If you’re trying to grow your business, you have to keep up with evolving trends in marketing. And one of the most significant developments in modern marketing is the increased prevalence of experiential marketing.

Also known as “engagement marketing,” this approach to customer outreach leans on the idea that you can create a more profitable relationship with buyers when you share an experience and tap into their emotions, rather than simply convincing them that your product has value. 

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve watched many major brands discover increased success with experiential marketing.

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign encouraged consumers to search for their own names on coke bottles, pick up a bottle for a friend, or even connect with strangers. This messaging turned buying a coke into a meaningful, community-focused experience, and the result was a gain of 25 million Facebook followers and more than 500,000 photos hashtagged with #ShareaCoke in the first year.

Doritos went really big with their Crash the Super Bowl campaign, which invited buyers to create the company’s Super Bowl commercial for them . . . an initiative that was so successful Doritos kept it going for a full decade.

But, of course, these are major corporations. What about small businesses? Can your company participate in experiential marketing, too?

Absolutely. In fact, there may come a day soon when the survival of your business depends on experiential marketing.

Let’s get into what this unique approach to customer connection could mean for the growth of your company and how you can take advantage of the changing times . . . even with a limited budget.

What is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing takes many forms, but the main idea is this:

You raise brand awareness and connect with buyers by offering them an experience rather than a sales pitch. This experience should align with your brand, message, and values. It should make consumers feel like they truly understand what you’re all about . . . and it should make them feel eager to get on board.

So, what are we considering an “experience?”

It’s really anything that creates an interaction between your brand and your customer… anything that makes the buyer a participant in your brand story rather than a spectator. You can do this through:

  • Interactive hashtag campaigns like Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis
  • Novelty experiences like the IKEA BIG Sleepover
  • Pop-up stores and events
  • Games or other interactive features on your website
  • Inviting customers to vote on which charity you should support or which products to add to your inventory
  • Contests
  • Answering questions on Quora and similar platforms

Really, experiential marketing includes anything you do to treat marketing as a two-sided experience rather than simply making a pitch about your product or service.

What are the Benefits of Experiential Marketing?

The first and perhaps most obvious benefit of experiential marketing is that it taps into the buyer’s emotions.

As much as we all like to pretend we’re very grounded and rational, the truth is that most consumers make buying decisions based on their emotions rather than on facts and reason. And while you’ve likely already used that reality to inform your previous marketing efforts, experiential learning takes the emotional connection to the next level.

For example, Patagonia sells outdoor clothing and gear. Their brand is built around the values of adventure and environmental responsibility. But they don’t just tell their customers that. They host frequent workshops in their stores to teach outdoor skills, screen environmentalist documentaries and even demonstrate how their customers can maintain and repair their gear to make it last longer. As a result:

  • Their customers feel excited to participate in the activities for which they would need Patagonia products.
  • The company demonstrates that they mean what they say about valuing the environment and sustainability.
  • The event creates the feeling that there is an entire Patagonia community, connecting buyers not just with the brand, but with other loyal customers as well.

Those are the major benefits of experiential marketing. But let’s be clear: we’re reaching a point at which experiential marketing isn’t just about gaining an advantage. It’s actually about to become a necessity.

Why You Need an Experiential Marketing Campaign

Millennials now make up the largest generation, and they’re entering their prime spending years. Generation Z will follow. And both generations share one distinctive feature:

They prefer experiences over material goods. In fact, according to a study by Eventbrite, 78% of Millennials would choose to spend money on an experience rather than an object.

The point being, this generation will not buy your stuff on the basis of great quality or a good deal. If you want to reach Millennials, you need to offer them experiences and a sense of value.

This may seem like a pain, but there’s a little something in it for you. Generations Y and Z don’t just love to have experienced; they also love to share experiences. This means if you create meaningful moments for your buyers, you can count on those moments turning into photos, videos, and hashtags all across social media. In other words, free advertising and social proof.

Experiential Marketing on a Limited Budget

As you’ve learned by now, your ability to create an experience for your customers does not depend on having a massive marketing budget. You don’t have to host a contest that offers Super-Bowl-sized rewards. You can:

  • Host an open house at your brick & mortar location.
  • Invite social media followers to vote on products or submit ideas for product names.
  • Set up a photo booth or interactive game at a community event.
  • Create a hashtag campaign that focuses on your company values and your buyers’ personal stories.

The possibilities are endless. You just have to get creative . . .

 . . . and have a killer strategy for an effective experiential marketing campaign.

What Makes an Experiential Marketing Campaign Effective?

In order for your experiential marketing efforts to be successful, you need a carefully considered plan. Just like all marketing strategies, a successful experiential campaign begins with a scheme built around your objectives, your resources, your customer, and your market.

And in order to create a truly memorable and effective experience for your buyers, be sure to:

  • Know your customer. What are their values? What aspect of your brand or messaging has resonated with them in the past? What do they consider fun, meaningful, or helpful?
  • Align the experience with your company culture. Experiential marketing tells your buyers who your company is. How can you create an experience that makes a statement about what’s important to you?
  • Make it shareable. Is there a hashtag? How can you make a physical environment or moment “Instaworthy?” Can you supplement experience with video, photos, or any other type of social media content?
  • Integrate digital marketing. Even if you create an experience that happens offline, find a way to make people feel like they can still participate through social media or other digital channels. You can do this with live video, polls, hashtag campaigns . . . just get creative.

When you reach out to consumers in a personal way, you not only raise awareness of your brand, but you make a deeper connection with your buyers. You give them a heightened sense that they know you and they know what you’re about. And when your customers feel that way, they often turn into brand advocates.

If there’s anything we can do to help get you started in experiential marketing, let us know. We love helping brilliant small businesses thrive.