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Traditionally, marketing of any sort – whether it’s in print, through a social network, or on TV – is about delivering the message of a brand to the consumer. Sure, the mode and means of delivery might vary; social media’s more about the conversation, while a TV ad is a more passive approach. At the end of the day, though, they’re all about communicating the brand to a customer who may or may not be listening.

What if I were to tell you there’s another means of getting the word out about a brand and event management professionals are uniquely-positioned to tap into it? It’s called experiential marketing, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – rather than simply talking about the message of a brand or its products, you’re offering people the opportunity to directly experience it.

The idea is that, while a hilarious video ad might get people talking, there are few things that are both more memorable and attract new customers than a unique experience. With that in mind, it’s not terribly surprising that it’s so rapidly gaining popularity, with brands picking it up left and right. Let’s talk about how you can adopt it into your own marketing strategy.

The first step is to actually define the term.

What Exactly IS Experiential Marketing?

Now, here’s where the waters get a little muddied – because not everyone is able to agree on a concrete definition of experiential marketing. Some, like JWT North America Chief Creative Officer Jeff Benjamin, believe it’s anything that pulls people into the brand “either digitally or physically.” Others, like Sub Rosa CEO Michael Ventura, maintain that it needs to offer a real-world analogue; a physical experience – social media therefore does not qualify, he says.

Here’s the thing – they’re both right. Experiential marketing can take pretty much any shape or form, from Red Bull’s Stratos Jump to Sensodyne’s live sensitivity test. The only unifying thread is that the marketing in every case is designed around the idea that the consumer will directly participate in it in a tangible sense, and that by taking a more active role, they’ll better connect with the brand.

It’s also not as new as you might expect, either. The increased exposure provided by mobility, the Internet, and social media has simply made it more visible as a marketing tool, and more viable when compared against other marketing tactics. 

“The jury’s out on whether it sells,” writes Adage’s Shareen Pathak. “The “Carrie” prank was viewed 54 million times to date but the Sony Pictures film opened below projections with $17 million over the opening weekend. “Devil Baby Attack,” which featured a projectile-vomiting robot baby created for the movie “Devil’s Due,” was watched 43 million times, but the movie grossed a frighteningly low $8.5 million on a three-day opening weekend.”

Now, I don’t think Pathak’s examples are necessarily fair. Both Carrie and Devil Baby Attack were widely-viewed, and did a great deal to spread awareness of their respective properties. At the same time, neither property was particularly noteworthy – Carrie currently has a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Devil’s Due was more or less universally panned by critics. To say that their experiential marketing campaigns failed because the movies themselves did seems a little disingenuous, no?

At any rate, I believe we’ve spent enough time providing an overview of experiential marketing. It’s time we move forward. Let’s talk about why experiential marketing is something you’d want for your brand. 

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Why Use It?

I’d like you to do something for me – stop for a moment, and see if you can count out how many advertising and marketing messages you’ve been subjected to since waking up this morning. If you’re like most people, the number is probably somewhere in the thousands; somewhere too high for you to count, in other words.

Now I’d like you to think about something else: how many of those marketing messages do you actually remember?

The fact is that modern consumers are subjected to more noise than at any other point in history. As a result, we’ve gotten very good at tuning out anything that doesn’t catch our attention or hold our interest. And as it just so happens, that’s precisely what experiential marketing is designed to do.

Simply by reaching out and giving customers a chance to directly experience your brand, you’re establishing yourself as distinct from your competitors. And by offering a shared experience to prospective leads, you can cultivate a closer, more personal relationship with your brand.

“Once you start to have shared experiences, you make a mental connection,” explains Crispin Porter and Bogusky Executive Experience Editor Matt Walsh. “You put a face to the company. It becomes unbelievably powerful.”

Sounds pretty great, right? At this point, we’ve only one question left to answer. How can you leverage experiential marketing within your own organization?

How Do I Do It?

Now it’s time to come up with something that’s unique to your brand. You already know that you need to understand your target demographic and why they use your products. Those are basic tenets of marketing.

They aren’t necessarily enough to ensure your success here, though. There are a few other considerations you need to take into account, as well.  According to marketing expert Heidi Cohen, every successful experiential campaign shares the following five core elements:

It makes your brand relatable. The experience you offer is one that’s easy for your audience to understand and connect with. 

It holds contextual importance. No experiential campaign should take place in a vacuum. You should intersperse yours with regular social media and content marketing updates in order to keep people interested and engaged.

It creates emotional relevance. By experience your brand, people form a personal, emotional connection with it.

It gives people something to talk about. Experiential campaigns are exciting enough that people want to talk about them, thereby spreading brand awareness through word of mouth.

It’s social. Incorporation of apps like Snapchat and platforms like Twitter are a must.

Additionally, Benjamin Spiegel of Clickz has a bit of extra advice to offer regarding the creation of a good campaign:

Make sure everyone involved works in concert with one another. That includes agencies, contractors, and business partners.

  • Be authentic, be honest, and be transparent.
  • Tease your products. Subtly recommend the experience – give people just enough information that they’re hungry for more.
  • Create something that lasts – something that people share and talk about for years to come.
  • Make your campaign a treat for the senses.
  • Stand out, and focus your efforts on the things that make your brand truly unique.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, experiential marketing is a highly-valuable way to gain brand exposure, increasing interest in both your organization and its products. At the same time, it shouldn’t necessarily be your only advertising method. It’s not a good fit for every brand, nor can it be used to sell every product.

At the same time, if you play your cards right, you’ll enjoy returns greater than you could have ever imagined.

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