If there’s one word to add to your vocabulary this year, it’s experiential, and it’s not just good for your Scrabble scorecard. It’s a marketing trend that is having a huge impact on the event industry, offering exciting new ways for brands to interact with audiences.
According to experiential marketing agency, Freeman, people don’t just want to be talked at anymore. In their report, Brand Experience for Millennials, they write: ‘Gone are the days of passive audiences sitting back and listening to long-winded presentations regarding the features and benefits of a product or solution. Today, content needs to be about exploration and discovery, putting our audience in the driver’s seat.’
But with so many competing distractions, it’s harder than ever to capture audience interest. The solution? Go bigger and bolder.
That’s where experiential marketing comes in, ready to shake things up at your next event.
Hang on, what is experiential marketing?
Okay, let’s back up a minute. If you’re already on board the experiential train, that’s great. But for those of you new to this marketing trend, let’s first explore exactly what it is.
When we talk about experiential marketing, we’re really just talking about experiences. Live stunts that your audience can participate in. If you want to be fancy and use the industry lingo, these are called experiential activations.
The goal is getting your audience to participate and interact with your brand, helping to create and nurture brand loyalty. This is why it’s all about tangible experiences that are fun, interactive and memorable.
In a world where consumers are more savvy, and traditional forms of advertising (like print and television) are less powerful, experiential marketing is more relevant than ever.
Jason D’Costa put it perfectly when he said ‘Experiential marketing can be more effective because you’re actually immersing customers in the brand. They’re not just watching it on television; they’re touching, smelling, tasting, and personally evaluating it.’
You might be holding a conference, and your sponsor might be a dessert bar – you could set up a sponsor-branded stall where attendees create their own thick shakes. It’s a live, interactive experience. It’s playful. It’s a bit out of the ordinary. This would be an experiential activation.
Or it could be something like a branded photo booth, a scavenger hunt, a competition, an exclusive VIP room, etc. The list goes on. Seriously, when it comes to experiential marketing ideas, the world is your oyster.
It’s the one time your campaign manager won’t look at you weirdly, when you say: “Hey, let’s ask consumers to jump into a giant pit of balls to qualify for a free coffee!”
(Youtube: Habitat Media Australia)
The science behind it
It’s important to understand that experiential marketing isn’t just something you do because it looks cool and you sometimes get to hand out free stuff.
More and more events are using it because, well, science backs it up.
As Jay Cassano discusses in this article, science has shown experiences leave the strongest impressions. He explains the findings of Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, who suggests that people achieve greater happiness by spending money on experiences, rather than on material items.
He points out that ‘While the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity.’
Sounds cool, but how is experiential marketing shaping the event landscape?
Modern technology has given us the tools to turn event activities into interactive experiences, rather than the mere passive consumption of entertainment.
For event organisers, this translates into three key areas of positive impact:
1. It’s a huge drawcard for sponsors and maximises sponsorship revenue.
Imagine how much easier it would be to attract a sponsor to your event with an experiential campaign in mind.
Think about it – you’re not just chucking a sponsor logo on a flyer. You’re inviting event attendees to interact with the sponsor’s brand in a fun, exciting way, that people remember long after the event is over. This leads to greater brand awareness and increased ROI, which incidentally, is exactly what sponsors want. Plus, experiential marketing offers a quantifiable increased social reach. Sponsors love to be able to measure the success of a campaign, and you can offer them proof in the data.
In return, there’s great opportunity to maximise sponsorship revenue with more lucrative sponsorship deals.
2. Helps to engage event attendees.
An experiential activation isn’t just great for sponsors – as an event organiser, it’s helping you achieve your more basic goals too: like simply keeping your audience happy.
Experiential activations are like bonus entertainment for your guests. Whether it’s a photo opportunity, a game, an exclusive music performance, or a free sample, the activation is stimulating their senses and making for a more positive overall experience.
3. Amplifies your social reach and gets your event trending online.
According to the 2016 Experiential Marketing Content Report, ‘Nearly all consumers create or capture some type of content at events and experiences – and all consumers that create content, then share it.’
Experiential activations create massive opportunity for increased sharing of content, because people are more likely to share these crazy, fun, playful experiences. Even more so if you use RFID to create a live, real-time connection between event patrons and their social media profiles (more on that below).
