The What, How, When, and Why of Experiential Marketing

April 28, 2021
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Consider what it is about your favorite brands or products that makes them so special. Chances are, the reasons fall under a couple of different categories: the ways you engage with a brand or product, and the ways they make you feel. 

What do these things have in common? They’re all centered on experiences. Brands become favorites when they go above and beyond the usual — when you get to immerse yourself in something, feel a part of it, or feel something because of it.

Events that offer games, photo ops, or interactive, hands-on, heartfelt experiences will certainly leave a larger impression than typical conferences or trade shows. They leave you with more than what you came for: a long-lasting memory or takeaway that created a true connection with the brand.

You can create these experiences, too, by implementing experiential marketing into your strategy. Learn about experiential marketing and how to create these types of events, plus examples that will inspire and excite you to create your own brand experiences.

What is experiential marketing?

What is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing is a marketing strategy meant to create lasting impressions for customers. Instead of simply advertising and sending messages to your audience, you’re inviting them to become involved with your brand and ultimately create a relationship with it that they will want to continue to engage with.

Think about why people choose to attend sporting events, concerts, or festivals, rather than watching on TV or live-streaming them. They are able to indulge in an experience and a certain atmosphere, and create a personal experience.

You can craft these types of experiences for your customers with some thoughtful planning and creativity — whether they’re in-person, hybrid, or virtual.

Why Experiential Marketing is Vital to Today’s Events

The lasting impression you can create with experiential marketing will keep customers returning to your brand — and help you differentiate yourself from the competition. Experiential marketing makes customers feel like they are a part of the brand, which, in turn, can help your brand grow more organically. 

Experiential marketing allows you to collect and measure valuable customer data

It gives you a platform for collecting customer participation, thoughts, and information, plus plenty of opportunities for followup with social media and email.

It requires brands to be authentic and tell a story

What are you trying to tell people with your product? How can the product help them with their goals? Telling a compelling story with your brand requires you to really understand your own purpose and goals, so that you can invite others into this experience and help them apply it to their lives.

It provides an opportunity for potential customers to market for you through social sharing

Once you create content worth sharing, you can make branded hashtags and craft unique photo and video opportunities to encourage participants to share their experiences with friends and family. Make sure to share pictures and use the hashtags yourself, too, to provide additional sharing opportunities.

How do you know if your events are hitting the mark? Check out these 12 Event Metrics to Measure your Success.

How to Create Effective Experiential Events

Experiential events are not meant to be like traditional events or event marketing. So, which elements make it different, then? There are certain features an experiential event must have to be considered experiential, including audience interaction, customized experiences, and long-term goals.

Engage, Interact and Participate: Keep Your Audience Active

An experiential marketing report found that 72% of consumers said they positively view brands that provide quality event content opportunities and experiences. Also, 74% said engaging with branded event marketing experiences made them more likely to buy the promoted products.

This tells us that engagement is really important to our customers — and it’s effective. For example, Mattel once gave a bus stop a Barbie-themed makeover to promote the dolls, and Vodafone built a slide next to an escalator to promote its 4G rollout.

These fun photo and video ops created ways for the general public to engage and interact with the brand, leaving a lasting, shareable impression.

Put Brand Awareness Front and Center

In your efforts to create a real attention-grabber, don’t forget to put your brand front and center so that people are able to associate your brand with the experience.

Sparkling wine maker Chandon once created a billboard filled with hundreds of gold balloons, which looked like the wine was bursting out of the bottle. Underneath the bottle, the Chandon logo was clearly visible. 

While people snapped photos in front of the billboard and shared them, there was no doubt who created it and why it was there.

Aim for Long-Term Value Rather Than Short-Term Satisfaction

Show-stopping public photo opportunities can be fun, but how do you make them impressionable? How can you ensure you keep customers coming back to you? An essential part of experiential marketing is balancing the engagement and satisfaction in the moment with a long-term element.

IKEA once gave 100 customers the opportunity to have a sleepover at their warehouse after a customer on Facebook left a comment saying, “I wish I could have a sleepover in IKEA.” The lucky 100 were treated to manicures, massages, and a bedtime story.

Creating memorable experiences that are true to your brand and its story will stay in people’s minds like a vacation or concert. You’ve created an interactive space where you build a real relationship with customers and allow them to establish fun memories — with your brand at the forefront.

Get Personal: Customize Experiences for Your Customers

If you have the opportunity to customize any part of your event, or allow customers to make choices, do it. Whether your product can create something customized, or you create a customized piece related to your product, giving customers an experience unique to them will help make it more memorable.

And if you are unable to do it on your own, consider teaming up with other brands or industries to expand your audience. For example, Oreo, Twitter, and a 3D printer created customized cookies for attendees based on trending flavors. Each cookie was completely unique.

You can even create customized opportunities based on tagged photos to incentivize attendees to use your hashtags and engage with your photo opportunities.

