Experiential; it’s a constant buzzword in the marketing & events world. But what does it truly mean for brands? How do we, as marketers, incorporate experiential marketing into our strategies? And, most importantly, how do we measure and understand the impact of these initiatives to develop them and continue to justify budget expenditures?
With events being the cornerstone of experiential marketing, it’s no wonder we are seeing companies invest more and more in creating truly engaging events for their customers, staff and stakeholders. Despite this ongoing investment, we don’t understand experience anywhere near as much as other areas of consumer behaviour.
This article aims to help you better understand how you can use an integrated approach to your events strategy, supercharging all of your marketing efforts and understanding the impact events channels have had.
The Integrated Approach: Why It’s Essential
Integrated Marketing, simply put, is the practice of aligning all of your marketing channels to promote your brand, products and services cooperatively. This is usually achieved through a strategic marketing campaign.
Consider coming across a brand at a trade show, their stand features a range of fun interactive games that encourage teamwork and cooperation. You scan your badge, play some games and walk away remembering the experience but knowing very little about the company. They later reach out to you to discuss their accounting services, despite remembering the experience you don’t recognise the brand at all.
A strong integrated marketing approach will put an end to this mismatch in messaging and helps to create a strong brand image in the minds of your customers. After all, five consistent and well-aligned messages are greater than the sum of their parts.
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Going Back To Your Core Objectives
What do we want to achieve and how can we go about getting there?
As you would expect, to have a fully integrated marketing strategy incorporating experiential events, it’s essential this approach is adopted at the very earliest stages of planning. To see the full benefits of this approach, you should consider your entire marketing strategy and events calendar holistically, thinking about how your events feed into one another and your other marketing channels.
Consider this example:
A fashion label is launching its new range for the fall season. The range has been developed in collaboration with an emerging music artist and they hope to appeal to a similar demographic. They are looking to implement an integrated marketing strategy incorporating experiential elements, leveraging this partnership with this artist to strengthen their brand as an alternative, but accessible, stylish range with a pop-punk/grunge aesthetic.
Firstly, they plan a series of secret shows headlined by their collab artist over a period of 6 months. To build interest and intrigue they launch a series of paid social video campaigns targeting specific demographics and market segments with similar interests. Additionally, they invest in a series of posters and billboards around London. These campaigns hint at the shows but do not provide details, driving audiences to their channels to be one of the first to know when the details become available.
The shows feature the brand's grunge aesthetic and feature many of the pieces launched in their new range. The event featured a series of grunge and pop-punk backdrops and props for photo ops where attendees could try on some of the statement pieces from the new range and take part in their own photoshoots for Instagrammable content. There was a series of inspiration examples provided of these and a polaroid photo wall with all of the content from the attendee's photoshoots. Attendees receive discounts and are able to buy the items online and pick them up at the event if they wish.
The label invests in a number of videographers to create some engaging long and short-form content for post-event marketing and to continue to leverage the events. This content is then used to promote the following events as well as build audiences across social channels and through the music artists' existing networks.
This campaign is a great example of an integrated marketing campaign incorporating experiential events, with all channels and tactics feeding into one another and presenting a united message working towards their objective.
Leveraging out-of-home advertising, paid social, organic social, live events, email and written content the label was able to build a large following and generate significant sales and ongoing engagement.
Planning an integrated marketing strategy
When you’re planning your strategy, consider the following:
- Who is your target audience?
This is the specific subset of your target market we are focussing on for this specific campaign. You should already have a strong understanding of who this might be based on customer interviews, market research and competitor analysis conducted, from this information you may want to build personas and use these to target your specific campaigns.
- What is your core message? What thoughts or feelings do you want to stir in your audience?
Emotive marketing can be quite a strong weapon in your arsenal if it aligns with your brand, think about how you can stir up certain thoughts, feelings and emotions in your audience. Lulu Lemon do an excellent job of this in their Proud & Present campaign for Pride Month (we’ll touch on this further below). Perhaps your message is more direct, trying to get your audience to take an action. Whatever it is, take some time to think about this message and how you can align it across all channels. Go a little deeper than just ‘Buy Now’, what is the common theme for your audience and brand that will get them to engage?
- How will you reach your audience?
When defining your audience it’s important to consider how you might effectively reach them. What channels can you effectively target them on? Think about what common similarities the people who make up this persona have.
Using the example above, the fashion label was able to target the right audiences on social channels based on similar artists and interests they follow on the platform. For the out-of-home advertising, they targetted certain parts of London that were known for their alternative music scene.
