April 01, 2021
By Anna Linthicum

In all industries in the past year, employees and employers alike were forced to think outside of the box like never before. As marketers, we constantly explore unique solutions and entertain wild ideas. But even we had to expand our thinking to new levels of creativity and pivot our marketing strategies to stand out in a world of Zoom-mania.

Experiential marketing existed long before this pandemic, but marketers worldwide revamped this tactic to fit this new socially-distanced climate. In this blog post, we will go into detail on exactly what experiential marketing is, and ways that your organization can make this strategy your new go-to for 2021.

What is experiential marketing?

Let’s say that you are walking on a sunny college campus, and suddenly an eager student wearing a university club t-shirt runs up and hands you a Post-It note that reads “Your smile is infectious!” You are told to spread the positivity and hand this same note to a fellow student on your way to class. Hours later, the entire campus is teeming with people holding brightly colored notes.

This school-sponsored organization was practicing its own form of experiential marketing. By embedding itself into the lives of its “consumers” (students), it was able to make a lasting impression on the students’ memories. More students would express interest in joining the club, which would lead to more members and an increased budget.

Experiential marketing occurs when a team creates an experience that leaves a long-lasting impression on the audience. Sometimes, these events or experiences can be a large investment of time and/or money, but the reward is increased brand recognition and higher revenue.

A successful experiential marketing campaign is one that quite literally “runs into” the consumer. Your brand and experience should seamlessly flow into the consumer’s life but should also stand out enough to force the consumer to stop and take notice.

Looking for event marketing advice? Read The Event Marketing Guide

What isn’t experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing is trickier to execute than its counterparts. Other marketing tactics like print and digital are quite simple to define, while experiential executions tend to fall in a gray area.

Experiential marketing is not an umbrella term for every advertising campaign that occurs in “real life” as opposed to over a screen. For example, a standalone billboard advertisement is not considered an experiential campaign. An experiential marketing campaign involves the audience directly in the tactic. The audience is active in the advertisement rather than passive.

Experiential marketing is not limited to “real life”. Later in this blog post, we will provide examples of some excellent digital experiential tactics designed by brands. Experiential marketing can take place over a screen as long as the consumer of the content is actively engaging with it.

Below are some examples of advertising tactics that you may see day-to-day. We have defined how and why these are or are not examples of experiential marketing.

  1. A banner ad on your smartphone

No, this is not an experiential marketing tactic. The banner on your smartphone is a static advertisement that does not interact with the consumer other than to promote its message. The goal of the banner ad was to garner high click-through rates, not to create an emotional connection with the consumer.

  1. Andy Bernard and the cast of “Sweeney Todd” performing in the office (on The Office)

Any true Office fan will remember Andy Bernard’s musical performance in Sweeney Todd. At the beginning of the episode, the cast of the play stages an impromptu performance for the rest of the office. This is an example of experiential marketing, as Andy and his castmates were directly involving his coworkers in the musical experience as they promoted the play.

  1. A print ad in a magazine with a QR code for a coupon

Even though you are engaging with the ad to redeem a coupon, you are not having any experience with the brand. If the QR code led to an online game created by the brand or a virtual concert sponsored by the brand, then it would be an example of experiential marketing.

Types of experiential marketing

Experiential marketing campaign

Experiential marketing tactics have become increasingly prevalent as technology has become more sophisticated. However, like the Post-It note example above, these tactics do not have to be super complicated. Below are some of the most common types of experiential marketing that brands adopt today.

Events

As we in the events industry know very well, there is truly no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Events are an essential part of your marketing strategy to engage your audience and introduce them to your brand. Many companies have gone beyond the traditional shareholder dinners and monthly sales events to create unique experiences that get consumers talking. We gathered up some of the best examples of these events to inspire your planning process:

  1. Revolve Festival
  2. Anheuser-Busch Virtual International Beer Festival
  3. Cheetos “House of Flamin’ Haute” Fashion Show
  4. Hulu Virtual PrideFest

Installations

Have you ever walked by a pop-up shop sponsored by your favorite TV show? These installations are a way for brands to engage their audience in a particular city or town by becoming a part of their surroundings for a few days. With in-person options limited and social distancing a requirement, brands had to get creative with their installations in 2020. Here are some of the most creative executions that we found:

  1. OGX Car Wash
  2. Wendy’s Halloween Drive-Thru
  3. HBO’s Lovecraft Country Drive-In Event
  4. Reese’s Peanut Butter Robot

One day (hopefully soon), the possibility to gather in-person will be there again. To give some inspiration for when that day arrives, we also found some outstanding installations pre-pandemic to share:

  1. Netflix’s “The Irishman” Manhattan Little Italy Takeover
  2. Dove Body Wash Sustainable Vending Machine
  3. Club Wyndham “Elf” Hotel Room

Digital

With our phones and computers playing such important roles in our lives now more than ever, many brands have embraced the fact that consumers are rarely without a device in their hands. By integrating their campaigns directly into your screens, digital experiential marketing campaigns are accessible from anywhere. Below are some of the most interesting digital activations we found:

  1. IKEA + Snapchat Escape Room
  2. Canada Goose in California Virtual Reality Experience
  3. South by Southwest Virtual Reality Experience

Best practices of experiential marketing

When designing your experiential marketing campaign, your team must align with the strategy. What is the goal of this campaign? What resources are available? What is the tone that we want to communicate? It is very easy for an experiential campaign to look sloppy if all the elements outlined above do not fit. Follow these best practices before designing your campaign to ensure consistency.

