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Want to build excitement about your brand and encourage consumers to get engaged or hands-on with a creative promotion? If so, experiential marketing is one option that should be at the top of your short list.

But just what is experiential marketing? At its core, it’s a promotion that allows consumers to experience a brand and/or what it stands for in innovative ways that engage the senses. Among its many names, experiential marketing is also known as engagement marketing, live marketing, event marketing and participation marketing.

What Is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing might be a relatively new term. However, the practice isn’t, although brands and marketers have become increasingly creative in what the promotions involve and how they happen. If you’ve ever test-driven a dealership car or sampled a new product at a supermarket, you’ve participated in experiential marketing. You had the chance and chose to try the product out before you decided to buy it or not.

Instead of just taking a car for a typical test drive, however, today’s experiential marketing campaigns tend to ramp up the level of excitement. For example, Land Rover’s experiential marketing offers consumers the opportunity to test their skills driving over rugged terrain at a Land Rover off-roading Experience Center.

So, what’s different about experiential marketing compared to other forms of marketing?

Experiential marketing is different because it actively involves consumers. They’re encouraged to participate in some way and aren’t passive targets of a marketing campaign. The goal is to create a positive emotional response about the brand for the consumer. This is accomplished through memorable, hands-on experiences that allow people to make decisions about their participation.

With traditional marketing, consumers are recipients of the advertising message but don’t take part in it. However, with experiential marketing, consumers are engaged in some way. They might do things like answer questions about product color preferences, interact with displays or products or become immersed in memorable experiences.

Who Uses Experiential Marketing?

Everyone from major brands like JetBlue, Google and Lean Cuisine to local businesses uses experiential marketing. Palm Springs’ visitors bureau and JetBlue, for example, thought completely out of the box. They invited people to get active with an experiential marketing campaign promoting the airline’s new flights to Palm Springs, California, from New York.

For the campaign, JetBlue and the Palm Springs travel bureau froze prizes that evoked images of warm weather fun into big blocks of ice. These included airline tickets, sandals and golf clubs. Then, marketers plopped the frozen chunks down in New York’s Flatiron Plaza and Washington Square Park. Contestants could use whatever they had on hand to break apart the ice and get the prizes.

When Google had $5.5 million to donate to Bay Area non-profits, it empowered locals by asking them to decide which organizations should receive the money. With the company’s Bay Area Impact Challenge, Google used interactive posters placed throughout the area that let residents vote for their choices. The campaign helped build a sense of community and control and also created awareness among locals about Google’s values and charitable contributions.

Lean Cuisine created positive emotional responses and raised brand awareness among women who took part in its #WeighThis campaign. The company covered a wall in New York City’s Grand Central Station with hundreds of bathroom scales. It then asked women what they wanted to be weighed on the basis of.

The women responded with answers like, “I’m the sole provider for my family,” “Making the dean’s list” and “I saved my brother’s life.” Some of the ideas behind the campaign were to have women evaluate themselves based on their own accomplishments and criteria instead of their weight. The company also wanted to get away from the negative associations that the bathroom scale and diet marketing can have.

The Benefits of Using Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing offers brands unique advantages that come from person-to-person interaction and the connections and emotions this tactic creates.

  • Consumers feel in control of their participation in experiential marketing because they make the decision to engage with it. They don’t feel like they’re trapped in a sales pitch, but instead like they’re enjoying an experience voluntarily.
  • Experiential marketing has the power to create positive memories about participation for consumers and fosters a positive feeling about the brand.
  • It can attract media attention and create buzz.
  • Experiential marketing can create a sense of community.
  • Experiential marketing is an excellent way to tell consumers your brand’s story and show them your values.
  • Experiential marketing can be a great way to increase brand awareness and brand loyalty.
  • It can generate new leads when brands collect the names and email addresses of consumers who participate in an experiential event.
  • Consumers can easily share experiential marketing on social media with posts, photos and videos of their participation in fun events. Experiential marketing harnesses the power of social media.
  • Experiential marketing offers brands face-to-face interaction with consumers. Consumers can meet and engage with brand ambassadors, which can make a warm, positive impression that helps build trust and brand awareness. It’s a great way for brands that don’t have brick-and-mortar presences to show their human sides to consumers.

The target audience for experiential marketing is a brand’s current or potential customers. You can tailor your experiential marketing to target the demographic you want to reach, and it can be as niche or as general as you decide.

How Can You Get Started With Experiential Marketing?

You don’t have to have a huge budget to get started with experiential marketing. But you do need to decide how much money you want to spend first and scale accordingly. Begin by thinking about the audience you want to target. Consider what you’d like for them to discover about your brand and the emotional connections you want them to make. Decide what you want your brand message to be.

Brainstorm fun, creative ideas for consumer engagement and explore how best to create excitement about the event before, during and after it. Sketch out a design for the experience and the story you want it to tell. As you develop your strategy and put your goals and teams in place, be selective about the platforms and vendors you use. Consider partnering with relevant influencers to promote the experience on social media. Carefully vet them before you move forward with a partnership.

Experiential marketing can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. It might range from tastings, games and samplings to classes, pop-up shops, workshops and rooms where consumers can experience aspects of the brand and what it stands for. For example, if your brand is targeting creative consumers, its experiential room might offer interactions with musicians and writers or encourage consumers to create art. Consider your audience’s interests, and deliver an experience that lets them explore something novel, engaging and aligned with your brand’s values.