The Complete Guide to Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing has become one of the most powerful ways for brands to connect emotionally with consumers and drive sales in a crowded marketplace. This in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know about planning and executing memorable experiential campaigns.

What is Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing, also known as engagement marketing or live marketing, refers to a marketing strategy that invites consumers to interact with a business in a real-world, face-to-face capacity. It often involves unique physical brand experiences like pop-up shops, product sampling stations, branded events, VR/AR activations, and more.

The goal is to form lasting emotional connections between the consumer and brand by giving them an opportunity to personally experience products/services rather than just view an ad.

“Experiential marketing allows consumers to step inside a brand and experience it firsthand. This level of interactivity helps foster the emotional connection that leads to increased brand affinity and loyalty." – Michelle Lewis, CMO at AKQA

Why Experiential Marketing is So Powerful

Experiential campaigns tend to be extremely effective at driving business success for several psychological and emotional reasons:

  • They make brands more tangible, relatable and "real" by giving consumers a hands-on experience
  • The immersive nature makes campaigns more memorable and shareable, driving word-of-mouth
  • Consumers develop greater emotional bonds and affinity for engaging, experiential brands
  • It taps into FOMO (fear of missing out) when people see friends posting/discussing experiences
  • Gamification components activate the brain‘s reward system, reinforcing positive associations

Ultimately, the hands-on interaction and impression left on the consumer leads to greater brand loyalty, higher chances of purchase intent, and increased sales over time.

Experiential Marketing By the Numbers

The business impact of experiential marketing has been clearly demonstrated across industries:

  • Events/experience-based marketing drives a 28% purchase intent increase on average (EventTrack)
  • 74% of consumers feel more positive about brands after branded experiences (EventTrack)
  • Experiential marketing delivers ~3-5x higher ROI than other mediums on average (Forrester)
  • 90% of event attendees say they‘re more likely to buy the sponsoring brand afterwards (Bizzabo)

It‘s no wonder that 84% of brands say experiential campaigns give them the best ROI compared to other marketing options (Freeman).

How to Plan a Successful Experiential Marketing Campaign

Experiential marketing campaigns require much more coordination and moving pieces compared to traditional ads. Follow these steps when planning your activation:

1. Establish Goals & KPIs

Like any campaign, you need clearly defined goals and KPIs aligned to broader marketing objectives. Common examples include:

  • Brand awareness lift (% increase)
  • Increase in purchase intent
  • Sales lift (%) for featured products
  • Social impressions/reach
  • Email list sign-ups

Trackable KPIs let you accurately measure impact and optimize future campaigns.

2. Understand Your Audience

Truly memorable brand experiences are tailored specifically to resonate with your target customer personas.

Analyze existing audience data to determine customer demographics, psychographics, interests, values and consumption habits. This informs the optimal creative direction and engagement tactics.

3. Concept & Plan The Experience

With audience insights, map out a creative concept/storyline for your activation, ensuring it aligns with broader brand messaging while being interesting and shareworthy.

Determine the detailed logistics – what you‘ll offer, how consumers will engage, length, location etc. Build out an execution plan across stakeholders – legal, operations, design/build teams, staffing, safety and all vendors.

4. Promote & Amplify Reach

Leverage both paid and organic tactics across channels to build awareness and drive visitors:

  • Social media ads
  • PR outreach
  • Influencer marketing
  • Email campaigns
  • Website & in-store messaging

Captivating creative assets and leverage FOMO messaging help increase sign-ups.

5. Measure, Analyze & Optimize

Track engagement levels, sentiment, conversions and campaign KPIs in real-time. Survey participants for qualitative feedback.

Identify the most successful aspects and use post-event analytics to guide optimizations like better staff training, improved experience flows and more relevant creative.

Types of Experiential Marketing Campaigns

Some popular forms effective experiential marketing can take:

Brand Ambassador Events

Brand ambassadors engage consumers in public spaces with captivating sensory product demos or by sharing samples. They educate the public and build one-on-one connections.

Ex. Red Bull athlete demos in ski resorts

Pop-Up Shops

Temporary physical storefronts give consumers an immersive brand experience. They often feature interactive elements, limited merch, food/bev and photo opportunities.

Ex. The Museum of Ice Cream

Product Sampling Stations

Trial drives awareness by letting consumers sample new products. Common at sporting events, concerts or busy public areas.

Ex. Coke Freestyle machines

Branded Events

Brunches, races, concerts or festivals fully designed around a brand experience. Most effective for audience-aligned passion points like music, sports or gaming.

Ex. Red Bull Flugtag events

Guerilla Stunts

Heavily publicized PR stunts aim for mass awareness by giving consumers something shocking and outrageous. News media gives added exposure.

Ex. Taco Bell pop-up hotel

Interactive Consumer Games/Challenges

Gamification mechanisms like points, rewards and leaderboards tap into the brain‘s dopamine-driven desire for achievement. This emotional rush gets associated with the brand.

Ex. Mountain Dew Kickstart: Search for the Ultimate DEW

VR/AR Activations

The latest tech like augmented/virtual reality offers unprecedented immersion. Consumers engage multiple senses like sight, sound and touch for powerful emotional imprinting.

Ex. Volvo VR test drives

Influencer Collaborations

Aligning with popular social media influencers lets brands leverage their engaged follower bases for greater campaign visibility and credibility.

Ex. Nike Air Max activations with top athletes

B2B vs B2C Experiential Marketing

Brands marketing more complex considered purchases to other businesses take a different experiential approach tailored to commercial buyers compared to impulse-driven consumers:

B2B Experiential Marketing

  • More educational, thought leadership-focused
  • Tailored to buyer journey stages
  • 1:1 consultative interactions
  • Events aligned to target industry/roles

Ex. PwC innovation experience center for C-suite executives

B2C Experiential Marketing

  • Taps into emotions, nostalgia and senses
  • Aim for shareability and viral buzz
  • Focus on enjoyment, surprises and delight
  • Merchandise and Instagrammable moments

Ex. Magnum Pleasure Store

Bringing The Moments Home Through Hybrid Experiences

While COVID has hampered purely in-person events, forward-thinking brands are using digital to extend experiential engagement before, during and after the live experience, no matter where consumers are located.

Examples include:

  • VR previews of pop-up shop/event concepts
  • Coordinated social media challenges during the experience
  • AR lenses/filters to digitally transport branded environment
  • Hybrid virtual events in spatial metaverse platforms

Integrating digital creates more touchpoints to continue momentum and branding from physical events.

The opportunities are endless when it comes to creating memorable, shareworthy brand experiences. Use the strategies in this guide as inspiration when planning your next experiential marketing campaign!