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A 2022 guide to experiential & engagement marketing

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A 2022 guide to experiential & engagement marketing

Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing, also referred to as “face-to-face, on-ground, or engagement marketing,” is a method of promotion. It’s a marketing tactic used in creating a memorable experience, often in an interactive space, to build connections with consumers and your brand. At Exhibitus, we specialize in experiential marketing services and we’ve helped bring thousands of brands to life for special events, trade shows, expos, and more. Keep reading to learn about how experiential marketing can boost your brand, benefit your company’s bottom line and uniquely serve your audience in 2022.

Everything You Need To Know About Experiential Marketing

Why Should Brands Consider Engagement Marketing?

Engagement with your audience fosters conversation and allows you to showcase your brand in innovative new ways. Experiential marketing hinges on the customer’s enjoying a shared experience that increases brand awareness and exposure. Engagement marketing also encourages stronger word-of-mouth advertising when attendees have a chance to directly interact with your products and designs.

Showcasing your products and allowing prospects to gain hands-on exposure via demonstrations increases a brand’s chance for success over other traditional advertising methods. An on-ground marketing team like Exhibitus can help highlight your brand through creativity and innovation in an immersive environment.

How Does Experiential Marketing Work?

Experiential marketing can be carried out in a variety of ways depending on your products, services, and target market. Rather than a simple “free sample” format of immersing customers, experiential marketing relies on creating connections between the brand itself and the customer. This can be as sophisticated as a high-tech interactively designed exhibit or as simple as a spin-the-wheel game at a city festival.

The range of possibilities with experiential marketing means there is no single way that it needs to be carried out. Everything from a concert to a poll can be considered experiential marketing if it is engaging potential customers in pursuit of brand awareness and emotional connection. The ultimate goal is to leverage face-to-face interaction for prospects, regardless of how familiar they are with your brand.

There are nuances in experiential marketing tactics, however. The best use cases allow potential customers the opportunity to interact with your products and services in a way that mimics real life. Immersing a consumer in this experience not only gives them a tangible idea of the benefits your product offers but fosters an emotional connection that leaves a lasting impact on the market. And if used properly, investing in engagement marketing that is integrated into a well-designed custom exhibit can have significant ROI for the bottom line of a company.

Types Of Experiential & Engagement Marketing

While experiential marketing can look like basically anything, there are generally three categories that encompass most versions of the practice.

  • Product-Based: A product showcase is the simplest version of this, in which consumers can try out a variety of products for themselves. Outside of a formal showcase, this can include any free sample-based marketing tactic or even a free trial when it comes to something like software. Anything that lets a customer experience your product without first buying it is considered experiential marketing in this way.
  • Experience-Based: Rather than interacting directly with a product, experiential marketing can also use related experiences to create positive brand associations that influence later purchasing decisions. This can be something as simple as a sponsored concert or event, or more exclusive experiences aimed at a target market. Any immersive experience will allow you to connect emotionally with consumers and form a strong bond moving forward.
  • Buzz-Based: It can be difficult to know what will or won’t generate media attention, but the ability to gain word-of-mouth and buzz is critical to experiential marketing. Some companies build out media stunts aimed at getting attention while others may attempt a guerilla marketing strategy. These forms of experiential marketing can be high risk, but also high reward when executed well.

What Is The Goal Of Experiential Marketing?

Like any marketing, the goal of experiential marketing is ultimately to promote brand awareness and convert that awareness into qualified leads and sales. The exact numbers and objectives may differ by campaign, but there are three primary ways that experiential marketing offers a return on investment (ROI).

  • Positive Brand Associations: One of the ultimate goals of any marketing team is to have a brand that people know and trust. While quality and experiences with a product will be a part of this, brand awareness and associations go a long way. Providing consumers with a positive experience that they connect to, your brand will foster an immediate positive association with your brand as a whole. A consumer may be reminded of something they enjoy or a person they like and choose your brand over others.
  • Conversion and Reach: Because it acts on positive associations and immersion, experiential marketing has a high potential to convert leads into actual sales.
  • Campaign Support: Well-rounded campaigns do the best job of reaching current and future customers, and experiential marketing offers robust opportunities to use a campaign. Rather than traditional materials, the experiential nature of these campaigns allows for even more reach.