- What action do you want them to eventually take? And how do we get them there?
You might have a clear end goal in mind, but telling your audience what you want them to do is rarely the best approach. Take them on a journey to that action, building their understanding of your brand and your message as you go.
Using the example of the fashion label above, although the audience may not make a purchase immediately, they’ve had multiple touchpoints and engagements with the brand and built a greater understanding of what they are about. They may not make a purchase from that label until months down the line, but the brand now has a whole new, highly engaged, audience they can directly market their products to.
- How do we leverage the channels in support of one another?
When talking about integrated marketing and experiential marketing campaigns we must understand they go hand in hand for any effective experiential campaign. Ensuring your messaging across all channels is aligned and feeds into one another is key. Taking the example of the fashion label from earlier, they are leveraging five different channels, all designed in a way that each complements the other and makes for impactful brand messaging.
Nailing The Experiential
Experiential marketing should provide an opportunity for your audience to interact with your brand in a real-world context. Businesses have the ability to evolve a brand from just being an idea in the minds of their audience, to a real-life depiction that they can engage with.
More often than not, experiential marketing involves events, however, there are certainly many successful experiential campaigns that have nothing to do with an event. For the purpose of this article, however, we will focus on event-centric experiential marketing campaigns. If you’d like to see some examples of event-less experiential marketing read up on Benefit Cosmetics 'Lashtastic Virtual-Media Campaign' or Misereor’s ‘Social Swipe’ Campaign.
It’s important to understand that although an event in itself is an experience, that does not mean it qualifies as an experiential marketing campaign. Experiential marketing event campaigns should not be as focussed on the event format and the performance of that event in a silo from other marketing efforts. Instead, it’s focused on creating engaging interactions between the brand and the customer through an integrated marketing approach.
In this section, we’ll dig into some examples of brands that have absolutely nailed experiential marketing and what we can learn from them to launch our own experiential campaigns.
Examples of exceptional experiential campaigns
Refinery 29: 29 Rooms29 Rooms, an ongoing event brought to you by lifestyle brand Refinery 29, is described as “an interactive funhouse of style, culture, and creativity — brought to life by a group of global artists and visionaries across mediums,” made up of “individually curated rooms that are packed with magic and brimming with inspiration.”
Attendees can explore the 29 different themed rooms and are encouraged to engage with each room in some way or another. There was a room that featured a lounge singer that improvise songs based on dreams the audience members had. There was another room that was a large abstract art installation as a backdrop and the audience could dress up in outfits that blended into the background and they could ‘become the masterpiece’. Another room encouraged the attendees to use boxing gloves to hit punching bags that would create unique musical sounds, creating a kind of symphony.
Refinery 29’s experiential campaign created an ongoing fun and engaging experience that was on-brand for them, in doing so they were able to build huge buzz around this installation and really leverage the user-generated content to build more and more awareness.
Lululemon: Proud & Present
In celebration of Pride Month, Lululemon & MKG created a multi-channel thoughtful experience featuring their staff and encouraging their audiences to read/watch and reflect on their individual experiences. This message was delivered through images and videos on Lululemon’s Instagram page throughout the month, an art installation in Hudson River Park inviting passersby to add a moment of reflection to their own celebrations, and a series of community focussed and reflective yoga practices throughout the month.
Lululemon’s campaign created a truly engaging and thought-provoking experience with a social purpose for Pride Month. This perfectly exemplified the brand's purpose-driven and socially conscious brand, communicating its commitment to supporting meaningful and lasting change in the world.
Although this campaign was not directly tied to revenue focussed objectives, it certainly helped build brand perceptions and encouraged individuals to better understand the LGBTQ2IA+ community and their experiences.
Facebook: Facebook IQ Live
Facebook IQ Live was a live B2B event experience aimed at creating a fun, interactive and engaging way for businesses and marketers to understand the value that data insights from Facebook and Instagram can provide. They curated a series of live scenes in a physical space, designed to be able to depict the data available through the platform.
One of the scenes was a retail store of sorts, ‘IQ Mart’, representing the online shopper's decision-making process and conversion path when using social media. Another featured an Instagram cafe, providing a multitude of photo opportunities and latte art.
