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Experiential Marketing – What Is It?

experiential marketing what is it

The concept of bombarding a consumer’s environment with persuasive messages to entice them into purchasing a product or availing a service seems to present itself as a somewhat outdated and even unfashionable vision. However, a new trend is taking over the realm of marketing communication – Experiential Marketing. From the customer’s standpoint, buying a product has ceased to be just a transaction; it has evolved into a ritual that ultimately signifies their affiliation with a particular social group and serves as a marker of their style, taste, and beliefs. Discover the essence of experiential marketing and let the examples of implementing this strategy illustrate the considerable power it holds.

What is Experiential Marketing?

Consumer purchase decisions are influenced by numerous factors. Much, of course, depends on what you are buying. Your approach will differ when choosing bread during a quick supermarket visit versus selecting a new car from a dealership. However, experts are noting a crucial trend: increasingly, what is being “purchased” is not just the product itself, but the impressions and experiences associated with it. It’s a kind of narrative that a brand weaves and the positive emotions that accompany a consumer’s interaction with it.

How can we better grasp the essence of experiential marketing? Examples can be found far from the realm of typical product campaigns. Imagine you’re faced with a corporate event. Just the thought of it might make you roll your eyes, as you already anticipate the exchange of forced smiles and polite gestures with the boss, a dull artistic performance, and the feeling of time dragging on endlessly. But what if this time, the event took on an entirely different form that breaks away from those familiar patterns? What if, instead of a rigid banquet, there’s a VR technology-assisted presentation or a live version of a game you enjoy? You might remember the second version of this event differently and… perhaps it could slightly alter your perception of the company. All thanks to the experiences you undergo and the emotions tied to them. A similar mechanism operates within marketing communication.

Experiential marketing itself can be understood in two ways. Both of these strategies are worth incorporating into your promotional strategy.

Experiential Marketing as Direct Product Engagement

Experiential marketing can be defined as a marketing strategy that strives to turn a brand’s promise into reality. It is built upon establishing a strong connection with the consumer, where the product and brand are tangible, checkable, and testable. The essence of experiential marketing lies in integrating the product into the consumer’s life in a way that allows them to make an informed decision to purchase based on their own experiences, rather than solely relying on messages from a radio or laptop.

Experiential Marketing as Relationship Building with the Customer

Why is experience so crucial? Because consumers are weary and tired of average brands. The conventional “everyman” no longer seeks just a product. They desire something they can identify with, something that tells them a story and allows them to feel a tangible connection. They seek products or services that evoke positive sensations and personal growth – those that offer unconventional entertainment and the opportunity to break away from the norm.

What are the Foundations of Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing is built upon several key principles:

  • Consumers are autonomous individuals who form social groups based on shared values, beliefs, and lifestyles.
  • Consumers acquire not just a product, but the accompanying sensation and experience.
  • To effectively compete in the market, a business must appeal to the emotions of the consumer, rather than relying solely on statistics, logic, and rationality.

This leads to the conclusion that in experiential marketing, what surrounds the product and the benefits resulting from its purchase and use are of utmost importance. These encompass fulfilling basic needs like a sense of belonging and security, as well as addressing self-fulfillment needs such as pride, aesthetic experiences, satisfaction, or an increase in social status.

A crucial concept here is the touchpoint – the point of contact. This refers to moments of interaction with the consumer, both intentional and coincidental. These moments are ideal opportunities to create engaging and memorable experiences. The number and nature of touchpoints are closely tied to the product and the brand’s nature. However, they should occur frequently, ideally throughout the entire lifecycle of the product or service.

Experiential Marketing – Examples of Communication Channels

In the realm of experiential marketing, traditional forms of advertising are becoming less prominent. Posters and billboards serve merely as ways to fill in communication gaps. The essence of the producer-consumer dialogue lies in the reciprocal flow of messages and mutual respect. The goal is to establish a partnership where the focus isn’t solely on sales but on the thread of understanding woven between the brand and the customer. It’s about fostering relationships where the consumer feels emotionally connected to the company and simply likes it, even if they’re not immediately ready to purchase its products.

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The objective of experiential marketing is long-term: to make the brand being promoted a more preferred choice than others because it’s genuinely liked.

To achieve this, adhering to standard advertising techniques – the invasive ones that center around direct persuasive communication – won’t suffice. Advertising that “intrudes” into a customer’s world might prove effective in many instances, but when considering long-term image results (and consequently, sales), entirely different solutions must be employed. Ones that naturally capture the customer’s attention – not necessarily towards products, but more towards the brand itself and the story it embodies.

Among the modern methods of customer communication, we can include:

  • Word of Mouth Marketing: This involves leveraging recommendations from individuals within the consumer’s circle. These individuals usually share the same values, making it essential to disseminate information about positive brand experiences. Importantly, in this context, “word of mouth” shouldn’t solely focus on recommending the brand’s products; rather, it should be an action that carries a distinct narrative. For instance, a brand might engage in an intriguing social campaign and encourage users to share hashtags related to that campaign – subtly communicating its presence.
  • Ambient Advertising: This encompasses unconventional forms of advertising, such as interacting with the environment, utilizing interiors and objects in alignment with their function, leveraging new technologies, or utilizing contextual spaces. Ambient advertising provides ample room for creativity and allows for unconventional approaches. Campaigns that deviate from the rigid confines of persuasive messaging often succeed precisely because they’re distinct and extraordinary. Consumers don’t sense their “artificiality” or hidden sales agendas. They simply enjoy engaging with the brand.
  • Gamification: This involves integrating game mechanics, commonly found in various types of games, into non-gaming scenarios to engage the consumer. The brand experience can be transformed into a game, competition, or playful interaction. Brands have vast creative latitude here, whether organizing campaigns centered around user interaction in urban spaces or events, or in the online realm. Examples of experiential marketing in this form are abundant.

