Experiential Marketing in the Digital Age

Des'Tini LaGrone

The goal for virtually all businesses is growth, achieved through increased profits, new customers, and of course brand loyalty. As brands and businesses become more digital, changing the nature of interaction between them and their customers, companies have been forced to find new ways to create the kind of bond that used to be created by direct interaction or traditional marketing.

Enter the rise of experiential marketing strategies. According to trade magazine Event Marketer, 77% of marketers use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategy. This growing trend involves marketing a product or a service through physical or interactive experiences that differentiate the company from competitors and engage the customers to create an emotional attachment to a product or service. According to marketing and technology solutions company Wily Global, in 2018, revenues for experiential marketing increased 7%, to $50.6 billion, over the previous year’s figure.

Digital marketing strategist Scott Drosselmeier says he likes experiential marketing because it’s “a valid and exciting form of marketing that keeps human interaction in the conversation.” It can help position as brand as creative, modern, and interactive. Experiential marketing is not new, but it is being modified to fit new digital realities, as it can be an effective way to grab the attention of media and influencers, as well as foster sharing online through social media.

According to a 2017 report from online aggregator Medium, nearly 34% of consumers surveyed said they would post about an experience on their social media pages. Companies can get an added boost by creating hashtags, social media accounts, Snapchat filters, and sponsored ads to encourage sharing.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula, as the following examples show.

Updating a Classic

Experiential marketing can generate awareness among people who are unfamiliar with a brand or help modernize its image. British fashion brand Hunter re-created the misty Scottish Highlands in the middle of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in 2017 to focus attention on the 160-year-old company’s classic rain gear. Mannequins were placed in a greenhouse filled with mist, moss, and Hunter product, allowing consumers to see how the product repelled the “weather.” In an interview with Forbes, a Hunter representative credited the company’s online sales growth to “a meaningful digital presence layered with experiential moments.” Online commerce now account for 27% of the brand’s sales.

Personalization

Personalization is a chance for companies to create a direct link with consumers. Premium beverage company Jones Soda, known for unusual flavors and quirky packaging, allows customers to post photos on its website in the hope that they’ll be selected for printing on soda bottles – or customers can order bottles with their own personalized labels. This strategy helps get customers to engage with the brand through co-creation, ideally making them more invested in the brand.

Coca-Cola took a page out of Jones Soda’s campaign with its 2014 promotion to personalize soda bottles. Originally the bottles were available only through special order. Coca-Cola later asked customers to send in names they wanted to see on bottles for mass production, and encouraged them to post pictures with their customized bottle using the hashtag #ShareACoke.

Establishing a Voice

Experiential marketing can be a relatively inexpensive way to develop awareness and establish a start-up’s brand – or it can be hit-or-miss, given that there is no established brand to build off of. “The branding voice needs to be authentic, and capture what’s unique about the brand,” says Drosselmeier.

Treble.fm, a music app that helps musicians find collaborators, discover professional opportunities, and build their networks, sees experiential marketing as a way to provide a valuable service while helping the community of fledgling artists. The company holds “Town Hall Tuesdays,” which provide a space for app users to meet up and collaborate, or record. Treble also hosts a raffle to provide a lucky user with paid studio time. “I like Treble because it allows me to brainstorm with fellow artists during Town Hall Tuesday, which helps me evolve my sound,” says user Isaiah Lewis.

Events

Events, festivals, and conferences have always been popular marketing strategies, especially in the B2B space. B2B events accounted for $512 billion in annual spending in the second quarter of 2017, according to event technology company Bizzabo. Salesforce, the No.1 customer relationship management platform in the world, relies heavily on experiential marketing to promote it cloud-based applications. Since 2015, the company has used its weeklong Dreamforce conference to bring together tech leaders, industry pioneers, and thousands of consumers and IT professionals in downtown San Francisco. Customers hear keynote addresses, learn about and try out new products, attend training sessions, network, and earn certifications.

Last year’s event brought together more than 170,000 attendees, had more than 10 million online viewers, and features speakers that included former First Lady Michelle Obama and actors Ashton Kutcher and Taraji P. Henson. Additionally, the event has a philanthropic component: the 2017 event raised more than $10 million for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and collected 1,500 backpacks filled with school supplies for students in communities affected by hurricanes.

The approach to experiential marketing should be tailored to fit the company’s needs, taking into account such factors as current brand positioning and the desired audience. But there is little doubt that experiential marketing will take on increasing importance in the digital age as technology advances and new social media platforms emerge.