Just when you think you’ve gotten to grips with every new phrase or buzzword in the world of digital marketing, another comes along to make you go “uhhhhhh…?”

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

Today I’ll be looking at experiential marketing. A phrase I have repeatedly spell-checked more than any other. But first, some clarification is needed…

What isn’t experiential marketing?

There’s a good row in the comments section of our last article on experiential marketing, 10 very cool examples of experiential marketing where people were questioning the inclusion of this particular example from Red Bull…

It’s Felix Baumgartner’s Stratos Jump, in which the fearless daredevil passed the speed of sound and broke a 52-year-old record for the highest recorded parachute jump.

It’s incredible for many reasons, let alone the actual feat itself and it definitely set the bar stratospherically high for every other brand’s content marketing strategy.

Is this actually experiential marketing though?

Our own David Moth points out that “watching the event live on TV and being part of the overall buzz and excitement around the Stratos Jump means it can be defined as experiential marketing” after all 8m people watched the event and it hit every mainstream news outlet. It was impossible not to feel in some way a part of it.

However as a somewhat anonymous commenter pointed out:

Red Bull really, really, really, really isn’t experiential marketing. It’s content marketing. Because it created content. Which is the bit that people, as you point out, gathered round to watch. The only way that it’s experiential marketing if it was one very expensive way to sell Red Bull to Felix Baumgartner. I hope they converted him.

It’s that last point that perhaps gets to the heart of what experiential marketing really means. It’s putting an individual or group of individuals in an immersive branded experience.

Other people chimed in with their own views…

I would define experiential as anything you can physically interact with, which rules out anything that sits purely online (or on TV, or in a newspaper etc).

So that means this blog post is not a piece of experiential marketing. However if I were to go into Soho square right now to perform an interpretive dance while reading this text out loud and showering anyone who listens with brochures for our Festival of Marketing then would that be experiential marketing?

Or is that just a PR stunt? Or the quickest way to be escorted away by a community support officer?

What is experiential marketing then?

I think David Moth summed it up very succinctly… The premise of experiential marketing is to create a closer bond between the consumer and the brand by immersing them in a fun and memorable experience.

If a brand event stirs positive emotions in people then they are more likely to associate those emotions with that brand. This encourages brand loyalty and the stronger possibility of sales further down the line.

To this end experiential marketing can be more effective than any kind of display ad, a promoted Tweet or a Facebook ad, however it’s also possibly harder to measure as conversions may not happen till much further down the line.

However this all ties into one of the most valuable metrics of all: customer lifetime value (CLV). The experience of a brilliantly realised experiential marketing campaign will encourage the customer to keep coming back for more, over a long period of time.

Best practice tips

Here are a few tips and examples to remember when planning an experiential marketing event…

Tribe’s managing director Chris Russell wrote in Marketing Week that according to his research 48% of people say they are more likely to buy a new product if they can try it first. Therefore product samples are a must in any experiential campaign.

Here’s where Nespresso’s experiential marketing experience was a great success. As Ben Davis highlighted in his post:

Nespresso has its own stores, except they’re actually called boutiques, something that is key to its brand image. With these showrooms Nespresso asserts its claim as a lifestyle product. “Look, these products are so good they deserve to be displayed in the same way as a supercar or enjoyed in the same way as champagne”.

Stock is therefore removed from the shop floor and it becomes more like an emporium for tasting, learning and making an informed purchase, rather than a straightforward retail experience.

tasting area nespresso

You don’t want to leave visitors to your event confused about the product through ambiguous messaging. How many times have you been repeatedly impressed by an advert but failed to remember what it’s actually for each time?

This example from coffee chain Tim Hortons is just bizarre…

I certainly would have left the place feeling more unnerved than anything else.

To truly succeed with this marketing channel, any experiential campaign also needs to target the right audience at the right time in the right manner. It’s no good Playstation 4 setting up a demo room in the middle of a particularly counter-culture summer music festival.

Let’s take the Disney TV show Doc McStuffin as an example. The show is about a six-year-old girl who heals toys out of her imaginary clinic. Disney recreated these clinics in various Toys R Us stores across the country, where Children were given a 10-minute immersive experience where they took the role of Doc and diagnosed what was wrong with Big Ted.

Image and case study courtesy of Hotcow.

Almost 8,000 children took part in the experience, 75% of whom rated it as ‘excellent’ and it created a 5.3% increase in the ‘propensity to buy merchandise’. The results of Big Ted’s diagnosis remain unrevealed.

Another important facet of experiential marketing is the fact that it only has to physically affect one person. Think about Bud Light’s Super Bowl ad ‘Ian Up For Whatever’ a fortune was spent on basically pranking this one unassuming man into having the greatest night of his life featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, llamas, ping-pong and Don Cheadle.

The triumph of this tactic is that this one man’s experience became the sixth most shared ad of the 2014 Super Bowl. It’s certainly something to consider when it comes to how much budget to apportion to how many individual experiences and then how much ‘wow’ can be reaped from it.

I’m just going to leave you with this terrific example from Virgin Atlantic. It’s perfect mixture of everything I’ve talked about here.

Now it’s time to honour your own work…

If you are responsible for a brilliant experiential marketing campaign enter it into the Experiential and Events category at The Masters of Marketing awards, brought to you by Econsultancy and Marketing Week.

This is a major stage for sharing and promoting true mastery and excellence in the marketing industry and can lead to a year-round programme of reputation building publicity and press coverage for your business, your work and your team.

The deadline is 23 September 2015.