Attendees of this event were expecting a standard conference format, but instead, Facebook brought data to life, allowing them to visualise, understand and engage with the data insights that can so often be difficult for businesses and marketers to understand and apply in practice. Don’t just take out word for it, 93% of attendees said the experience gave them valuable insights on how to use Facebook for business. This is a great example of taking a run of the mill conference and making it an engaging experience, delivering content in a unique and easy to understand manner.
Docker: Docker Dash
Docker is a software platform for developers, providing technology known as ‘containerisation’ that allows developers to run apps on different operating systems. Each year they run a developer conference called DockerCon, designed to keep its core enterprise market engaged. In the 2017 edition they ran a live demo of their product but instead of the usual screen share and feature rundown, they created a live video game style simulation called Docker Dash to showcase their product.
5,000 of DockerCon’s attendees became players in the game, working together to solve a series of fun challenges (engaging Docker features along the way) to complete their app. This was a fun and collaborative way to showcase their software and the value it provides for developers.
The whole experience was live-streamed online and in total garnered the attention of 3.6million people who watched and posted about the event across social media. This is a great example of utilising experiential marketing to help your audience not only understand your product or service better but to truly engage with it.
So where do we start with experiential?
Ultimately, the very nature of experiential marketing campaigns means there is no one perfect format, it’s all about your brand, your message, your audience and how you can find creative ways to communicate and engage. However, there are certainly some general rules you should follow and some ideas and guidance that can be used to get you started:
Stay on brand!
You could create the most fun and engaging experience for your audience, but if it doesn’t relate to your brand what is it for? You might find attendees remember the experience but not the brand. A good experiential marketing campaign has a message, and this message must relate to your brand!
Determine your message early on
So you know what your objectives are for this campaign, the next step is to think about the message you want to communicate and how this can support your objective. It doesn’t necessarily have to tie directly to a specific product or service, it will be a balancing act between what you want to say and what will actually engage your audience. Once you’ve got your message, build an experience around it.
Partner with creatives to help create experiences
Artists and musicians that align with your brand can be excellent partners for experiential campaigns. Not only do they have their own engaged audiences but they are experts in using creative imagination to deliver messages.
Make it fun!
Injecting an element of fun and games into your experiences can make your campaigns truly memorable. You could look to gamify your product offering as Docker did, or you could find fun ways for your audience to engage with content like Facebook IQ Live. Whatever it is, make sure it's on brand and ties in with your message. Just adding a VR experience to your event stand that doesn’t relate to your brand won’t have a real impact on your audience. Brand, message and experience should all be aligned.
Use your experiential campaign to gain a better understanding of your customer
These experiential campaigns can be utilised to better understand your customers and inform key business decisions. It could be simply watching your attendees and how they engage with your product to better inform product development, you could ask questions of attendees or analyse social media activity to better understand brand perceptions, or simply use the opportunity to get direct feedback from your audience. This will depend on your format but it’s always worthwhile taking the time to better understand your customers and how you can help them.
Partner with another brand to create an even better experience
Using experiential marketing as a co-branding opportunity is a great way to not only offset some of the costs associated with what can be quite an expensive marketing campaign, but also to build and grow your audience by leveraging theirs.
It’s essential, when considering a partner, that you make sure it makes sense for all parties; your brand, their brand, the message and your audiences. If all of these aren’t aligned, your efforts may fall flat.
For extra support, draft in our expert team to help support your next experiential event.
Nurture your audience
Many experiential campaigns are not necessarily focused on getting your audience to convert at that moment. But rather, they may be designed to build brand awareness, for brand positioning or to build your audiences. Irrespective, don’t be afraid to nurture these leads, whether that's through social media, email or even paid retargeting campaigns if your event was online.
Think about the larger issues
Consumers are becoming more and more driven to support brands that are concerned with social causes and doing better for the world around them. In fact, 70% of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues.
Some of the most effective experiential campaigns tap into some larger issues faced by the industry or society as a whole. A great example of this would be Lulu Lemon’s Proud and Present Campaign, supporting their brand positioning as a purpose-led brand.
Leverage user-generated content
Make sure to think about how you can create opportunities for user-generated content, in doing so you can leverage not only your own networks but all of your attendee’s audiences as well, extending your reach dramatically. This can be done in a variety of ways and it doesn’t have to be expensive, there is plenty of budget-friendly options to create an Instagram-worthy look for your brand.
Refinery 29 did an excellent job of leveraging its attendee's social networks with their 29 Rooms experience, it was rare that someone attended and didn’t post anything to social media!