Experiential activations can help drive your social media marketing campaign, giving your event better exposure and helping it reach larger audiences.
What types of events should go experiential?
Experiential marketing can be tailored to appeal to any audience. Seriously, it’s been used for all types of events, from the Super Bowl to London Fashion Week, and everything in between.
There are so many different ways you can get people involved in a branded experience, so it could work for any type of event. You simply need to be strategic about the type of activation you implement, and make sure it resonates with your audience and your brand.
However, it’s no secret that millennials are huge sharers of online content, so if they’re your target market, your experiential activation can potentially make more waves on social media.
Tips and tricks for your very own experiential campaign
- Tailor your activation to suit your audience. The more relevant it is to their interests, the better they’ll respond.
- Think outside the box and get creative with your activation! Want it to go viral on social media? Then do something that stands out from the pack.
- Make sure you’re tying it in with your social media strategy. You need to encourage participants to share the experience.
Which brings me to my next point…
Consider how technology can make your job easier
The development of RFID technology has taken experiential activations to a whole new level.
Event organisers now have the opportunity to encourage guest participation in activations, to track the way they use them and to more readily share their experiences online. Here at Token, we offer a social activation feature that does exactly this, linking attendee wristbands with their social media profiles.
This means you can develop experiential activations that tie directly into social media. You won’t just have to cross your fingers and hope your audience are sharing the experience online, because the RFID wristbands will be doing it for you automatically.
For example, you might have a photo booth at your event. After having their pictures taken, guests could simply scan their wristband to share the photos to Facebook in real-time.
Or, let’s say your activation involves some kind of competition or giveaway – as a qualifier to enter the competition, you could have guests scan their wristbands, with a trigger to send a post on Twitter with a pre-written message, like “I’m having so much fun at London Fashion Week!”
The possibilities are endless, and the immense data it provides is incredibly valuable.
RFID technology gathers data in a non-intrusive way that doesn’t distract from the fun of the event. And this data is worth its weight in gold to sponsors. They can use it to measure the success of the activation and to develop more targeted marketing campaigns after the event. In return, event organisers can secure better sponsorship deals.
Need some experiential inspiration for your event?
Let’s take a look at three events and brands that have nailed it:
The Heineken House has become an old favourite at Coachella music festival.
In 2017 they went all out with a range of activations, including their very own live music show, a water station to keep attendees hydrated, a place in the campgrounds to store cold beer, a beer delivery service, a ‘sustainable dance floor’ that stored energy from the dancers, as well as a Graffiti Wall photo booth.
Heineken clearly put a lot of thought into their campaign. Every activation was relevant to their audience’s interests and needs – music, entertainment, art, hydration, comfort, fun.
This annual festival is famous for its experiential activations and its 2018 series did not disappoint. The talking point for this year’s festival was the Westworld activation put together by HBO. They re-created the town from Westworld, complete with actors in full costume and an extravagant set design. Event attendees could walk through the town and be immersed completely in the experience, interacting with the characters along the way.
Their commitment to the concept of immersion is truly outstanding. I don’t think you can get much more immersed in a brand or story than actually inviting your audience to enter and explore the world itself.
This activation is from 2015 but it’s still a favourite of mine. Virgin Trains transported guests to the festival on a ‘party train’ that offered entertainment and comfort with live music, free cocktails and even glitter face paint. At the festival itself, they also hosted their own music space, with a floating dance floor and their own lineup of DJs.
(Youtube: Virgin Trains)
They definitely deserve bonus points for putting together such a cool video to showcase the whole experience. It beautifully captures the reactions from the attendees, providing great material that could be used for future marketing purposes.
Looking to the future…
We’ll certainly be seeing more experiential activations at events in 2018 and beyond.
This marketing trend is no novelty. It’s proven to be a hit with revellers – so much so that experiential activations are now an expected part of events for many consumers. There’s no doubt it has set a new benchmark for engagement, social reach and sponsorship revenue.
Oh yes, it’s an exciting time to be an event organiser!
If you’re as excited about it as we are, then what are you waiting for? It’s time to start brainstorming your very own experiential campaign!
The best part? You can be as creative as you want. Just make sure the experience resonates with whatever brand you’re trying to promote and matches the interests of your target market. So remember, be creative, keep it relevant and make it memorable.
P.S – The word ‘experiential’ will get you 21 points in Scrabble. You’re welcome.