It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly two decades since experiential marketing burst on the scene and quickly became buzzwords in branding and marketing circles around the world.
Some thought experiential might exit stage left as quickly as the Pets.com’s Sock Puppet, but it stuck around and grew in popularity, which is interesting because to this day, there has not been an industrywide accepted definition of the category.
For 17 years, I, along with many others, have succeeded at implementing experiential marketing strategies without sharing a common or accepted understanding of what it is. I think it’s time we all try to get on the same page.
Experience In The Beginning
With its origins in event marketing, experiential marketing used to be the red-headed stepchild of the marketing world. It was the tool used if there was some extra budget in the marketing spend or as an add-on or after thought. Experiential marketers did not have a seat at the strategic table, but rather were considered execution or activation-centric only.
Over the last 17 years, that has changed. "Forrester Perspective: The Business Impact of Customer Experience" touched on how the changes in the marketplace change how we treat and engage with the customer. With the rise of the Age of the Customer, the way we market has propelled experiential marketing forward.
Here’s my take on the definition. First, way back when, it should have been called experience marketing, not experiential marketing. Experience marketing is a mutually beneficial interaction between customer and brand in an authentically branded engagement.
It can be offline or on. The key is the authenticity of the branded engagement. Many things have been called experiential, like spin wheels, sweepstakes, tabling, and flyering because they involve interactions with customers, but those tactics are not experiential or a true experience. They are transactional tools used in experiential, but are not experiences in and of themselves.
Why? Because a spin wheel does nothing to communicate the attributes or the essence of a brand. It may do a functional job communicating some rational facts, but the heart of the activity has nothing to do with the brand. Putting a logo on something does not make it branded. And playing a carnival game with it does not make it a branded engagement.
Three Elements Of Experience
What makes for a good branded experience? There are three essential elements. If you don’t have all of these, you are not doing experiential marketing:
- Knowing your customer
- Knowing your brand
- Creating a touch point that is mutually beneficial (often solidified through establishing an emotional connection)
Know Your Customer: Speed To Relevance
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, our average attention span is eight seconds, which is one full second less than a goldfish. If brands do not know how to get a customer to want to engage, chances are that it is a missed opportunity to create a customer at all.
Brands must be relevant to their customers, and they can only be relevant if brands know what makes customers tick. The benefit is, if you can capture their attention after the first eight seconds, according to respected business writer Anne Fisher, you have approximately four minutes and 52 seconds until their attention spans are exhausted. If customers choose to spend time with a brand, the brand increases its opportunity to create a better and more meaningful relationship with that customer.
Know Your Brand: Be You
Whether your product or service is low involvement or high, there are aspects about the brand that are own-able, credible, and meaningful.
If you use that as the base ingredient to your marketing, the recipes can change, but the brand should not. This enables customers to make commitments for the long term because they know what the brand stands for and can rely on the brand.
Creating A Touch Point: Not A One-Way Street
The most important element is to give the consumer something of value--what they consider valuable, not what you want them to have. If you do things that are gratuitous--for example T-shirts for contact info or freebies in a spin wheel game--there is very little to no stickiness, relevance, or value to the relationship between the brand or the consumer that is created.
The net result for a brand with these transactional tools becomes a stack of expensive prospect names of people who are marginally interested or have been forced to be interested to interact with your brand in order to win a prize. Creating a touch point that is mutually beneficial leads to a greater overall return between brand and customer.
What most can agree on is that experiential marketing, no matter how you define it, is diverse because experiences are diverse. There are key categories of experience, none better than the other, each with a specific opportunity for type of results:
- Promotional: traditional event marketing.
- Tactical: a tool created to engage a customer as a stand-alone tactic
- Sponsorship activation: sponsorship activation of property, venue, celebrity, or other
- Co-promotion: experience among partners who are connected by association in some way
- Proprietary stand alone: an experience on its own not as part of a greater whole
- Vendor: an experience that is encompassed within a larger experience that is not about the brand
- Cross channel: proprietary experience as part of an integrated campaign
- Proprietary one of a kind: experience created as never been done before
- Proprietary foundational: an experience that is part of a platform that lives on for longer than its promotional timeframe.
Utilizing the ROI of Experience matrix, results are viewed from three perspectives:
- Quantitative: what we can count
- Qualitative: what we want the customer to feel
- Actionable: what we want the customer to do
Depending on how a brand prioritizes those three areas and what it wants to achieve and the receptivity of the customer, a brand selects the experience category and designs the tools to engage.
Much like Sinek’s Golden Circle, if we define experience marketing by the "why"--the purpose of experiential--then the "how" you create the experience and the "what" tools you use will change and evolve. The beauty of effective experience marketing is that it can create something that the brand is authentically a part of and creates a connection with a consumer that is mutually beneficial to both.
Even though experience marketing will continue to evolve as consumers evolve and the marketing landscape changes, it is important that the industry puts a stake in the ground and defines it so that brand marketers can understand it and evaluate it. After all, consumers have already identified its importance and its use in how they engage with brands.