Got a complicated product or message? Explain it with an experience
Sometimes it can be difficult to explain to your audience why they should use your product or service, often you’re solving a problem they don’t even know they have. Experiences can be an excellent way to creatively show them what your product or service is and how it can benefit them. Remember to keep this engaging, you must have a balance between what you want and what your audience wants.
Bring data to life
Data has the power to explain and support extremely impactful messages with your audiences but is often associated with overwhelming graphical representations that don’t really sell your point of view. Consider how you can bring data to life with experiences, this could be as simple as an animated infographic style video piece incorporated into your experience. Or it could be a visual representation of important data points like this art installation in Australia showcasing the sheer amount of clothing that goes into landfill and the poor treatment of women in the manufacturing of fast fashion.
Facebook IQ Live was another great example of how brands can bring important data points that support their message to life, giving their audience a greater understanding of how they can use Facebook for business.
Create opportunities for your audience to engage with one another
Experiential events flourish when you introduce the opportunity for engagement with other fellow attendees. Give them the opportunity to play, collaborate and share ideas and tie it all in together with your message to make your event truly impactful.
Docker did this so well by having their attendees collaborate to solve challenges, developing ideas together and getting a combined sense of accomplishment in completing them together.
Make sure your online and offline audiences have a cohesive experience
If you are trying to engage audiences both online and offline, it’s important to ensure cohesion across channels, keeping your messaging consistent and providing value across all channels. If you have an in-person element, produce video or visual content from this and share across online channels. Think about how you can add value to your online audiences, can they watch a live stream of your event, can they engage with your speakers? If you’re leveraging user-generated content, how can online audiences get engaged? There is potential for huge reach online, so don’t leave them behind.
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Understanding The Impact - Developing A Framework For Measurement
As marketers, we understand that a campaign is only as effective as the measurable results that come from it. It’s difficult to continue to justify marketing expenditure unless we can show how this is helping us to achieve our organisational objectives. Although ‘experience’ is a notoriously difficult element to measure, we can certainly develop a framework at the early stages for how to measure the success of these campaigns.
First, starting with your core campaign objective, consider what key performance indicators (KPI’s) you consider important to the success of your overall objective. Think about what metrics you might be able to use to measure these, or even which metrics you can combine to understand it better.
You’ll then want to set yourself some specific goals that will get you to your overarching objective. Each of these goals should relate to the KPI’s you laid out earlier. Remember these should be SMART; specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Using the example of the fashion label earlier I’ve started to break down an initial framework for measurement of the success of the campaign:
Objective: Build awareness and engagement with the brand as an alternative, but accessible, stylish range with a pop-punk/grunge aesthetic amongst the ‘Punkster’ persona audience.
Traffic / Reach
Conversion & Revenue
Sentiment, Loyalty & Brand Positioning
Lead Generation & Audience Growth
* in comparison to the 6 month period prior to the campaign.
It’s worth remembering, that although engagement and new traffic are an excellent signifiers of the success of a campaign, you should also consider the bigger picture; how these metrics can contribute to increased revenue. Although you may only be able to attribute a certain amount of revenue directly to the campaign, the value of a strong integrated experiential marketing campaign often lies in the lifetime value of those customers.
Need help with your planning and reporting? Draft in our team of event management experts, they'll even handle all your reporting and analysis.
Although the prospect of launching a experiential marketing campaign can seem daunting, it does not have to be a huge drain on resources or break the bank. A well-executed campaign has the potential to have a significant impact on brand positioning, customer engagement & loyalty and revenue.
It’s important to remember that in order to create a connection with people, you need to understand what is important to them. In doing so, you can be what matters to your target audiences by shaping your messaging around things that your audiences care about.
Let’s not forget the most important factors for a successful experiential marketing campaign:
- Your message should always align with your audience and your products or services
- Make sure all of your communications and customer touchpoints have a cohesive message
- Make it fun!
- Leverage partnerships to expand your reach and take the experience to the next level
- Leverage user-generated content where possible - the power of word of mouth is exponential
- Create opportunities for your audience to engage with one another
- Stay on brand always!
Experiential marketing is a powerful tool that can create meaningful connections between brands and consumers. As experiential marketing grows in popularity, every industry will need to adopt it to stay relevant.
So why not start planning your next experiential marketing campaign? You can create an unforgettable experience for your target audience that they'll be sure to remember.
If you'd like some further guidance, reach out to our experts at Hire Space 360 to see how we could help you supercharge your marketing strategy. And be sure to check out our other blog content below for more how-to guides!