In essence, these modern communication methods focus on creating engaging and meaningful interactions with the consumer, forging emotional connections and memorable experiences that go beyond traditional advertising approaches.

Experiential Marketing – Examples Worth Knowing

There are numerous examples of utilizing the communication channels mentioned earlier and influencing consumers effectively.

Samsung embraced the concept of gamification by setting up a booth at a train station in Zurich. The challenge: to win a new phone, one had to gaze at it for an entire hour. As expected, this contest garnered significant interest from both spectators and participants. The brand achieved the desired outcomes at the event:

  • Engaged the audience.
  • Encouraged competition.
  • Inspired users to create their own content – news of the event reverberated across social media and continued to be discussed for a long time.

Coca-Cola, aiming to engage consumers, installed a special vending machine at a London station. After purchasing a drink, a challenge would appear on the display. Upon completing the challenge, participants won tickets to a James Bond movie screening. The promotional campaign was, of course, tied to the release of a new iconic film. The brand once again utilized gamification, delivering unique and entertaining experiences to its customers. While this promotional format might not have translated directly into sales, it certainly boosted positive associations with the brand.

As a side note, Coca-Cola is well-known for building its marketing strategy around forging connections with its audience and crafting narratives, rather than directly promoting products. Did you know that it was experts from this brand who originated the image of Santa Claus that we know today – the one in a red suit with a long, white beard?

Even direct competitors like Pepsi also emphasize experiential marketing. A few years ago, Pepsi conducted an intriguing ambient campaign, encouraging passersby to participate in “blind taste tests” of their products. Participants would compare Pepsi with its main competitor, not knowing which one they were drinking. These unique “consumer studies” garnered interest and encouraged participants to generate content. Pepsi pleasantly surprised its audience and enhanced its image as a consumer-friendly brand.

Red Bull, aiming to associate its brand with adventure, adrenaline, and excitement, supported Felix Baumgartner in his stratospheric jump. Instantly, Red Bull solidified its image as a brand linked to extreme sports, thrill, and adrenaline rush. There were more Red Bull-sponsored events of this kind, including a distinctly Polish highlight – Andrzej Bargiel’s famous descent from K2. The mere ascent of one of the world’s most challenging peaks is an achievement on its own, but Bargiel decided to ski down from it. Red Bull sponsored the trip and – as with Felix Baumgartner’s jump – turned it into a significant media event. Even major news outlets reported on it. Although it wasn’t directly tied to product promotion, this increased Red Bull’s recognition and reinforced its association with pushing limits and active entertainment.

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An interesting example is Volkswagen’s campaign from a few years ago. It’s a classic ambient event. The brand initiated a series of events titled “The Fun Theory” with the aim of proving that people are more likely to engage in certain activities if they find them enjoyable. As part of this campaign, a pedestrian staircase in a Stockholm underground passage was transformed into an interactive piano. Consequently, every person traversing the stairs began to “play” it. Despite the availability of (less healthy) escalators right beside the regular stairs, the additional attraction enticed Stockholm residents to walk up those few dozen steps. The Volkswagen brand wasn’t overtly promoted during this event. Instead, the action that captured interest spread across social media and YouTube.

Seeking examples of experiential marketing in the Polish market? They are present here as well. A standout is the “Męskie Granie” concert series organized by the Żywiec corporation. This event has grown to become one of the most significant pop culture happenings in our country, associated with intelligent entertainment and breaking free from norms and templates. Although the brand is subtly promoted, it’s impossible not to recognize the force behind this extraordinary music event and the hits that climb the charts.

Social Media and Tryvertising

A distinct facet of experiential marketing is known as “tryvertising,” a fusion of “try” and “advertising.” Tryvertising involves immersing oneself in the customer’s environment, providing consumers with the opportunity to form their own opinions and personally test the products offered by the company.

A perfect example is Coca-Cola, which frequently appears on the campus of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, distributing its beverages to thirsty students on hot days.

Play made an appearance at the Przystanek Woodstock music festival, equipping potential customers with company-branded tissues and starter packs.

Taking a step further, Wrangler gifted festivalgoers with a washing machine named the “Wrangler Laundromat” during the 2007 Lowlands Festival. Attendees had the chance to wash their soiled and sweaty clothes. Those who used this service received substitute clothing and a specially personalized SMS notification when their laundry was done.

This strategy also aligns with the earlier example of experiential marketing employed by Pepsi.

Furthermore, one must not forget the utilization of communication channels that consumers can’t imagine their day without. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – the possibilities are vast, limited only by creativity.

In conclusion, marketing continually transforms its face, much like the market and the business strategies implemented within it. The product itself is no longer paramount. What matters most is the experience associated with it, the story that revolves around the initial interaction, or the benefits derived from its acquisition and use. After all, it’s not just about a new phone, blazer, or set of glasses; it’s about the experiences that come with their purchase. And these experiences are invaluable, enabling the producer to form a strong emotional bond with the consumer.

Sounds interesting? Then you might also be intrigued by referral marketing! Check it out now!

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