Define your goals

Brands create experiential marketing campaigns for many reasons. Before you brainstorm ideas, gather your team to decide why you need to execute this tactic in the first place. We’ve named some of the most common goals below, but if none of these speak to your organization, take the time to find your “why”.

  1. Expand your reach

Maybe your brand is very recognized in the Northeast, but you want to expand to the West Coast. Or maybe you have brand awareness across Europe, but you want to become better known in Asia. Whatever your expansion goals are, an experiential marketing campaign is a great way to introduce your brand to a region through location-based tactics.

  1. Clarify your brand image

Brand loyalty is built on a brand’s image. Anyone can replicate a product. If your consumers are only with you for your product, what happens when a new company appears with a similar product but a stronger brand story? Your customers will jump ship. Consumers want to feel a connection with the companies that they support. Experiential marketing is a clear way to announce your brand’s story and ideals to your audience.

  1. Send a friendly reminder

If your organization has been around for a long time, it can be hard to capture your audience’s attention in new and exciting ways. Experiential marketing can not-so-subtlety remind your customers of your brand’s mission, purpose, and tone.

Write a compelling story

Once you figure out your campaign goals, it is time to draft your story. The purpose of an experiential marketing campaign is to be interesting, so get creative with it. However, stay within the scope of your resources. Outline your budget, time, location, and other project constraints. Design your story with these limitations in mind.

Authenticity

Throughout the process of executing your campaign, ensure that your messaging stays true to your brand. Experiential marketing can be one of the most successful ways of communicating your brand image and personality. However, it can easily become very disjointed or awkward if your experience does not reflect your brand's values.

To make this easier to understand, we decided to explain by example. Imagine you work for a big-time Manhattan event planning company that specializes in creating daring, off-the-cuff experiences for young and trendy New Yorkers. Below are some key elements that you would consider while designing your experiential marketing campaign:

  1. Experience

It would be a strange choice for this fashionable event planner to design a common campaign centered in a simple hotel ballroom or a stuffy restaurant. To convey a more avant-garde approach to event planning, the company could instead throw an impromptu street fashion show or flash mob. Onlookers would take photos and post to social media, creating organic buzz around the event planning style of the organization.

  1. Location

When creating a live event or installation, the saying is most definitely true: location, location, location! These event planners would not be reaching their desired clientele if they hosted the brand experience in a popular tourist zone such as Times Square or a very corporate-centric area like Wall Street. Instead, they should search for up-and-coming neighborhoods with a reputation of trendiness. The location of your experiential marketing campaign should enhance the experience and add to the brand message, not argue against it.

  1. Energy

Have you ever been to a party where you show up ready to dance and as soon as you walk through the door your energy goes from yay to…bleh? If these event planners organized corporate retreats or spa weekends, it would make sense to create a relaxed mood. However, these event planners need to align their exclusive events with a proper level of excitement.

Evaluate your campaign continuously during the creation phase to make sure that it stays true to your brand’s voice and image. Experiential marketing should clarify to the consumer what your brand is – it should not further muddy the waters.

Proving the ROI of your experiential marketing campaign

Although not as glamorous as the actual execution of your campaign, the data collection process post-campaign is one of the most important steps. If you do not analyze the ROI from your experiential marketing campaign, you won’t know if you carried out the goals you outlined earlier in the process.

There are multiple ways to measure the ROI of your experiential marketing campaign, depending on which tactic you choose to employ. Below are some common data elements you can track, but you can always measure additional criteria as it applies to your strategy.

  1. Number of downloads
  2. Website traffic
  3. Number of social media posts and/or tagged photos
  4. Percentage increase in news mentions year-over-year

Conclusion

Before jumping in to create an experiential marketing campaign, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of this effort. Experiential tactics tend to be more costly and do take a lot of manpower and time to execute successfully. If the resources are available to you and you think an experiential strategy is the right move, begin to plan.

Do your research – what have other brands similar to yours done in the space? Is there room to differentiate your brand? Outline your goals and write them down so they are always at the forefront of the strategy. Brainstorm multiple ideas, and make sure that they align with your brand image. Keep the campaign authentic and true to the organization. Finally, take the time and energy to do a thorough analysis of the success of the campaign. Learn from the campaign's successes, but also its failures. Make note of where things could have been improved upon and use these lessons in the next campaign.

Experiential marketing is a great strategy to set your brand above and apart from the rest. By taking the time to complete your due diligence and craft a compelling narrative, your brand can win earned media and increased exposure in the marketplace. And, you need to make sure that you have the right event marketing platform to track all of your data in one place.

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Anna Linthicum

A recent graduate of Washington and Lee University, I am currently the Sales Development Representative for the Marketing Partnerships team here at Cvent.

My writing journey got its start with stories about my cousins and our incredible adventures together on family vacations. You can find me organizing my closet, doing Kayla Itsines workouts, or watching The Office for the umpteenth time.

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