Experiential marketing – connecting to customers

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What is Experiential marketing?

You may not know it, but chances are you’ve probably been influenced by Experiential marketing. Have you ever received a free sample at a concert or in the street? Ever been to a festival and experienced something memorable on a branded stage or had a drink at a branded bar? Pretty likely.

Experiential can be hard to describe. Each campaign differs and it seems none share the same objective or purpose. They’re not the same type of activation or interaction with consumers. None follow a set of methods that other marketing disciplines do – so what is it?

Simply put, Experiential is a strategy where brands interact with consumers in the “real” world. That’s why it’s so hard to define, it’s not a channel or a specific technique. It can be simple sampling, to an activation designed to provide digital content such as the Xbox Survival billboard.

If done well, experiential marketing is an incredibly powerful technique to build emotional connections and trust in a brand.

Xbox Survival Billboard – for the launch of Tomb Raider

Tried and tested

Experiential isn’t new. In fact, Coca Cola built its US business through sampling in 1886. As a result, within 14 years Coca-Cola became available in every state.

Thousands of coupons were sent out across the country to chambers of commerce, churches and community centres to be distributed. Coke then sent cafes (and soda fountains) enough syrup to ensure each coupon could be redeemed. Between 1886 and 1914 one in 10 Cokes were given away for free and Coke started the journey to become one of the most recognisable brands in the world. Today, more than 1.9 billion servings, in over 200 countries are served each day.

Experiential and small business

How can experiential marketing be used when you don’t have the marketing budget of Coke?

I mentioned when done right, experiential can drive real understanding and trust with a brand. The great thing is it’s not reliant on one channel of marketing – and that is where it becomes powerful for small businesses. It’s looking for creative ways to connect with your consumers in the real world. For instance, sampling, sponsorship (even at a local level) and creating digital content can all have huge affect on your brand.

In 1999,  Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright started selling smoothies at a music festival. They put up a big sign asking people if they they should make it a business, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. People then voted with their empties.

At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full. As a result, they resigned from their jobs the next day and started Innocent. In 2013 the brand was valued at $500 million.

Innocents brand started with a simple experiential marketing event
Innocent’s three founders

No one would say this is the only reason Innocent was so successful. The founders spent years pouring blood, sweat and tears into the business to make it a success. What it did, however, was give a great brand story, knowledge their products were fantastic and reassurance people loved them.

Planning a campaign

How can experiential marketing be used as part of the marketing plan for your business? There really is no one size fits all, step by step guide to how to deliver a campaign. There’s a reason there are great agencies out there who deliver amazing and successful campaigns. However, when it comes down to planning, there are some essential things to consider.

Who is my audience?

Knowing your customer is key to a small business, as it is to a successful experiential campaign. Where are they? What do they like doing? How can I best interact with them? As a small business, it can be hard to draw a crowd, so go to where your consumer already is.

Markets, events, festivals and shopping centres can be fantastic locations. However, if you don’t understand your brand and your customer, it’s easy to misjudge. For instance, one brand can find huge success with a campaign at a festival, but for another it could be an expensive disaster.

Know your brand, know your audience then plan how to reach them.

Tell Your Story and create an experience

Connect. In my opinion, it’s the strongest way a brand can create trust and loyalty. Consumers emotionally connect with the reason a brand exists far more strongly than the physical product the brand provides. Simon Sinek’s book ” Start with Why” gives a fantastic explanation of this with Apple and Dell.

Let consumers know what your brand is about and give them a reason to engage and interact with you. For example, if you own a clothing store consider hosting a pop up fashion show; if your business is a restaurant, host a live event, show your skills and sample your food.

Find a way to connect your experiential campaign to your audience. On average a consumer has brands trying to talk to them hundreds of times a day from the moment they wake up. To cut through this, you need to make your brand stand out. Make their experience memorable and positive. You don’t need to invest a fortune to be effective, but you do need to think about how to cut through the noise.

Integrate Social Media

Content is king on social media. Experiential marketing by its own nature provides content that can be amplified using digital channels. In other words, clever use of your content can increase the reach of your campaign way beyond the people you directly interact with.

Although the 1/9/90 rule has been around for a while in marketing, it’s still a great bench mark of success in a campaign. If you can interact with 1% of your target audience successfully, they’ll share it via word of mouth or social media to the next 9%, while the final 90% will hear about the event through articles elsewhere.

Experiential marketing can be an excellent tool for small businesses. But it needs a bit of thought and planning. At the end of the day, this is your opportunity to directly interact with your consumer. Get it right and you can create strong connections and loyalty for your brand

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