experiential marketing

Camp Jeep. Image source: George P. Johnson

Experiential marketing, also called participation marketing or engagement marketing, is a new secret sauce to promoting brand messages and reaching busy, distracted and skeptical audiences, advocates say.

People are spending less on what economists call durable goods such as cars, sofas and refrigerators. Instead of buying more shoes and jackets to stuff in their closets, consumers are spending more on experiences. They’re spending more on vacations and dining out. Even when they purchase merchandise, they’re often encouraged by the experience of the purchase.

“Experiential marketing is the antidote to interruptive messaging,” says Scott Kellner, vice-president of marketing at experience marketing agency George P. Johnson (GPG). “In an era of brand message bombardment, creepy data-driven retargeting and an increasing number of methods for skipping or ignoring the messages, experiential marketing is fast becoming the go-to option for marketers.”

While most PR and marketing campaigns are fleeting, event-based programs create a lasting impression when done well, Kellner says.

By showcasing the company and its product at concerts, malls, sporting events or other events its target audience frequents, marketers can associate the brand with experiences its customers enjoy, adds Joey Kercher, president and CEO of Air Fresh Marketing, in an article for Forbes.

According to Access Intelligence’s Event Marketer, 85% of consumers said they were likely to purchase after participating in events or experiences, and 91% of consumers said they had more positive feelings about brands after attending events or experiences.

Examples of Experiential Marketing

In experiential marketing companies may invite customers to parties or other events or convince attendees at concerts, malls, sporting events or other venues to try company products. The strategy involves more than letting passers-by try a product. When done well, experiential marketing entices customers to participate in brand-sponsored activities at a more personal level and immerse themselves in the experience.

At GPJ’s Camp Jeep attendees can ride in various Jeep models over a variety of obstacles at auto shows to experience the vehicles’ off-road capabilities. The program, an innovator in experiential marketing, has given more than 2 million rides since 2004. GPJ is adapting the idea for Ram trucks.

Lifestyle brand Refinery29 hosts its 29Rooms event, billed as “an interactive funhouse of style, culture, & technology.” It consists of 29 rooms that offer different experiences. The rooms are designed and created with brand partners, including artists and musicians, companies like Dunkin’ Donuts, Dyson, and Cadillac. Attendees are encouraged to use surroundings to create something.  In one room, visitors put on punching gloves and hit punching bags that produced different sounds, creating a musical cacophony.

At the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last April in southern California,  Chevrolet built interactive displays for guests to experience its car models, says Erik Deutsch, principal of ExcelPR Group. One display featured a Camaro in a simulated NASCAR winner’s circle, with bottles of champagne for guests to shake, pop and spray.

Peet’s Cold Brew vintage coach bus provided another example. Outside the vehicle, the brand offered a shaded lounge with phone and laptop charging stations and misting fans, reported Event Marketer. Inside the bus, it offered 1950s-style salon chairs with oversized hair dryers blowing cold air and free cold samples of the brand’s products.

Why Consumers Prefer Experiential Marketing

The conventional view holds that only millennials favor spending money for experiences instead of possessions, but the preference has expanded to other age groups. Numerous studies show that consumers feel happier when they spend money on living rather than acquiring possessions.

Besides growing tired of materialism, consumers may be stimulated by social media and selfies. They take photos of themselves in exotic locations or exciting situations to show on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Consumers today don’t want to bring home mementos and souvenirs. They define themselves by how they present themselves on their social media feeds.

“There is a drive to compete with family members and friends, if they are all going on vacation,” Greg Fisher, who runs a website on Gulf Coast vacations, told Fortune.  “It is the experience they are looking for.”

Advice for Effective Experiential Marketing

Be Creative. Develop an original and clever event or experience to engage and entertain your target audience. Avoid same-old, same-old. Somehow, outdo any competition to make it an appealing experience.

Focus on logistics. Managing logistics can be tough, especially if the event is immersive. Organizers need to consider securing venues, food and beverages, security, fabrication, assembly and breakdown of booths and other structures. Because of those different factors, a full-service marketing agency offers a safer solution than a network of agency partners who might not be on the same page, Kellner says.

Understand your brand voice, or personality, and determine if/how it meshes with the planned event or experience. Brands have other possible venues to market products, including dozens of other large music festivals across the country. Each event is unique, and not every brand is a good match.

Be authentic and don’t pander to your audience. Consumers — especially millennials — want to connect with brands on a human level.

Emphasize fun – that’s what people at events are anticipating.

Consider the delivery. The delivery, in addition to the experience, itself is an essential component of experiential marketing. Adidas used Glover’s celebrity to reach its audience at the concert and Airdrop as its delivery method.

Avoid the hard sell. Such events don’t succeed if brands attempt a hard sell. “It’s not about pushing our products,” Dave Barthmuss, says group manager for GM’s West Coast communications team, told the PRSA. “To connect with attendees, we need to create a great experience.”

Small events can succeed. Some experiential marketing campaigns are creative and elaborate. But you don’t need to create large‐scale, complex experiences. If done right, small experiences can create truly sticky content, advises Brian Schultz, co‐founder and chief experience officer at Magnetic. If executed properly, and documented well, your brand experience will drive your consumers and the press to tell your story better and more authentically.

Beware high-tech. These days, virtual reality may be the high buzz experience, but don’t overuse technology, Schultz warns. If users can’t share content from their phone on social media, it’s probably too complicated.

Bottom Line: Brands can create lasting impressions through experiential marketing. The strategy entails more than just hosting parties. Ideally, experiential marketing immerses participants in a fun experience they’re not likely to forget.

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