What Makes Experiences So Powerful?

In simple terms, the emotional connection with clients is what makes this type of marketing so powerful. While most people don’t think of buying items as an emotional experience, they want products that make them happy, and tapping into that desire can be critical. By forming positive memories and associations, the brand benefits in the long run in a much more ingrained way than traditional marketing has allowed.

The biggest benefit of experiential marketing often comes from the way it can influence word-of-mouth advertising. Recommendations and endorsements from other consumers are one of the best forms of marketing and the hardest to manufacture, and experiential marketing lends itself to this format. Whether it is simply sharing a story with someone or posting to social media, the immersion can feel relevant enough to be shared and allow your work to multiply at no cost.

Because experiential marketing often has digital elements, it is also adaptive and allows a marketer to make data-driven decisions. Someone engaged in a marketing experience is more likely to feel comfortable sharing personal data, letting you collect more information and feed it into future projects.

What Are The Benefits Of Experiential Engagement Marketing

Marketers may choose experiential marketing for a range of reasons, but there is a wealth of reasons it can be beneficial to a company’s overall strategy. Along with helping with traditional campaign goals like increasing reach and conversions, experiential marketing creates opportunities for long-term promotion and attention from media outlets that other forms of marketing may not generate. Experiential marketing is not only beneficial to the company itself but is generally more beneficial to consumers as well.

The ability to try a product before purchasing allows consumers to make an informed decision, but it also demonstrates confidence from each brand. Rather than asking for blind trust, these experiences arm customers with the information they need to choose your brand. When they do try your products, even if they don’t buy right away, it also provides the opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing as they share their experience. Even when your experiential marketing is not a testing opportunity, a positive association from the event will go a long way in terms of what they share with others.

From a tactical perspective, experiential marketing also allows you to create long-term campaigns and builds organic momentum. Many large-scale experiences will gain media attention and may have news segments or write-ups associated, which amounts to free marketing. Even without this, you can usually curate content and create follow-up events based on an initial campaign, making experiential marketing cost-effective over time.

Examples Of Creative Technology For Experiential Marketing

As technology advances, the opportunities for new forms of experiential marketing grow beyond more traditional methods. With many purchasing brand interactions online, it is more important than ever to use this technology as a way to leverage connections with your target market. Here are just some examples of creative technology used in experiential marketing:

  • Virtual Reality: While virtual reality is available as an in-home console, most people do not have this technology and find it novel to use. Offering virtual reality experiences are a great way to draw in the public and offer them something unique that they associate with your brand. Not to mention that the VR experience itself is a great way to inject your brand into an experience.
  • Augmented Reality: Rather than the full immersion of VR, augmented reality allows for the blending of the real world with a digital one. Apps and games are common ways to introduce augmented reality to bring your brand to consumers’ daily lives.
  • Live Streaming: The accessibility of social media and live streaming means that anyone can access your content at any time. A good strategy of promoting live streams, using advertising within them, and including audiences as much as possible can make live streaming extremely effective.
  • Beacon Technology: Using Bluetooth and GPS tracking, beacon technology allows brands to detect when a customer is in range of their location and push out coupons and promotions specific to their profile. Relying on this data allows you to draw customers in and present them with further immersive experiences.

Use of these technologies can be blended with more traditional experiential marketing tactics in order to draw in customers wherever they may be and extend your reach.

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Experiential Marketing Compared to Other Forms of Marketing

Experiential Marketing Vs Digital Marketing

While traditional marketing usually refers to any promotion that isn’t online, digital marketing happens exclusively online. Something unique about experiential marketing is that it can cross over between both the digital and the traditional worlds. Experiential marketing can happen online, but not all online marketing will qualify as digital marketing, and there are some key differences between the two.

