The do’s and don’ts of experiential marketing

By Matt Suttmiller

You’ve definitely encountered or participated in experiential marketing before – even if you didn’t know it at the time.

Experiential marketing involves creating memorable and innovative customer experiences that create deep emotional connections between a customer and brand. It’s a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground type of marketing that you’ll most often see in action at in-person events.

Some experiential marketing campaigns you might have seen out in the world include:

Yes, high-profile companies tend to make the biggest waves and earn the most online views with these kinds of campaigns. But experiential marketing can move the needle for any business of any size – if it’s done right.

Let’s dig into how experiential marketing can benefit your business, how it’s changed in recent years (hello, pandemic!), and some do’s and don’ts that’ll help you make the most out of it.

Why should you invest in experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing can create an impression that lasts – and often converts:

  • 65% of brands say experiential marketing increases sales.
  • 91% of consumers say branded events and experiences make them more likely to purchase.
  • 46% of consumers feel more positive about a brand after engaging in one of its events.

Digital marketing and other kinds of content often involve making a quick impression on consumers. With experiential marketing, you get to forge a personal connection that helps the consumer remember you months or years down the road. This especially helps brands whose products are more expensive or have a longer sales funnel.

For example, customers rarely impulse-buy insurance; it’s a longer, more carefully considered decision that they might not even need to make right now. That’s why companies like GEICO and Progressive pour massive spend into experiential marketing: It helps consumers remember them when the time to buy insurance finally comes.

Branded events also help you collect more in-the-moment data from your target audience. And they can even be a launchpad for online publicity. (Influencers love promoting branded experiences.)

How has experiential marketing changed recently?

As in most industries, the experiential marketing world experienced some massive changes triggered by COVID-19. But some of these changes are arguably for the better.

Marketers tapped into their creative juices to come up with virtual solutions to reach and engage prospects while maintaining physical distance. When in-person events did happen, they got rid of tangible lead-capture tools like iPads to minimize touchpoints. Instead, they opted for more cost-effective routes (with an added focus on personal health) like scannable QR codes so the consumer journey stayed within each consumer’s personal device.

Now, as in-person events are ramping back up, marketers have new insights for strategically spending their experiential marketing budget. They better understand which goals they can effectively accomplish through virtual or hybrid events rather than fully in-person ones. They’ve also started to favor more cost-effective engagement tools – no more dropping thousands of dollars on a bunch of tablets to collect email addresses. Plus, since the pandemic has kept people closer to home, it’s led marketers to seek out more localized initiatives to promote their products. 

Which, incidentally, leads to the first do of experiential marketing…

Three do’s of experiential marketing

  1. Do go where the customer is. Tempted to take your experiential campaign on a big circuit around the country? Before you get too ambitious, ask yourself: “How do I meet my customers where they are?” Unless you’re a nationwide company selling something everyone and their mother needs, you probably need to narrow your scope. Identify your target audience, then determine the cities and events where you’re most likely to find them. This will keep your campaign targeted and help you maximize spend.
  2. Do show return on investment (ROI). Like any worthwhile marketing campaign, experiential marketing is an investment. If you can’t show ROI, you’re not going to get buy-in for future experiential efforts. Gather the data you need to prove that you accomplished what you set out to do. And if you exceeded expectations, even better.
  3. Do conduct post-event research. Use surveys to understand how your experiential campaign impacted (or didn’t impact) your audience. A month or two after your event, reach out to people who likely engaged with it and ask them their thoughts. Then leverage that information for a pulse study to see if your event improved your audience’s overall perception of the brand. (If it did, that’s another point in your favor when seeking buy-in for future campaigns.)

Three don’ts of experiential marketing

  1. Don’t skimp on logistics. The event is only a piece of an experiential marketing effort. Have you accounted for the time it takes to produce supporting materials and collateral? How will you transport those materials – and how long will that take, particularly on a campaign with multiple stops? How much will you need to pay truck drivers, setup crews and on-site brand ambassadors? Tie up those loose ends so the campaign goes off without a hitch.
  2. Don’t forget to define your key performance indicator. If you start a campaign unsure of what you want to accomplish with it, you won’t be able to measure its success or ROI afterward. Determine exactly what you want to gain from experiential marketing. It could be a certain number of email opt-ins, coupon code activations or some other outcome. Set a realistic expectation – and if you don’t reach it, use the data you gather to optimize future campaigns.
  3. Don’t overlook smaller, more local opportunities. Everyone wants to give their brand the biggest possible platform. Maybe it’s your dream to set up an experiential event at a nationally renowned trade show or at major league sporting events. But don’t let these super-sexy prospects distract you from reaching your target audience. If you’re most likely to find prospective customers at less glitzy events – like a farmer’s market or the spring fling at your in-laws’ church – put those at the top of your list.

Not sure where to begin with experiential marketing or how to get it to work for you? Our brand strategy, content and creative experts can help pinpoint your audience and execute a great campaign that’ll forge lifelong customer relationships. Contact us to get started.