In the age of social media, experiential marketing is what can make you go viral. It’s what can catch the eyes of movers, shakers and influencers and really put your brand on the map.
A recent study found that more than 3 in 4 millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on an experience or event over buying something desirable, and 55% of millennials say they’re spending more on events and live experiences than ever before (Harris Group)
Although the statistic sounds like bad news for retail brands (primarily focused on selling products vs. experiences) – it’s actually opened up an innovative new way of marketing products through community events, pop-up shops, and in-person classes.
What is Experiential Marketing?
Experiential marketing is a type of marketing that directly engages or immerses a target audience in a live event. Also referred to as “live marketing,” “participation marketing” or sometimes “brand activation,” experiential marketing gets your customers involved in your brand or products and lets them experience it in real time.
Here’s a good example of how experiential marketing works:
At SXSW a few years back, the “Bates Motel” show put on an experiential marketing event in a real-life Austin-area hotel.
They rebranded the whole hotel, and festival goers could “check in,” talk to staff and stay the night – the whole nine yards.
The rooms featured elements from the TV show, and posters of missing characters covered the walls. It allowed people to feel what Bates Motel was all about.
In the end, the event brought thousands of press mentions and even more exposure to the show – which was just headed into its third season.
Why is Experiential Marketing Successful?
So what is it about experiential marketing that makes it so successful? Obviously, events like the Bates Motel campaign take tons of resources.
Why would showrunners be willing to invest so much in a short-lived marketing event?
Well, there are a few factors that make experiential marketing really stand out from other strategies:
1. It leverages influencers
Experiential Marketing draws in media, bloggers and all those digital movers and shakers who want to share the best content with their followers. This, in the end, means more awareness for the brand.
This particular Nike pop-up in Paris (featured above) was hosted by an affiliate of the French rap group PNL and actor, Lucas in March 2018 for one afternoon to promote Nike’s new line of Air Max 270 colorways.
2. Experiential events are super shareable.
These events can turn participants into veritable word of mouth marketers for the brand. When participants post photos on Instagram or Facebook, when they text a friend to stop by and see it themselves, or when they just talk about the experience over the water cooler the next day, they’re passing that brand name on to others and again, adding exposure.
3. Finally, it’s authentic.
It’s not just a marketing message being shouted from the rooftops, but instead a two-way conversation – something the consumer can see, hear, touch and feel. It allows them to really understand a brand inside and out and even become a part of that brand themselves.
Examples of Top Brands Using Experiential Marketing:
There are tons of great experiential marketing companies out there, but the best? They’re not just one-time events that come and go – they’re campaigns that keep on giving.
A good example is the Outpost – an experiential marketing pop-up put on by The Participation Agency. Located in El Paso, Texas, the Outpost is a rest stop designed just for touring bands that come through the area.
It’s stocked with curated brands and products designed just for musicians and their on-the-road needs.
For band members who have had to use bare-bones gas stations and rest stops for months on end, the Outpost is a welcome sight – and one they’ll share heavily on social media.
Every year, Target hosting their overwhelmingly popular private shopping event “Back to College” for incoming college freshmen.
Throughout the months of August and September, the company will bus in 155,000 students from 66 different universities and colleges to their local Target store.
Inside the event, there are DJs playing while students browse hundreds of top beauty products, late night snacks, designer threads and school supplies during the off-campus excursions. They also raffle off coupons and prizes including a year’s supply of pizza, a Sony 32” television and Target GiftCards.
Also known as “the Millennials’ Estee Lauder”, Glossier teamed up with the famous Rhea’s Cafe in the Mission District for one month to host their first pop-up makeup store in San Francisco.
The entire cafe was remodeled to welcome the beauty line with a fresh coat of light pink paint and chic new furniture to appeal to Glossier’s youthful audience.
Another great one is JetBlue’s “Icebreaker” challenge in New York a few years ago. To celebrate its new direct flights from NYC to Palm Springs, Florida, the airline froze tons of summer accessories in large ice blocks.
Passersby could stop, chip away at the ice with whatever tools they had on them, and claim any prize they could get out of the ice. There were even free tickets in there.
The Doc McStuffin Check-up campaign put on by Disney is also a good example. This time, the event allowed kids to play doctor on various stuffed animals.
While waiting for their turn, they played with Doc McStuffin themed toys and books and even received a free Doc gift. When all was said and done, the event exposed the Doc McStuffin TV show to nearly 8,000 more children (and their parents).
In 2016, the company opened a temporary store in SoHo called Harry’s Bartershop, allowing consumers to “barter” their razor blades (including competing brands like Gillette), in exchange for Harry’s new razors and shaving products.
Last summer, Dirty Lemon (infamous for being one of the first brands to sell their products exclusively via text message) opened up “The Drug Store”, an alcohol-free bar in Nolita, NYC.
Modeled after a 1920s-era soda shop, the bar scheme helped to drive new customers, build brand awareness, and educate thirsty shoppers on the health benefits of their famous low calorie beverage.
Athleisure brand lululemon hosts free yoga and fitness classes regularly in many of its stores across the globe.
Each year, Backpacker Magazine hosts “Get Out More” an event featuring more than 45 outdoor equipment retailers and speakers, sharing their latest outdoor experiences and gear tips.
The Key to Great Experiential Marketing
You get the gist: the key to great experiential marketing is finding something to both entertain and involve consumers, so that they share your brand and remember their experience.
Your goal is to create brand advocates – people excited to do business with you and share it with the world.
To learn more about experiential marketing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.