Experiential marketing connects audiences with the authentic nature of a brand through participation in personally relevant, credible and memorable encounters.
Where traditional marketing focuses on mass communication using rational, left-brain directed persuasion; experiential marketing focuses on making a personalised connection using emotional, right-brain directed involvement.
While experiential marketing and memorable experiences make sense from a marketing strategy standpoint and a consumer engagement perspective, it also makes good financial sense. But, there is an art to crafting robust experiential activations – it’s far more than just showing up at a shopping centre with promoters and the theory needs strategic application to be effective.
The state of experiential marketing
Experiential marketing is everywhere and used effectively in various industries, including FMCG, technology, financial services, and industrial to name but a few.
Many organisations turn to experiential to launch new products, communicate with customers, improve sales, build relationships, and change perceptions. It may seem obvious that the more memorable an experience the better the returns, but in fact it’s a case of active vs. passive participation, and consumers who walk away from your brand after interacting with it, start a thread of education as they share the details of their experience with groups of people.
In support of this, statistics show that more than half of adults will trust product recommendations from family and friends.
Brand relevance and implementation – The theory
For an experiential campaign to be relevant and truly successful, it needs to incorporate four fundamental components, including entertainment, education, escapism, and ‘esthetic’. Consider the ‘brand implementation’ graph (see Image 1) which is divided into four reactions to brand implementation.
Image 1 - Brand implementation graph:
Consumers should ideally participate with the brand during an activation in a way that informs and educates. The brand’s success rate will be directly influenced by the use of information and how knowledge is shared. Building in opportunities for the consumer to ask questions about the product and allowing for an effective dialogue between the brand and consumer is an important consideration.
The escapist quadrant addresses the “to do’s” and draws the audience in further. It involves much greater immersion than entertainment or education experiences. It can be considered the polar opposite of entertainment experiences as the consumer is completely immersed in the experience and is an actively involved participant. Rather than playing a passive role of just watching others act, for example, the individual becomes the actor able to affect the actual performance.
Examples of escapist experiences include: Casinos, theme parks, chat rooms, and paintball.
When it comes to product promotion, escapism could include developing a set in such a way that consumers can participate and become part of the experience. This could include giving them the chance to play ‘Win & Spin’ if they purchase any of the products being promoted and then being rewarded with prizes for participating.
Related: Translate brand and strategy into behaviours today
Known as the “To be” area of an activation; the ‘esthetic’ addresses questions such as ‘how can you make the environment more inviting?’ And ‘once there, what should the consumers do?’ is about passively absorbing experiences through the senses and becoming part of the fabric of the experience.
Individuals immerse themselves in an event or environment when in the ‘esthetic’ realm and have little or no effect on the environment. They essentially leave the environment untouched. An example would be visiting an art gallery or watching horse racing. These individuals just want “to be” there and not necessarily partake in the activity and activations should also cater for this personality type.
By way of example, in a hair care product launch setting, the brand could draw consumers into the experience by inviting them to receive a personal consultation with an expert hair technician. Seated (as if in a salon), consumers would receive a one-on-one consultation and be given the opportunity to have their hair done, using the hair care products being launched. Product trial in this setting with experts on hand to engage with the user is a powerful way to influence and achieve positive results.
The entertainment aspect of your activation is about how you are getting the audience “to stay” – it is the passive aspect of the experience.
Marketers need to ask of themselves how they can get consumers to stay, and how to ensure audiences remain engaged through a more enjoyable experience. A good example is a comedy show where a comedian picks out people in the crowd – the audience is engaged yet they are still passively observing.
Entertainment happens when an audience passively absorbs the experiences through their senses. The realms can overlap so you can have an escapist and an entertaining experience simultaneously. A hypnotist show is an example where an audience member becomes part of the show yet it still falls within the entertainment realm.
A holistic view
The nature of experiential marketing allows it to add value in a multitude of settings and the deployment of experiential is showing no signs of slowing down, as more and more marketers are moving away from traditional features and benefits marketing towards creating memorable experiences for their customers. Experiences that drive change for brands.
The best activations that deliver the richest experiences encompass aspects of all four realms (educational, escapist, esthetic, and entertainment).
It’s important to note though - driving change by creating memorable experiences does not rest on experiential marketing alone. To achieve successful brand immersion, activations should be supported by other marketing channels including TV, radio, social media, digital media, internet, print, outdoor, and out of home.