Not only do experiential and digital marketing work differently, but the goals can also be different. While digital advertising will usually focus on driving clicks and engagement, experiential marketing will focus more on the long-lasting impact and connection with customers. While the ultimate goal may be conversions or sales, experiential marketing is not about these actions so much as the psychological connections made with clients.

Many people confuse experiential marketing with influencer marketing, while the latter is actually more of a digital marketing tactic. Experiential marketing needs to be based on long-term strategies to engage the audience, not one-time events with no larger context. Hiring a trusted experiential marketing company will help you avoid common mistakes and maximize your efforts.

How Experiential Marketing Is Different From Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing is also largely different from experiential marketing, even if the latter does not take place online. In modern-day marketing, the online experience is almost a necessary part of any marketing campaign, but some traditional methods are still used. In fact, the increasingly digital nature of the world means some people crave live and immersive experiences.

One reason experiential marketing is the preferred approach to offline marketing is the cognitive, psychological approach it takes with target audiences. Traditional marketing tends to focus on products and services by highlighting features and benefits rather than seeking to build an emotional connection and valuable experiences.

A natural consequence of more engagement-focused tactics improves the branding experience and creates better associations in customers’ minds with more long-lasting impacts and better overall brand appreciation.

How Experiential Marketing Is Different From Live Event Face-To-Face Marketing

One of the largest misconceptions about experiential marketing is that it is the same as a live, face-to-face event. It’s true that these events can be an important stage for experiential marketing, but experiential marketing can be implemented in many places outside of traditional venues such a trade shows.

Not only can experiential marketing be used at a live event like a conference, but it is also increasingly used to complement live events without the expense and commitment of an actual live event. Both deploying virtual reality and other technologies to enhance communication between people and engage others in a live environment, or to create the experience online through live streaming, are possible in today’s digital world.

One key difference between traditional events and experiential marketing is the goal of these methods. Events often focus on networking, demonstrating features, benefits, and presentations, while experiential marketing focuses on the key branding and psychological elements of marketing. Imagine a trade show where you go from booth-to-booth sampling products, as opposed to an event that allows you to engage with tools and experiences, and you will begin to see the difference. (Check out some of our work for inspiration!)

Trade Show Experiential Marketing

Value Of Experiential Marketing With Exhibits

When choosing your strategy for a tradeshow booth, it can be easy to wonder if experiential marketing is worth any additional work or cost. Since trade shows are already live, some assume they are naturally immersive, and the extra steps will be lost in the shuffle of the event. However, the opposite is true, and infusing your booth with experiences can make you stand out from the crowd and increase your returns on any trade show.

All of the usual benefits of experiential marketing apply in this setting, including increasing brand awareness and positive connections through meaningful interactions with customers. But because of the nature of a show, you will have more potential customers in one place than in other situations, allowing your experiences to go farther. Additionally, many large trade shows will gain attention from the media and influential people in your industry, who may be captivated by your offerings and post about them. The potential for social media traction and word-of-mouth is even higher at these events.

One reason many companies attend trade shows is the ability to gather insights and data about clients through lead capture systems or other mechanisms. Experiential activations are a huge benefit in this area, as they not only draw more people to your booth, but facilitate an easier exchange of information. Customers are more likely to share personal information with brands they trust, so providing them a positive experience can often give you access to data your competitors cannot replicate.

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How to Bring Experiential Marketing into Your Trade Show

Trade show exhibits can be an effective form of marketing, but they don’t qualify as experiential marketing on their own. Instead, you must think through how to take your floor space and FaceTime with consumers to the next level by infusing it with immersive experiences and connections in the short time you are there. There are endless options for how to make your booth an unforgettable experience for visitors, but here are some tips as you begin thinking through your game plan:

  • Start With Design: Experiential marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought to your exhibit. Instead, as soon as you begin designing your booth, think through how to involve interactive experiences. Think of the exhibit as telling a story and using emotion to do so, as well as questioning what outcomes you are hoping to see. With this, you can make a plan for an experience-focused environment.
  • Use Interactive Options: Whether you have samples and test drives set up or want to use an educational approach, it is important to include interaction as much as possible. Think outside of the box in this area – does virtual reality fit the product? Or is a creative contest a better way to drive engagement?
  • Promote Outside of the Event: In addition to driving people to the booth on the day of a trade show, experiential marketing calls for continued engagement. Use social media and other avenues to promote the event ahead of time and, importantly, follow up. Ask guests to use a show-specific hashtag when they post photos and do surveys to keep people engaged past the close of the show.

