The Rise of Experiential Marketing: Beyond a Buzzword

Scott Kellner

Scott Kellner, VP of Marketing
Scott is vice president of marketing at GPJ, with experience in marketing automation, public relations, advertising, product positioning, lead generation, SEO/SEM, sales management and executive leadership.

This article was originally published on February 12 on Marketing Profs.

Anyone who’s been watching marketing industry trends over the past few years will have noticed a shift away from traditional advertising toward what some believe to be a “new” sector of marketing: experiential.

A widely mentioned buzzword, “experiential marketing” is now recognized as the powerful tool it actually is—though the true definition, the reasons for its growth, and the secrets to its lasting power are not quite as familiar.

Defining Experiential

Experiential marketing has been around for more than a century; but, in recent years, because of various business and societal shifts, its share of global brand marketing budgets has grown significantly.

Experiential takes many forms, from pop-up activations to permanent installations, from B2B conferences to B2C experiences. The techniques used can address the senses in a tactile way or dazzle with digital engagement, but all experiential marketing programs share common elements.

The focus of experiential marketing is to facilitate personal interaction with a brand. The goal is to enable memorable and emotional connections with the brand by immersing the customer within the product or service to forge lasting brand loyalty.

Where traditional marketing techniques are almost exclusively interruptive and one-way, experiential marketing is voluntary and participatory. It’s a form of “advertising” wherein consumers consciously choose to interact with your brand, often identifying themselves as your most valuable targets. It’s the consumer’s decision to be informed about your product or service, and they’re actively involved in the process. That’s in stark contrast to traditional marketing communications, whereby consumers are interrupted and subjected to a brand’s message at a time of the brand’s choosing.

Demographics are at play, too: It’s no secret that younger demos prefer experiences over possessions. And they love to share their experiences with others, on social media and elsewhere.

Add in the growing distrust of corporate messaging and, frankly, too much brand noise in the marketplace, and you have a perfect storm of elements that point to experiential marketing as an especially effective marketing tool.

The Experiential Boom

So how did we get here? Budgets for experiential marketing continue to rise, and some surveys of CMOs suggest that only event marketing is seeing an increase in investment at all.

That shift is due in part to increased consumer awareness. With unprecedented access to information from the Web, consumers no longer have to trust what a brand claims. And younger generations are even less likely to suspend disbelief regarding brand messaging. Experiential marketing is perfectly tailored to address those trends, too.

Personalization is built into the DNA of experiential marketing. Each person can chart his or her own course through a brand activation. The interaction that consumers have with a brand is full of valuable data, as well. Furthermore, that new data powerfully complements a customer’s existing digital footprint, enabling brand marketers to get a more holistic view of each consumer’s specific wants and needs.

And ROI is becoming more measurable as the sophistication and prescriptive capabilities of data capture techniques increase, and marketers develop a deeper understanding of these implications.

And it goes beyond a better understanding of customers:

  • 85% of consumers said they were likely to purchase after participating in events or experiences.
  • 91% of consumers said they had more positive feelings about brands after attending events or experiences.

Experiential forges a personal connection with a brand. The next time that customer goes into a store, which brand will they reach for? As younger generations increasingly value experience over tangible items, they’ll go for the products that come from brands that have taken the time to get to know them and offer that crucial experiential element.

Setting Up for Long-Term Success

Experiential marketing unlocks an elusive emotional connection to a brand in an age when consumers are increasingly skeptical.

Fewer and fewer people are buying into brand “promises,” and consumers will continue to shy away from brands that lack authenticity. Instead, people are turning to trusted names that offer first-hand accounts and a peek behind the brand’s curtain—building a relationship around transparency and experience.

Those connections form awareness, understanding, loyalty, and—most important—trust.

Trust has become the secret to ensuring long-term value, and experiential is uniquely able to deliver it. For example, brand trust is crucially important when buying a vehicle. What instills more trust in a consumer—a print advertisement of two people in a Jeep driving up a hill, or getting in a Jeep and driving up a hill as one can through that brand’s experiential “ride and drive” program, Camp Jeep?

When a consumer has had the chance to experience a value proposition for themselves, they become invested.

Experiential marketing is the only way to tangibly offer such trust-building interactions that embed a brand into the mind of a consumer. Lifelong brand loyalty then becomes a turnkey next step post-activation, though it should not be taken for granted. Earning loyalty is one part of the mission; keeping it is the other.

Agencies need to nurture the relationship and guide brands in the right direction by examining the new, more comprehensive consumer data now available, listening closely to feedback and authentically continuing to respond to these wants and needs to increase customer lifetime value.