Remember the good old days when we brewed coffee at home, went to the grocery to buy ingredients for dinner, and played pin the tail on the donkey at kids' birthday parties?
Those days are gone, and we have instead entered the experience economy: We go to Starbucks where our favorite barista is happy to prepare our beverage of choice; we have fresh ingredients delivered to our doorsteps from Blue Apron for at-home gourmet meals; we hire entertainment companies and actors to transform our backyards into zoos and medieval castles so our children can have the ultimate birthday celebration.
Although the concept of the experience economy is not new, brands are capitalizing on the trend to deliver more than just goods and services to their customers: They're now creating memories via participatory events, as well.
The opportunity is mutually beneficial; such events facilitate long-term brand loyalty, and customers increasingly seek to connect with more than just a company's products.
Unsurprisingly, the 75.4 million Millennials, America's largest generation, are the most active group with a renewed focus on having experiences, not things—and they are coming of age where they have larger disposable incomes to spend on your brand.
Knowing that experiences are critical to connecting with this influential group, is your brand prepared to cater to Millennials as they enter their prime earning years?
Here are seven ways how you can benefit from the experience economy and stand out against your competition.
1. Define what you stand for, and let your customers know
It's no longer enough for you to simply market and sell products. Customers yearn to know what you stand for, as well.
What—and how—do you want potential buyers to feel when they interact with you? Define that, then show it to your customers through the products, events, and advertising you create and the emotional responses they evoke.
Compare Gatorade and Coke, for example. Both are sugary drinks, but customers have very different experiences when quenching their thirst with them. Gatorade sells a sports drink, focusing on endurance, training, and athletes' pushing themselves to the next level. Coke focuses on fun and friendship, as seen in its "Share a Coke" campaign.
2. Align with influencers who share your vision
Think about the influencers whom your audience relates to and who can endorse your product. For performance apparel companies, athletes quickly come to mind as a group who can mobilize your customers to participate in an event or make a purchase. Other influencers include YouTube stars for beauty brands (think Michelle Phan for Lancome and L'Oreal) and lifestyle bloggers for a range of home products. Get creative with your influencer outreach to maximize their impact on your audience.
3. Find ways to connect with your audience
Giving away free product samples is a tried-and-true way to connect with customers, but how can brands take outreach to the next level?
Instead of just surprising Australian beachgoers with free soft drinks, the Coca-Cola Company installed showers designed to look like giant Sprite soda dispensers to give them a truly refreshing experience. Then the beachgoers did what anybody rinsing off under a giant soft drink dispenser would: They shared the stunt like crazy on social media.
Connection points don't have to include beachfront installations to make an impact. Coffee-Mate made its mark on college students during finals week when it set up shop in the middle of Ohio State University's South Oval to pass out free samples. If students weren't able to make it to the shop, they could text or tweet Coffee-Mate for a delivery, creating a fun experience during an otherwise stressful time for students.
4. Team up with other brands
Sometimes a brand's audience just isn't large enough to reach its goals; that can be especially true for charities that want to solicit donations and spread awareness.
Even the British royal family sees the opportunity in strategic partnerships: Prince Harry teamed up with Coldplay to host a concert at Kensington Palace for his charity. Both brands have widespread influence on their own; when they teamed up, however, the impact (and the experience for concertgoers) became that much more powerful.
5. Liven Up Tradeshows
Although most professionals dread tradeshows, you can seize the opportunity create a memorable experience at a typically boring event. Turn your booth or sponsorship into an experience—whether a blind-taste-test station for food brands or an exclusive first look at new apps for tech companies.
For example, at the 2015 Salon de Mobile design show, sponsor Airbnb spearheaded a design experience off-site, at a private home in Milan, near the expo. There, attendees were wowed by home installations created by 19 world-class designers around the idea of "welcome." That experience tied together the idea of "home" with modern design, sponsored by one the world's most forward-thinking hospitality brands.
6. Record everything
Events are major investments, so why are so many brands missing out on opportunities to promote them?
Hosting a conference? To give a sneak peek of conference content, record short clips of your speakers. Get behind-the-scene footage during setup, and share content in real time via Facebook Live. Never miss an opportunity to record content that can be used for future promotion.
Coffee-Mate recorded its finals week giveaways and deliveries using GoPro video, selfies from the delivery drivers, and plenty of student engagement to share across its social channels.
7. Create a social media plan
Include social media in your marketing plan, and be strategic about the social platforms you use.
Social media boosts experiences in two ways: It gives participants the opportunity to connect and share with others at your event, creating a collaborative environment for attendees; it also shows potential customers who couldn't make it to your event what they're missing.
When Red Bull sponsored the Stratos project in 2012, during which Felix Baumgartner successfully broke the record for the highest parachute jump, the company streamed the event for more than 8 million viewers and included a robust social media plan. The result was social buzz, 270,000 new Facebook fans for Red Bull Stratos, and 405 million views on the official Red Bull Stratos YouTube channel.
* * *
By using a combination of these tips, your event attendance, brand recognition, and customer engagement will grow.
But how experiential marketing works isn't set in stone; it takes time to identify the tactics and partnerships that will work best for your brand specifically. Once brands find what works for their audience, they can benefit from the experience economy and stand out against competitors.