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Updated Oct 20, 2023

What Is Experiential Marketing?

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer

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There is a lot of noise around how business marketing and traditional advertising models are waning in efficacy. 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.

It may be time for your business to change directions and look to experiential marketing, a method that focuses on connecting consumers with a unique and dynamic branded experience.These can include live events, installations, product rollouts, webinars and trade shows. According to an EventTrack research report in 2021, 40% of consumers said they felt more brand loyalty after participating in a brand experience or interaction, and 91% were more likely to purchase the product or service.

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing, or 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, marketer at Linkilaw Solicitors.

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.

Why is it so effective?

“[Experiential marketing] is so effective because we are emotional beings,” Sauri said. “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, Lean Cuisine’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 in New York City. 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: The campaign collected more than 204 million impressions.

How to plan an experiential marketing campaign

1. Look at your customer base.

Before beginning any planning, it’s important to look at your current customer data to find out what kind of experiential marketing would resonate with your audience. This research might even give you insight into new markets. Consider customer segmentation to find those customers who best engage with your business.

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Identifying who your customers are and what they want can provide valuable information on your company’s target audience. Then you can determine the kinds of experiential campaigns they might find exciting and worthwhile.

2. Solidify your goals.

What do you want to get out of this campaign? Find new customers? Promotion of a new product? Entrance into a new market? Once you solidify the ultimate goal, you can then start to prepare your campaign. The strategy must be centered on your intended audience and measurable.

It is also important to define your brand at this stage. Understand exactly what you would like this experience to convey about your brand’s values and culture.

3. Identify KPIs.

Prior to the campaign, it’s imperative to understand what success looks like. Look at your intended goals, find out how to best measure key performance indicators (KPIs) and find out what data you’d like to glean from customers during the campaign. Experiential marketing is a great method to obtain nuanced customer data and to solicit in-person feedback from participants.

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All businesses need brand-specific objectives, and any important decisions should take these goals into account. Knowing your KPIs can help your company make better choices.

4. Create a budget.

When planning for any new type of campaign, a marketing budget is necessary to ensure your return on investment, or ROI. This is especially true of experiential marketing, since it often includes more moving parts and goes beyond – but also works with – traditional marketing tools.

5. Implement a cross-channel marketing plan.

Depending on your goals, your experiential marketing might be featured at a physical location. Remember that experiential marketing does not have to be one form of interaction. Your experience can be marketed, livestreamed and tagged on social media. You can segment your audience to market to those who may be in the physical location, while still offering customers outside the area a way to engage with your brand, such as through email, text or social media.

What to avoid in your campaign

Experiential marketing can be a gold mine if leveraged correctly and a land mine 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 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. As Ashley Pontius, print campaign manager at News & 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.

Hannah Tayson contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Kiely Kuligowski is an expert in project management and business software. Her project management experience includes establishing project scopes and timelines and monitoring progress and delivery quality on behalf of various clients. Kuligowski also has experience in product marketing and contributing to business fundraising efforts. On the business software side, Kuligowski has evaluated a range of products and developed in-depth guides for making the most of various tools, such as email marketing services, text message marketing solutions and business phone systems. In recent years, she has focused on sustainability software and project management for IBM.
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