The year was 1893. A few marketers thought that there were far too many firms selling various products to the same set of people. So many that the customer had no way of trying out most of them before deciding what to buy. Even the old ways of advertising, including experiential advertising, were losing their impact as too many products were being advertised. Something else needed to be done to entice the target customers by the latest offerings.Eventually, the solution was to organize an event with the sole purpose of letting the customers experience the products – rather than hear about them or see them depicted. This was possibly the first instance when 'experiential marketing' was used. World’s Fair was organized in Chicago that year. The event it marked was 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering Americas. It was successful enough for it to be organized again in 1900 in Paris – without the Columbus excuse, of course.
Though the technique became much more popular when General Motors and Ford Motor Company were able to introduce cars to people who had never felt the need to drive one through a series of events. These were the famous car shows of 1920s. Companies around the globe started following experiential marketing trends by creating immersive experiences for their target customers.
The basics of how an experiential marketing campaign works haven’t changed over the years – event marketers still want to showcase state-of-the-art technology in these events, sometimes the products that the users get to experience only the art-of-possible – not something that can actually be marketed. And they still want mass communication (read experiential advertising) to be built around this event, with the goal of leaving a lasting impression on the customer. For example, Razer’s demonstration of Project Valerie got them a lot of attention and credit with their target customers. But, as a product, it is still years away from being sold.
Now that we have looked at some of the experiential marketing examples, let us answer the question we started out with: What is experiential marketing? It is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages them to participate in the evolution of a brand or a brand experience. This direct engagement happens through a branded experience, as the examples above demonstrate.
Before we look at the elements of experiential marketing strategy, I would like to draw your attention to a very successful experiential marketing event. Felix Baumgartner’s Stratos Jump. This event carried the brand of Red Bull. The 52-year old broke the record for the highest parachute jump during that event. As many as 8 million people watched the event, and every major news outlet carried a story about it.
No doubt it was a successful experiential marketing event – but was it an experiential marketing campaign at all? Some would argue that this is content marketing at its best – Red Bull created content and people came together to watch this content. While this is true, it is an event that everyone watching felt a part of. It is directly engaging the consumer in some way – even if there is no physical interaction involved. So, despite only one person – Felix himself – experienced the jump, we still consider this as an experiential marketing activity. Stratos Jump was an event like no other – we can say this because despite the record being broken two years after the jump, we still talk of Felix’s jump and not of the Google Exec’s jump.
'What is experiential marketing?' Now that you have an answer to this question and have, in brief, understood some experiential marketing examples, let us cover some of the basics of mounting such a campaign successfully.
The first step, like most marketing activities, is to decide the budget you are willing to allocate for an experiential marketing campaign. As you finalize the scope and size of your campaign, you will find that the planning stage is the most time-consuming one – or at least feels like the most slow-moving phase. Therefore, it is important to set the budgetary constraints upfront, thereby avoiding disappointments and revisits to the plan later.
Next step is to pin down overall strategic goals of the campaign. There are multiple multi-disciplinary teams involved in mounting an experiential campaign. The best way to ensure that everyone will work towards the same shared goal is to have all the stakeholders sit together in a room and talk about the goals they would like the campaign to achieve. This is also the time when a preliminary agreement on logistics and crisis control plan is reached. Once you have the budget and goals clearly defined, you will be able to select the right tactics to make the campaign successful.
You will be working with a large team, and therefore it is important that each member understands the role they play within the team. It is equally important to ensure that turf wars between different teams are avoided by setting the right expectations. For your experiential marketing strategy to be implemented well, it is essential that the chain of command is unambiguous. Equally important is to ensure that your experiential marketing event is staffed appropriately – not all events will require the same staff, and missing a key role can be disastrous. For example, not all events may need a building inspector but forgetting to engage one on an event where necessary may lead to regulatory troubles when launching the actual event. Also make sure that you know what to do if any of the staff members fall sick or become unavailable for some reason at the last moment.
Also see: A-Z of Experiential Marketing
While traditional marketing campaigns were happy with after-the-fact data collection, and may even look at measurement as an afterthought, experiential marketing campaigns are built with data collection as a primary goal. It is important to define the key performance indicators early on, and start measuring them as soon as the event is live. In fact, looking at experiential marketing trends. the best campaigns are the ones which can incorporate learning from the first few participants to improve the experience of later participants.
Now that you are familiar with the basics of mounting an experiential marketing campaign and have looked at some experiential marketing ideas, it is time to get your hands dirty. Regardless of what your brand is, experiential marketing event will only benefit it. The customer is never going back to being a passive receptor. You will have to find ways to engage them, and let them own your brand.