Experiential Marketing: What It Is, And What It Isn't

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Unlike traditional or online marketing efforts, experiential marketing is a uniquely fast and effective way to build brand awareness through face-to-face connections with consumers. It engages all five senses, sparking emotions that form lasting memories which have been shown to drive brand loyalty.

Without effective data capture, your company could be lagging behind. Watch  our latest webinar, "Event & Experiential Trends in 2018: What Consumer Experts  Are Saying," and learn what major brands are doing to drive engagement and lift  sales.

As experiential marketing gains traction, many definitions are starting to emerge. To simplify how we think about experiential marketing, here is our definition:

"Experiential marketing is an entire channel of marketing that involves any face-to-face or offline effort to raise brand awareness, create and nurture business opportunities and develop long-term customer loyalty. It is an essential part of the 360 omnichannel experience, in both an individual capacity (activations) and a collective one (the sum of those activations)."

Experiential marketing encompasses not just the face- to- face event itself, but also leading up to and coming out of the experience, event or activation.

“Think about it this way: live marketing focuses on people-to-people interactions, whereas experiential can include people-to-paper, people-to-radio, or some sort of in-person experience. Live marketing takes on a holistic approach to face-to-face advertising, whereas experiential can be very divided.”

– Jonah Midanik, Founder & CEO, Limelight Platform

Thinking about experiential as part of your broader omnichannel strategy (just like social, direct mail or email) paves the way for how you standardize, collect, measure and analyze data across departments and regions. But more on that later.

In sum, experiential is any marketing that happens in a physical setting: event marketing, auto shows, test drives, consumer shows, kiosks, sponsorships, trade shows, contests, sampling, and more.

  • Events
  • Experiential marketing tactics
  • Auto shows
  • Trade shows
  • Kiosks
  • Sponsorships
  • Test drives
  • Samplings
  • Contesting
  • In person surveys
  • In store experiences
  • Face-to-face marketing 

Other Definitions of Experiential Marketing

We also like how others think about experiential marketing...

"Experiential is the art of expressing a brand’s purpose and proposition through a form of physical consumer interaction.”

- Sarah Priestman, Sense NYC via Adweek

"Experiential marketing is a practical advertising approach that primarily focuses on consumers’ experience."

-  Shaz Smilansky, Director Blazinstar Marketing, "Why Experiential?"

"Experiential marketing is the live, one-on-one interactions that allow consumers to create connections with brands."

- Brad Nierenberg, CEO RedPeg Marketing via Best Bosses

"In experiential (loyalty), we talk about surprise and delight. If we happen to have tickets to a runway show, which we have for New York Men’s Fashion Week, we would send an email out to local individuals and say ‘Hey would you want to go see a runway show?’ Those are the type of experiential (loyalty) moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. When consumers think about leaving Cadillac for Mercedes, maybe they’ll say, ‘I remember Cadillac gave me this unique opportunity…"

- Louis Falco, Head of Customer Relationships and Brand Loyalty, Cadillac via Limelight

Since there is no universally accepted definition of experiential marketing, you may have run across several different interpretations of the term. To make sure we're all on the same page, let's clarify what experiential marketing is not.

What Experiential Marketing Is Not

1. Another term for 'Experience Marketing'

Not even close—experiential refers to every interaction in an offline setting, whereas experience marketing refers to the entire customer experience (CX), which can be offline or on. Experiential marketing (XM) is a channel; experience marketing refers to the elements in the consumer journey(s) across all channels designed to make every brand touchpoint seamless and memorable. While it involves experiential marketing, it is not exclusive to it.

2. Another term for 'Event Marketing'

Events are one-off tactics, and often refer to internal or external meetings, trade shows, conferences, etc. They are a subset of experiential marketing with a specific purpose. Experiential marketing, on the other hand, is a point of view and philosophy on how to change consumer behaviour (at least for brands that do it well). 

3. A solution that only benefits marketing

Yes, marketing benefits from digitally transforming experiential as a channel. But advancing experiential marketing is ultimately about creating a 360-degree view of consumers across the organization to increase lifetime customer value.

4. A solution that delivers value without effort

If you could only buy experiential marketing technology, and sit back and watch the results produce themselves. But experiential marketing technology isn’t a silver bullet. Experiential marketing is made up of all live, one-on-one interactions that allow consumers to create connections with brands. To successfully deliver, it requires the right strategy, process and people. 

Why Do I Need Experiential Marketing Technology?

When it comes to experiential marketing, there are a number of problems marketers currently face.

Proving ROI Is Difficult

Say you’ve just purchased a banner advertisement at a hockey game. Your brand and dozens of others line the ice. The banner will remain for three months, and at the end of those three months, you have to calculate the ROI of that banner and explain it to your boss.

Did it increase sales? Did it decrease sales cycles? Basically, your boss wants to know how your marketing effort contributed to the overall financial success of the business. Statistic: 40% of marketers say proving the ROI of their marketing activities is their top marketing challenge. (HubSpot, 2017)

It used to be that proving ROI didn’t matter so much, because when marketers were fighting for an event budget, they’d be up against someone who ran television ads.

But now, marketers who take part in event, experiential and any other live marketing efforts have to go up against digital or content marketers.

Digital marketers have the ability to measure their efforts through KPIs like website traffic, conversions and leads. They can say, "web traffic is up 303%" or "conversions have doubled" and they have the analytics to prove it. And all that experiential marketers can say is that 200 people showed up to their live experience and had a good time.

Disjointed Data Leads To A Poor Customer Experience

The other problem experiential marketers face is that even if they do collect data, it’s incredibly disjointed. As a result, consumers are getting a terrible experience.

You go to an auto show and fill out a form. A month later, you get an email announcing the new Chevy Volt, which is great, but you filled out the form for the Dodge Ram. You’d never buy the Volt; in fact, you hate the Volt.   Statistic: 82% of marketers cannot quantify the data received from attendee interactions at their corporate events. (Kissmetrics)

Consumers are willing to give you information if they get the right piece of information back at the right time. Think about it: most of us give our Facebook information in return for being connected to brands, applications and more just so that we are exposed to more personalized, targeted information that we are interested in.

Full Scale Execution Is Costly And Time-Consuming

Executing a full scale live marketing campaign in the traditional sense is incredibly expensive because it’s disconnected, and difficult to operate. Especially when most solutions out there are custom-builds that require a lot of time and money for little return.

At the very least, running a million-dollar experience requires a team of two people for the next four months. Marketing leaders have to then measure the ROI of those two people, compile the data, which is hosted in a several different places, and configure legal compliance and data security.

Brands need to develop custom activation assets (websites, landing pages, mobile apps) for every campaign. Because they often need to involve multiple suppliers and partners, the process is usually slow, painful and requires more resources than necessary. Statistic: Event technology can help increase event attendance by 20%, increase productivity by 27%, and decrease costs by 20-30%. (Enterprise Event Marketing)

Experiential marketing technology changes the rules by letting brands plan, build and launch their own activation assets with less involvement from suppliers or partners - and do it all in a shorter time frame.

The Bigger Picture

The central tenet of modern marketing is to test, measure and scale your efforts. If you can’t do that, as a marketing leader, you’re in serious trouble. At the end of the day, live marketing is about applying best marketing practices to your face-to-face campaigns.

Dynamic Signal’s CMO, Joelle Kaufman, sums up it up best: “I expect my in-house meeting planner, and anyone who is going to work with her and my marketing team, to be relentless about tracking and collecting insights and making data-driven decisions, because you won’t get me twice at an event if you don’t.”

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