Experiential marketing is all about bringing brands to life in the form of localized events, free samples, and interactive exhibits that are tailor-made for specific demographics. Experiential marketing can help marketers create deep and meaningful two-way interactions between audiences and brands.
No other marketing technique engages consumers on the same level.
There's a reason it's called "experiential" marketing: It goes beyond words and images; it's an experience that excites the senses and leaves a strong, long-lasting impression of authenticity.
There's a catch, however
Several years ago, a client shipped two boxes of its newest chocolate meal supplement drink, asking my agency to sample the product across more than 20 markets.
The entire office crowded around our conference table, eager to try the beverage. We took the cold, contoured bottles from the refrigerator, gave them a satisfying shake, poured out shot-sized rations, and passed them around the room.
The excitement quickly turned to concern. Wide eyes turned squinty, and noses wrinkled. It was terrible.
We had a choice to make: Do we try to market something we know the audience won't like? Or do we have the courage to tell the client that his new product needs more prodding in the lab?
Experiential marketing aims to provide word-of-mouth and buzz about the products being promoted, and that buzz can be positive or negative—depending on the experience consumers have.
So we chose to tell the company that its drink wasn't ready for human consumption.
Thankfully, we didn't lose the account; the client respected our honesty, and he went back to the lab to improve the taste of his product.
Avoid experiential disasters
The importance of avoiding an experiential marketing disaster is relative:
As a result of their brand equity, established brands can likely withstand flops: Their customers will likely forgive a negative experience because they can fall back on previous positive brand experiences.
New brands or product lines aren't so lucky, however: A negative, inauthentic customer experience right out of the gate will likely be enough to sink them.
To avoid that sinking feeling, follow these four tips for steering clear of some common mistakes:
1. Don't skimp on the budget
When launching an experiential campaign, marketers sometimes want to spend only enough for a two-week program in five markets—envisioning huge gains in sales and market share. Even for a large, well-established national brand, those are unreasonable expectations.
Creating a truly engaging experience, garnering positive word-of-mouth, and using buzz tactics to ensure the reach goes far beyond the activation markets requires substantial financial and time commitments. If you skimp on either of those things, your product won't get very far.
Consider that today's investment creates a free experience that consumers will be willing to pay for tomorrow.
2. Don't ignore key stakeholders
Successful experiential marketing is not a plug-and-play event. Every localized experience you create is unique to that demographic, so you need to involve the local sales force, local retailers (to stock enough product/samples), and local influencers (news outlets, radio stations, bloggers, etc.) so the event is big, authentic, and smoothly run.
With experiential marketing, your brand really isn't embarking on a solo tour; it's directing a local orchestra.
3. Don't rush the planning
It's important to be excited and enthusiastic about your marketing, but letting your positive emotions rush you into pushing out a campaign before it's ready can have ugly results.
You can't pull a good experiential marketing campaign off the shelf; each one must be customized for the particular location, demographic, and scenario—and it takes time and focus to come up with a creative idea and to work out the kinks.
Sacrificing quality for timeliness is a slippery slope that's best avoided when presenting your brand on such a personal level.
4. Don't ditch the process
Experiential marketing agencies have a process they take each client through to ensure the best end product. My company, for example, has a milestone-based, step-by-step "brand vitality experience" that we've tested and validated. The agency you work with will come up with a production timeline that includes deadlines for deliverables. Missed deadlines are a fact of life, so there might be some built-in wiggle room to ease stress when deadlines are missed. At the end of the day, however, remember that the agency you've hired has expertise, and its process exists for a reason. Sticking to it is in your best interests.
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Those common mistakes will rob you of success while diminishing your reputation and driving away customers. Experiential marketing can be a powerfully engaging tool in any brand's arsenal, but only when it's done right.
Campaigns need to be thoughtful, genuine, and well-publicized—and the only way to achieve that is by devoting ample time and resources to your efforts.