In 2019, it’s harder than ever to get consumers’ attention. For that reason alone, it’s easy to see why brands are falling in love with experiential marketing.

Immersive, live, and memorable, experiential campaigns help deliver your message without distractions. But the strategy lacks a standard definition, which can be confusing when you’re new to it.

So, what, exactly, does experiential marketing mean?  Are there different types of experiential marketing? How does it differ from traditional marketing, or from live events more generally? And when is it a good idea to use an experiential strategy over other tactics?

Get a better understanding of the true meaning of experiential marketing.

Experiential marketing, defined

Experiential marketing is a strategy that engages consumers using branded experiences. Sometimes referred to as “live marketing” or “event marketing experience,” the idea is to create a memorable impact on the consumer. One that will inspire them to share with their friends both online and off. These experiences could include an event, a part of an event, or a pop-up activation not tied to any event.

At its core, experiential marketing is all about immersing consumers in live experiences. It’s likely a similar approach you already use when crafting your event experience.

Events most often overlap with experiential marketing campaigns in two ways. Events can be part of a larger experiential campaign, like the grand opening of a pop-up shop. Smaller brand activations can exist in individual experiential activations like on-site art installations.

No matter which case you fall under, you need to be clear on the goals for each campaign. There are different ways you can measure the impact of an experiential campaign. Social expressions earned (which is why having a unique event hashtag is so important) and by surveying your attendees after an event are a few.

Should you try experiential marketing?

When should your branding incorporate an experiential marketing campaign into your event? It depends on your, goals, timeline, and resources.

Experiential marketing can help you humanize your brand or a sponsor’s, and create experiences that leave people with lasting, positive brand impressions. Although these experiences are real-life and in person, you need to marry them with social and content to amplify your efforts across channels.

It’s not enough to offer attendees a prize wheel or raffle drawing and call it a day. That type of interaction is not experiential. You need to create touch points to engage attendees in unexpected ways. That provides benefit to you, your event, and your sponsor (if they’re involved). That means you either need to have the budget to make a big impact on your own, or a big-name brand to back up your efforts.

Experiential marketing examples

To better define experiential marketing and understand when you should — and should not — use the strategy, here are four examples of experiential fails and successes.

Success #1: Gilmore Girls’ Luke’s Diners

To create buzz and excitement in the lead up to the long-awaited premiere of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” the Netflix team created 200 pop up Luke’s Diners around the country to serve complimentary coffee to fans. It was wildly successful, with long lines at every location and tons of social engagement (the event’s branded Snapchat filter was viewed 880,000 times).

Fail #1: Jagermeister’s poison pool party

In a disastrous mistake that sent nine people to the hospital, liquid nitrogen was used at a Jagermeister pool party in Leon, Mexico to create atmospheric fog. What organizers didn’t know was that when liquid nitrogen reacts with chlorine, it displaces present oxygen, which meant attendees quickly found themselves unable to breathe.

Success #2: Refinery29’s 29 Rooms

For the past three years and counting, lifestyle brand Refinery29 has hosted its 29Rooms event, a collection of 29 different rooms of branded and curated experiences, all connected by a central theme to create a “multi-sensory playground.” This year’s sold-out event will feature the theme “Turn It Into Art” in its first West Coast appearance.

Fail #2: Betfair’s Octopus traffic chaos

Gambling firm Betfair planned on using a giant octopus model to promote betting during the 2014 World Cup.But when the lorry transporting the model broke down in London’s busy Oxford Circus, causing a traffic jam, the company gained quite a bit of unexpected coverage. Luckily,  they were able to turn it around by apologizing on social media.

The lesson? When incorporating experiential marketing into your event, be sure safety and convenience are never at risk. Focus on appealing to the five senses to bring attendees’ dreams to life.

Want more lessons and examples of how brands have made experiential marketing work for them? Check out Inside Experiential Marketing: Big-Name Brands Share Secrets to Success.

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