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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

What Is Experiential Marketing?

What Is Experiential Marketing?
Credit: one photo/Shutterstock

Traditional marketing is dead, at least, in the most traditional sense. A billboard with a picture of your product next to smiling faces just doesn't cut it anymore. Consumers now fast-forward through commercials, have ad blockers on their computers, and are more likely than ever to opt for commercial-free streaming services over live TV. 

So what's an advertiser to do? 

It may be time for your business to change directions and look to experiential marketing, which focuses on connecting consumers with a positive experience associated with a brand, rather than directly with a product. 

Experiential marketing, also called engagement marketing, is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and encourages them to participate in a brand experience. 

"Experiential marketing is, in its simplest definition, a type of marketing based on creating memorable and innovative customer experiences to create deep emotional connections between the customers and the brand," said Esther Sauri, a marketing professional at LinkiLaw.

In traditional marketing, consumers are regarded as passive receivers of a company's message. In experiential marketing, a brand involves the consumer directly and often offers a window into the evolution of an advertising campaign. This allows a business to forge a relationship with the consumer by allowing them to both be a part of and see the process of a campaign from beginning to end. 

"[Experiential marketing] is so effective because we are emotional beings," said Sauri. "When a brand connects with us in an emotional way, we not only buy it, [but we become] loyal customers." 

By involving your customers with the story, they feel connected rather than sold to, and this is a significant difference in how they see your brand. 

Take, for example, LeanCuisine's #WeighThis campaign. Women were invited to "weigh in" about something important about themselves, other than their weight. The responses were then collected and painted onto individual scales, which were displayed on a gallery wall in Grand Central Terminal. Responses ranged from "I care for 200 homeless children each day" to "I am back at college at 55 years old." 

The brand then created a promo video that spoke to women about what they wrote and why.

The important aspect of Lean Cuisine's campaign was that at no time was anyone offered a Lean Cuisine product. The display was clearly branded with the company's Twitter handle and the #WeighThis hashtag, but that was it – Lean Cuisine depended on the gallery wall itself to draw people in and created an interactive experience around the message that women are more than a number on the scale. It worked, too – the campaign reached more than 204 million impressions. 

Experiential marketing can be a goldmine if leveraged correctly and a landmine if not. Many companies will attempt experiential marketing for the sake of it, knowing that it's a trendy and high-engagement practice, but without proper research and preparation, a campaign can very easily blow up in your face. 

"The biggest pitfall in experiential marketing is to make the experience too salesy," said David Jacobson, founder and CEO of TrivWorks. "Attendees don't want to feel like they're at a sales pitch. Make it too salesy, and you'll turn them off, or worse, they'll share that they had a negative experience."

Companies should try to create an experience that embodies their values, or, as Ashley Pontius, print campaign manager at News and Experts put it, "While experiential marketing is [mostly] brand building, focus [on making it] more brand being."

While the advertising world is most certainly moving toward a focus on experiential marketing, companies should think deeply before launching an engagement campaign. Is this right for your business? Can you devote the time, effort and money to doing it right? Do you have a clear goal in mind? If so, an experiential marketing campaign can launch your business with positive interactions and a loyal fanbase. 

Kiely Kuligowski

Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.