Despite the fact that experiential marketing has existed as a strategy among marketing and branding professionals for two decades, it remains a fairly amorphous concept. Nevertheless, marketing professionals need to understand the value of this tool.
At its heart, experiential marketing stands in opposition to traditional advertising, such as radio, print, and television. While traditional advertising attempts to communicate a brand to the customer, experiential marketing seeks to immerse customers in a brand and have them interact with it. An experiential marketing campaign seeks to engage the various senses and creative as immersive and experience as possible, which means that it typically encompasses many other approaches to marketing.
A Look at the Origins of Experiential Marketing
Experiential marketing remains one of the best methods for distinguishing a brand from the competition. The number of goods and services available in the market continues to grow at an exponential rate, and this has driven competition. To survive, brands must directly engage customers to become memorable.
Companies in particularly crowded markets understand the importance of developing an emotional connection. This emotional connection can often build or maintain brand loyalty, even in the face of less expensive comparable products. Such loyalty is apparent for brands like Coca-Cola, which largely appeals to customer’s emotional connection to the product. Experiential marketing is a primary tool for establishing this kind of emotional bond.
As the name implies, experiential marketing must involve a sense of “experience.” Individuals need to draw a clear distinction between transaction and engagement. Throughout the years, many companies have improperly called activities like a holding a sweepstakes, spinning a wheel, or setting up an information table experiential marketing. Although these approaches to marketing do involve interaction with the customer, these exchanges are transactional rather than experiential. Spinning a wheel communicates nothing about the essence of a brand and does little to build an emotional connection. While spinning the wheel may convey some important information about the company and its products, it does not allow the customer to truly experience the brand.
The Three Components of an Experience
To qualify as “experiential,” a marketing initiative must feature three key elements: understanding the customers, knowing the brand, and establishing a mutually beneficial touch point. Understanding the customer is the key to gaining brand relevance. Companies need to engage the customer immediately because, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a person’s average attention span is only about eight seconds. Organizations simply do not have a lot of time to engage a customer. Therefore, they need to know how to motivate the customer to engage.
Organizations that succeed in capturing a customer’s attention in that first eight seconds typically have nearly five minutes to further engage the customer before they exhaust the customer’s entire attention span. During this time, however, brands need to show what they represent and build the emotional ties that make experiential marketing so powerful. Knowing a brand is important because the brand should not change even when marketing strategies shift. Consistency is what maintains the emotional connection and makes brands so appealing. In a way, a brand is almost like a living entity that customers can engage with and get to know. For this reason, it is critical that brands not betray a customer’s trust.
Capturing the attention of the audience and maintaining a consistent brand only go so far and do not create an experience. The experiential part of the marketing campaign emerges when companies create a touch point. An experience must be a two-way street. Companies should focus on giving customers what they want, not what the organization wants them to have. T-shirts, free products, and other giveaways are generally not interactional, but rather transactional. These items have little or no relevance and do not stick in the minds of consumers. In contrast, a touch point is mutually beneficial and something that strengthens the relationship between the customer and the consumer.
Case Studies of Two Experiential Campaigns
The examples of successful experiential marketing campaigns span a wide range of different activities, largely because the concept of experience is diverse. Companies can create virtually any experience that speaks to who they think the customer is and reflects on what the brand represents. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is to look at two very different yet incredibly successful campaigns.
One campaign was launched by Milka, a chocolate manufacturer that created 10 million bars missing a single piece of chocolate. Individuals who purchased a bar were given the opportunity to either receive the missing piece in the mail or send it with a personalized message to a friend or family member. The campaign shows the brand’s soft side while facilitating greater connections between the consumer and his or her loved ones. The campaign also gave consumers the power of choice.
Coca-Cola launched an experiential campaign in collaboration with the release of the James Bond film Skyfall. In a certain train station, individuals received a Double-O agent mission when they purchased a Coke Zero at a vending machine. The machine would challenge individuals to get to another part of the train station through a cleverly staged obstacle course in a given amount of time. People who won the challenge received free tickets to the film, and the company created a video compilation of people’s attempts. This campaign reveals the more playful side of the brand and appeals to the adventurous side of the company’s customers. Because the participation video went viral, both the customers and the brand had much to gain.