Types of Experiential Marketing

We’ve explored the essential features needed to create effective experiential events, but how can these elements best be presented for your brand? 

Here are the types of experiential marketing you can consider using based on the unique needs and perspectives of your own brand and customers. 

Event Marketing

Isn’t experiential marketing and event marketing the same? Nope — experiential marketing isn’t focused on a type of event, but the engagement between the customers and brand. Besides, sometimes experiential marketing doesn’t have anything to do with a specific event, but is a separate experience altogether.

Instead, event marketing is a type of experiential marketing, because experiential elements can be added to events. That being said, here are some types of event marketing where those experiential elements are at work.

The Tried and True “Pop Up”

Pop ups are a classic in experiential marketing. While a lot of planning goes into it on your end as to the where, why, and how, to the customers, it looks spontaneous and unexpected — and the fact that it’s for a limited time makes it extra enticing.

Social media has boosted the pop up event because of the instant sharing capabilities, encouraging friends and followers to run to a pop up before it’s gone. The pop up often is a retail shop, art exhibit, or type of performance that is brief and memorable. 

Everyone from makeup brands, dining establishments, artist merch shops, and more have used the pop up. It’s even been used to promote upcoming films or returning TV shows by recreating a favorite spot from these productions for shareable photo ops and unique or nostalgic experiences.

Workshops and Classes

Workshops and classes are excellent experiential marketing opportunities that allow you to connect with your audience and give them valuable information they can use and share. Plus, these types of gatherings can easily be done virtually.

With the right platform, you can widen your reach, and use digital engagement tools to allow for maximum audience participation. Then, make some of your content shareable for social media, and follow up with quizzes and polls to get audience feedback.

Whether you’re in-person, hybrid, or virtual, give attendees access to exclusive speakers for Q&As and networking opportunities. The more engagement features you have, the more memorable your event will be.

Planning a virtual event? See our Virtual Conference Best Practices: Guide to Running a Successful Online Event.

Product Showcases

Product showcases create a perfect opportunity for customer engagement, combining both teaching and interaction for multiple experiential elements. Show customers the amazing things your product is capable of, then put the product in their hands and discover how they could imagine using it.

You’ll gain insight into uses for your product you may not have thought of, and customers will be more likely to purchase a product they were able to engage with and understand first.

Retail Installations

Like pop up stores, retail installations have the power to put products and experiences in people’s hands. Consider Apple stores or Yankee Candle stores, where customers can interact with the product and ask questions before purchasing.

You can give your customers a more immersive experience with a retail installation, and include games, food, or photo opportunities. Like Yankee Candle, you can even create an app to go along with the shopping experience — and add extra customization features to personalize each experience.

Meanwhile, you’re collecting valuable data as well as providing a memorable experience to customers.

Direct Mail

Bet you didn’t think of direct mail as an experience! Feel free to flex your marketing creativity here. Receiving mail can be an exciting experience — if done correctly. You don’t want your recipient to receive a piece of mail from an unknown sender and throw it out immediately as junk.

Use the contacts you have collected to send out letters, brochures, postcards, or packages containing creative personalized messages or gifts. You can then encourage further interaction, such as surveys or taking and posting a photo using branded hashtags.

KitKat once created a fake missed delivery slip to say they tried to deliver their new Chunky bar but it wouldn’t fit in the mail. The slip could then be used as a voucher to collect a free bar. Clever mail marketing feels more intimate and personal, during a time when most advertising is delivered to us online.

10 Great Examples of Experiential Marketing to Admire and Be Inspired By

#1) Use Pop Ups to Initiate Customer Engagement

Hello Fresh pop up, experiential marketing example

Wait — isn’t Hello Fresh delivery only? Indeed! That’s what makes this experiential marketing so effective. The company set up a pop up shop in London for busy commuters, in response to feedback from customers who said they’d like to pick up a meal kit on their way home from work.

This way, the online brand responded to its customers and allowed them to explore the products in person. Also, 10% of proceeds were donated to a London-based charity.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Taking feedback from your target audience pays off — by allowing the busy commuters to try the products in their own way, Hello Fresh no doubt left an impression — and gained some new customers who found the efforts to reach them worthwhile.

#2) Showcase Creativity While Remaining True to Your Story

Solve outdoor office, experiential marketing

Solve, a Minneapolis-based creative agency, needed a summer intern. Rather than holding interviews the traditional way, they crafted a pop-up outdoor office and took it to college campuses such as University of Wisconsin/Madison and Northwestern University.

Interested students performed five-minute internship challenges, and the top performers were given an interview on the spot.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Solve stayed true to its story and brand by showing off its own creative skills in order to snag a strong candidate. They created an immersive experience that actually put college hopefuls in their office — in the middle of campus. 

Think of clever ways you can balance fulfilling your experiential goals while remaining true to your brand and story.

