than those that didn’t trigger the customers senses. Marketing and product teams should consider how consumers directly interact and engage with their product beyond functional use. What is the customer’s experience when using your products? What tones, colors, scents, or sounds could be incorporated to provide the customer with a unique sensory interaction? How should the product be packaged or feel in the customer’s hand?
What to consider when designing your next customer experience
When discussing your next branded experience, it’s best to map out the various components that will come together to create the experience as a whole.
- It’s important that the experience incorporates key moments of interaction and engagement. Will the event or experience offer samples, the ability to post a picture with a shareable hashtag, or a moment to engage with brand ambassadors?
- Evaluate and map out what you know about your audience to incorporate props, games, socially relevant content, and/or music that would most strongly resonate with your customers’ interests and complement your brand’s values and persona.
- Be intentional with design. It’s critical that the experience ‘wows’ customers, offers them an opportunity to share their experience, and leaves a lasting impression. With more than 49% of folks creating mobile video at branded events, think about incorporating digital friendly elements. Branded hashtags, an opportunity to ‘check-in’, or photo-ops are all great ways to grow online engagement, create a buzz around the experience, and increase brand awareness.
- Sensory marketing has been proven to amplify the effectiveness of experiential marketing and develop long term customer loyalty – how will the experience trigger the customer’s senses? What type of sounds, visuals, or scents will be incorporated?
It’s critical for marketers to discuss and establish a measurement framework in advance of the experience. Without a framework, engagements, registrations and attendance are hard to tie back to revenue and true impact. Many brands are leveraging metrics like net promoter score (NPS) and brand conversion as leading indicators of success as well as looking further down the funnel at purchase intent and revenue impact.
- Employees and those running in-person branded experiences can provide ‘ear-to-the-ground’ insight and qualitative feedback regarding customer feelings and impressions of the experience.
- Marketers can also look to first-party data generated by branded experiences to evaluate success. How many emails were captured? How many leads were generated or purchases occurred through the experience as a channel?
- Social media offers an opportunity to measure the experience’s broader reach and success through tracking shares, hashtags, and mentions. Afterall, studies show that 98% of consumers create digital content at events. This user generated content is a powerful window into the impactfulness of the experience.
- Many brands also choose to collect feedback through surveys that are tracked and centralized to complement quantitative success metrics. Participant and customer feedback will indicate how customers perceived the experience and what feelings they may have walked away with. This can help provide a benchmark for future experiential efforts.
Bringing your experience online
In today’s post-COIVD environment, more and more marketers are exploring to see if traditional in-person experiences can be brought online or into a hybrid format. Virtual and hybrid events can save time, money, and may offer customers the flexibility to participate no matter where they are located.
- If you decide to bring an event or experience online, it’s important to set expectations as to what your audience will see and the motivation behind the event. Will the experience aim to be more tactical, like a workshop or seminar on a specific topic, or will it be more high level? Will participants be able to ask live questions? Setting expectations will make participants feel satisfied when they walk away from the online experience and will drive higher engagement.
- With online events, it’s easy to leverage co-branded opportunities. Consider what brands can you partner with that might resonate most strongly with the target audience or support the message and purpose of the experience. This can not only increase visibility and awareness for the experience but also help to tap into growth audiences that your brand alone could have a hard time reaching without a robust paid promotion strategy.
- Enabling speakers and employees to promote the experience through online channels and social media will help grow awareness. This can help create a buzz around the experience through word-of-mouth promotion, adding dynamism to promotion efforts and diversifying the way in which customers are first introduced to the experience.
Whether your experience is hybrid or fully online, there are many tips and tricks in addition to those covered here that any marketer can leverage to navigate experiential marketing in a digital-first world.
Experiential marketing with confidence
Although experiential marketing may be uncharted territory for many brands and marketers, the advantages of providing customers with interactive, memorable experiences are quite clear. Experiential marketing is proven to positively influence long term customer loyalty, grow brand awareness, and directly aligns with today’s experience economy. It offers a blank canvas on which marketers can test a multitude of creative tactics, such as sensory or event-specific strategies.
We’ve also covered a number of ideas, best practices, and measurement tactics that any marketer can leverage to evaluate the success of their experiential efforts, whether they be online or in-person. By unlocking the power of experiential marketing, any brand can transcend the traditional B2C window (or screen) through which they are viewed by their customers and provide a personal, memorable interaction that sticks with the customer for years to come.