Your average customer has a lot on his mind. So can you cut through the clutter, engage his attention and deepen your brand relationship by offering him relevant events and experiences? More specifically, can you capitalize on the benefits of experiential marketing?

More and more marketers are saying "yes," and transforming events and experiences to the world's fastest-growing form of marketing.

The idea is to put people right into the middle of a marketing campaign so it touches their lives.

It can be as subtle as a giveaway or as exciting as an event. 

It can also be more in your face, like Amazon’s rather ill fated effort to promote The Man in the High Castle. Amazon promoted the video series, which explores what life after WWII may have been like if the Nazis had won the war, by plastering images of the Third Reich all over Times Square in New York City.

Connecting With Customers

Experiential marketing is a form of advertising that uses real word engagement to help consumers experience a brand. It's a concept that integrates elements of emotions, logic and general thought processes to connect with the consumer.

Through cross-media promotional activities, experiential marketing encourages two way interaction and direct physical immersion into a brand. It's designed to encourage a dialogue with customers to boost interest in companies and products and also build brand loyalty.

As AdAge noted, "It's on the rise in recent years as marketers of everything from cars to movies aim to make their brands a tangible presence in consumers' lives either in person or digitally through YouTube videos, tweets and Instagram."

According to the Norwalk, Conn.-based Event Marketing Institute's EventTrack study, the top goals and strategies of events and experiences are increasing brand awareness and driving sales. Companies and brands are increasing their event and experiential marketing budgets by a 6.1 percent this year, up from an increase of 5.4 percent in 2014, the research found.

experiential budget growth

The study also found events and experiences provide a significant return on investment (ROI). 

In response to the question, "What ROI do you expect from events?" 48 percent of brands stated a ROI of 3 to 1 or 5 to 1. About 29 percent indicated their return is over 10 to 1 and 12 percent estimated an ROI of 20 to 1 or more.

drivers of experiential marketing

The EventTrack study includes a brand analysis, based on surveys and interviews with executives at more than 220 companies across the Fortune 1000, and a survey of more than 1,600 consumers who recently attended or participated in events, both in-store and out-of-store.

How Experiential Marketing Works

According to Mark Frankel, executive creative director at Landor, a San Francisco-based global brand consultancy, experiential marketing has plenty of merits. And now it's moving from B2C to B2B.

Frankel said B2B companies have seen how B2C companies have been able to build brand loyalty and dominate the conversation using experiential marketing, and "want part of the action" by expanding their connections with customers.

One option is apps that create experiences. Companies are leveraging mobile devices with specialized apps that can customize a brand experience, he explained.

Macy’s did that when it switched its swimsuit and workout clothes section in one store to display-only, a change that required customers to use an app to request a size and try on a style. And during the recent Cyber Weekend shopping extravaganza retailers like Amazon and B&H Photo offered deals exclusive to their mobile app. 

Brands are also converging digital and physical worlds.  Tech giants like Facebook have the power to pull off rather large feats, like when the social network used the London Eye to track the parliamentary election by lighting it up as a giant pie chart.

And Oracle made sure its presence was felt during its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco recently, using a plastic ball-filled pool to send people into the cloud.

When Experience Fails

Brands should keep in mind that experiential marketing is a very sharp, double-edged sword.

As indicated earlier, a promotion for the Amazon Prime TV show about The Man in the High Castle flamed out. The advertisements were pulled after much public outcry, which included a strong condemnation from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

If a branding effort is going to try to push something the real world, marketers need to consider the implications for how people might feel about it. There is a high risk of offending customers with a promotion that appears to trivialize something as tragic as the Holocaust.

The best course is to learn from such examples, and instead emulate efforts like how Ferrero Rocher turned a front lawn into a holiday party to promote chocolate pieces.

People always love free stuff, so even something as simple as a chocolate giveaway or a lunch coupon can impact someone’s buying tendencies greater than a grandiose effort that becomes annoying or offensive.

Strategies to Consider

New York City-based Factory 360, an experiential marketing agency, said the first step in planning an experiential marketing campaign is to outline a set of deliverables and find ways to track them. 

It's actually "easier to explain" the ROI of experiential marketing campaigns because "you know how many people entered your booth, tasted or tried on your product, and signed up for your email newsletter."

You should also consider ROE or return on engagement. 

"More and more brands are looking at their investment in experiential marketing campaigns as a long game rather than a short one. They don’t want to bring a bunch of one-time consumers through their doors or to their websites. They want to build brand loyalty, increase their social media following and make their consumers into product ambassadors," according to a company blog post.

Other questions Factory360 thinks marketers should ask:

  • How will this event or experience translate on social media? "Can you make some segment of the experience short enough that it will make sense on a Vine? Can you recommend that event attendees post pictures on Snapchat, Instagram and Whisper as well?"
  • How can the event or experience be targeted to different demographic groups? "People who belong to racial or ethnic groups outside of the mainstream appreciate it when brands are inclusive and provide experiences they can relate to. This multicultural or ethnic marketing is a big trend in experiential marketing."

Title image by Anthony Delanoix