#3) Discover Ways to Engage All the Senses

Anheuser Busch virtual reality beer garage

During a SXSW event, Anheuser Busch created a beer garage for participants with a lounge, bar, and other entertainment. The most immersive aspect of the garage was the 4D experience

Using virtual reality headsets, customers were given a full tour of the St. Louis Brewery. When they entered a refrigerator, cold air was blown on them. Employees held jars of hops under their noses to get the scent of the brewery.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Think about ways you can make sharing information about your product or company more immersive and engaging. The more senses involved, the more memorable the experience.

#4) Upgrade the Trade Show

Glamour Magazine beauty festival, experiential marketing

Glamour magazine hosts an annual beauty festival that includes complimentary facials, manicures, makeup, and hair styles. Influencers, celebrities, stylists, and makeup artists show up to speak, and big beauty brands offer their treatments as part of the ticket price. Attendees also receive goodie bags loaded with products.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Sounds like a familiar format, doesn’t it? Upgrade your trade shows or conferences by offering more interaction with products, more giveaways, more photo ops, and some of the best and brightest speakers in the field. 

This translates well to hybrid, too — mail your virtual ticket buyers their goodie bags, and give them exclusive access to experts.

#5) Create a Wide-Reaching Livestream Event

2KFest, example of experiential marketing

When the video game NBA 2K21 was released, they created #2KFEST to promote it. This global, livestream event brought together fans from around the world for 24 hours of content, including the history of the video game, its fans, and its spot in culture. It was simulcast in multiple languages and also featured NBA and WNBA stars.

The event also had interactive challenges for fans to complete, giveaways, and music performances.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Pandemic or not, this creative virtual event idea fulfilled its purpose of promoting the game while offering exclusive, fun content for worldwide guests — allowing them to be a part of something big and exciting no matter where they are. How can you stretch your virtual limits?

#6) Keep Things Playful

Life size angry birds, T-Mobile

T-Mobile put together a life-sized version of the game Angry Birds in Barcelona, where players would use supplied smartphones to play the game while the action was replicated in real life — complete with flying birds, blocks, and explosions (no real birds, of course). They filmed the action and racked up millions of views.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: No matter what type of event you’re hosting, you can still create playful moments that are photo and video worthy. Click, post, and share! Even if people weren’t there, they can still enjoy sharing in the moment.

#7) Invite Your Audience to Celebrate With You — And Customize Their Experience

Old Navy Selfiebration experiential marketing

For its 20th birthday, Old Navy had a #Selfiebration. Two balloon art installations were placed — one in New York City and one in Los Angeles. Customers could submit a selfie to be displayed on the installations via Twitter using the aforementioned hashtag. Once a selfie was received, the balloon machines recreated the customer selfies, displaying each for 30 seconds.

Then, Old Navy sent an animated GIF of the submission for customers to see and share.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Customizing experiences for your customers helps them to share in your events and celebrations — both by physically being a part of it, and then sharing with their own audience.

Consider how you can amp up your events with creative, customized opportunities.

#8) Bring Storytelling to Life with Immersive Demonstrations

GE B2B conference

General Electric (GE) hosted a B2B conference with movie-style sets that showed various healthcare environments, including emergency rooms and clinics across the globe. Doctors who worked in these settings gave demonstrations and explained how they used GE technology.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Bring typical conferences to life by actually bringing true-to-life elements into the picture. Encourage speakers and guests to demonstrate what they do, in ways that create a more engaging experience for customers.

#9) Enhance Virtual Experiences

VR shopping experiential marketing

Mastercard and Swarovski teamed up for a virtual shopping experience, where customers can download an app and plug their smartphone into a virtual reality headset. From there, they can walk through a virtual home, learn about the Swarovski pieces featured, and make purchases with their Mastercard.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Even if you don’t create an immersive virtual experience quite to this extent, incorporating virtual tours or shopping will enhance your customers’ experiences. 

Plus, with valuable partnerships, you can make something incredible you may not have been able to on your own.

Does your event technology meet your needs? Read our Event Technology Guide: Is Your Tech Ready For 2021?

#10) Put Your Product to the Test

Globetrotter test station, experiential marketing

Sports equipment company Globetrotter wanted to show customers its products really worked — so it lets them test them out themselves. Customers can step into rainstorm chambers and freezing chambers wearing Globetrotter equipment.

Experiential Marketing Takeaway: Find creative ways to put your product in people’s hands, and let them use it the way they would choose to. These immersive experiences truly show whether what you have to offer can hold up to expectations, and offers cool photo sharing opportunities.

No matter which experiential elements you choose to incorporate into your events, remember to stay true to your brand and always keep your main goals and takeaways in mind — while providing the most value to your customers.

For your hybrid or virtual endeavors, use a robust platform like SpotMe to craft the perfect immersive experiences for your customers — and easily connect it to all of your existing technology.

Try a free trial of SpotMe today, and gain full access to all features. Discover what SpotMe can do for your experiential events.

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