Experiential Marketing Becoming “Price to Play” as Offline and Online Borders Continue to Blur

Discover the secrets to success for your experiential marketing strategy.

By Lane Ware, SVP Consulting and Account Services

With the blurring of online and offline customer experiences, experiential marketing is becoming a go-to tactic for savvy retail marketers. And unlike event marketing or community marketing of the past, today’s experiential (engagement) marketing efforts can be measured and assigned a return on investment.

Experiential marketing (a.k.a., engagement marketing) is a modern loyalty must-have.

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing is sponsoring and/or facilitating an event or activity to foster brand engagement and build an emotional connection.

Authenticity Is Key to Experiential Marketing

Many things have been thrown under the experiential marketing definition, such as spin wheels, sweepstakes and Instagram contests, because they involve interactions with customers. But these are just interactive tools and not experiences in and of themselves.

The key to effective customer engagement marketing is authenticity. Which means you need to focus on what’s right for your customer and your brand — and on creating a touchpoint that creates an emotional connection. Gathering contact information from people who express marginal interest in your brand simply to win a prize isn’t the point. Facebook, YouTube and the like are merely becoming video display networks for ads.

Look for ways to create stickiness, relevance or value. Creating a touchpoint that’s mutually beneficial leads to a greater overall return between brand and customer.

Beyond Brand Awareness to Brand Engagement

Although often thought of as a tactic for brand awareness, typical experiential marketing objectives for retailers include:

  • Create an experience that elicits a strong enough emotional response or connection from your target audience that they share their experience with their networks.
  • Foster brand ambassadors and influencers.
  • Drive traffic and sales.

That’s not to say that brand awareness isn’t important to experiential marketing. According to the Event Marketing Institute’s 2016 Event Track benchmarking report, 72 percent of consumers said they positively view brands that provide quality event content and customer experiences. More importantly, 74 percent indicated that engaging with branded event marketing experiences makes them more likely to buy the products being promoted.

But today’s experiential marketing campaigns are focusing on a positive return, whether in the form of immediate sales, gathering qualified leads or in the collection of consumer data for analysis. Deeper social listening data also gives a sense of overall event impact.

Make It Personal

Today’s consumers are increasingly accustomed to personalization in their daily lives and expect a personal and powerful brand experience. Virtual reality, mobile apps and second-screen engagement linked to an activation can provide real-time digital feedback while enhancing an event experience. Gen Z consumers are very community oriented and expect — even demand —  multi-sensory engagement.

Delve into your CRM data to develop targeted, immersive customer experiences that reach the right customer in the right place, at the right time and with the right message. Look at preferences, interests and appended psychographics. Read your social media leads and don’t be afraid to ask your influencers and brand ambassadors for ideas.

Examples of Experiential Marketing

What most can agree on is that experiential marketing, no matter how you define it, is diverse because experiences are diverse. Your brand is unique, and your experiential marketing efforts should reflect that. The evolution of social media, VR and AI are rapidly changing the landscape, but following are some typical examples of experiential marketing categories.

1. Promotional: traditional event marketing

Talbots has always done a great job of engaging customers in the latest fashions by offering in-store fashion shows.

Experiential marketing example: Talbots’ in-store fashion shows

2. Tactical: a tool created to engage a customer as a stand-alone tactic

Rack Room Shoes features actual customers in its Real People Project.

3. Sponsorship activation: sponsorship activation of property, celebrity, venue, etc.

Retail sponsorship is evolving to a more customer-centric experience. For example, Target has been adjusting its sponsorship strategy to support key product segments and engage its evolving customer base, with a focus on urban millennials, according to IEG, one of the leading authorities on sponsorships.

One key component of the strategy: promote products in the style, wellness, children’s and baby categories.

4. Co-promotion: integrated experience among partners who are connected by association

Google will need to keep an eye out on its little sister, Zappos. The online shoe retailer recently found a way to piggy-back on a Google event in Austin. According to AdWeek, Google promoted its new photo app by setting up a food truck that gave away free cupcakes. All was going according to plan until a giant cardboard Zappos box set up shop across the street. And things got a lot more interesting.

The Zappos box asked people to insert the cupcakes they’d gotten from the Google truck, and then dispensed something better — watches and gift cards. Sweet!

5. Vendor: an experience encompassed within a larger experience that isn’t focused on the brand

Nike turned a product launch into a must-see event with #Breaking2. The brand event, which focused on breaking the two-hour milestone for a marathon, was mentioned 140,029 times across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook in the past six months.

6. Cross channel: proprietary experience as part of an integrated campaign.

Check out The North Face VIPeak Reward exclusive member events.

Tips for Developing an Effective Experiential (Engagement) Marketing Campaign

Once you’ve defined your objectives and created your experiential marketing strategy, focus on how to develop the actual experience.

Targeted Message

What message should resonate with the target audience? What key takeaway do you want customers to remember?

Emotional Hooks

Experiential marketing campaigns must trigger an emotional response to create a real connection between brand and customer. Search for emotional hooks that can be set within the customer engagement to trigger your desired response. Make sure it’s fun!

#Shareable

Thanks to the latest technological advancements, today’s experiential marketing experiences are on steroids compared to traditional campaigns. Social media and live video are now elevating local experiences to a global level. Integrate sharing into the experience so it feels natural for your customers to share.

Location, Location, Location

Your store may or may not be the best place to execute your campaign. Find out where your customers are spending their time and look for opportunities to plan your customer engagement around these locations. Bring the experience to them and let them choose to engage.

Internal resources

A well-planned experience requires a broad set of skills behind the scenes. Technology allows more immersive experiences, which requires partnerships with internal technologists and data gurus to ensure a smooth experience and accurate backend results.

It’s Not Easy, but It’s Worthwhile

In a nutshell, success in experiential marketing comes down to the ability to create an experience that evokes the desired emotional response and drives a deeper connection between your brand and your customer. It takes time and planning to develop an effective campaign. But by using the tips above as a starting guide, you’ll be well on your way to creating a unique and powerful customer experience while driving revenue and engagement.

How can CCG help you with your retail marketing efforts? Whatever your challenge, our retail marketing experts have solutions — whether you’re interested in discovering low-hanging fruit for immediate return or are looking to take your CRM initiatives to the next level. Check out our retail marketing services for all the ways we can assist you in achieving greater success. For a complimentary one-on-one discussion, call us at 800.525.0313 or email us today.

As CCG’s senior vice president, consulting & account services, Lane Ware combines strategic expertise and experience in multiple industries with implementation and project-management skills. Her involvement in projects has ranged from building loyalty programs from the ground up to implementing long-range CRM initiatives to refining existing strategies.