What Are Some Examples Of Experiential Marketing At A Trade Show?

Depending on your industry, the type of show you are at, and the goals of your experiential marketing, there is a huge range of ways you can incorporate the practice into your booth. Some popular ideas include:

  • Contests or Games: Everybody loves to leave a trade show with some swag, but rather than simply setting out items for people to grab, make the experience interactive. A prize wheel, contest, or other exciting game will draw people to your booth who hope to win, as well as to watch what unfolds. As an added bonus, a branded prize will keep the conversation going after the event.
  • Photo Booths: Always a hit at parties, a photo booth is a great way to bring some fun to the floor and encourage a positive experience. Those who leave will have a reminder of their fun interaction with your brand to take home – and if they post on social media, that’s added promotion for you!
  • Product Demos: If your product can be shown or used on the floor, bringing customers in for demos can be hugely impactful. The more you can make each demo hands-on and engaging, the more foot traffic you are likely to get.
  • Guest Speakers: Getting a slot to present at a conference is always a great idea and can draw in many participants. Finding someone outside of your organization who can speak to a wide audience, while bringing in your own value prop, can be an experience guests carry with them.

Experiential Engagement Marketing by Industry

Engagement Marketing For Clothing Brands

The fashion industry is often the trendsetter across many other industries, known for new ideas and disrupting the norm. This is true not just in clothes themselves, but also in the way they connect with consumers and create some of the strongest brand associations. Here are some examples of fashion brands using experiential marketing to improve their engagement:

  • Garnet Hill, a clothing brand, used influencer marketing in 2018 by sending a prominent blogger to an exclusive beach resort. During her trip, the blogger wore Garnet Hill clothing and documented the entire experience to her following. The content gained over one million views and created content that Garnet Hill could continue using after the trip ended.
  • To promote a holiday collection, fashion brand Primark partnered their Boston location with the Boston Ballet to put on a special performance of The Nutcracker that featured their clothing. They also invited prominent influencers to share behind-the-scenes content, creating social media buzz in addition to the local influx in sales.

Experiential Engagement Marketing For Restaurants

Restaurants, by nature, require an experience, whether it be the atmosphere and service or the food itself. But without a taste test, it can be difficult to simulate the dining experience. Some ways that restaurants have achieved this include:

  • Exclusivity: Scarcity is often a driver in people’s purchasing decisions, and restaurants are no different. Some establishments achieve this by offering local, temporary pop-ups that only a certain number of people will be able to get in to, while others use rotating menus to make certain meals limited. In addition to the sense of exclusivity and urgency, these experiences can also be great ways to generate social media content and buzz.
  • Think Beyond Food: The food quality is an important element of any restaurant’s success, but making the entire dining experience memorable can be a great way to stand out. Think of the simple hibachi restaurant – guests are eating, but they also are getting a show and participating in the cooking. Live performances, unique environments, classes, and exceptional service are all great ways to increase positive emotions and immersion.
  • Partner Locally: Many businesses are seeking a venue to conduct events in, whether it be an auction or a holiday celebration. By working together, you are able to share customer bases and associate your restaurant with a good time that guests have chosen to attend.

Experiential Marketing For Real Estate

In some ways, open houses are a very old form of experiential marketing (think – the smell of cookies baking in the oven). Rather than simply looking at photos of a home, potential buyers are able to gather and walk through the listing, have their questions answered, and envision a potential life there. But many real estate agents have been able to take this to the next level and create new versions of property marketing that transcend the traditional open house.

Luxury listings have been the foundation for much of this work, like a mansion in New York that hosted an open house in partnership with a local distillery. Rather than a traditional event, the open house was a large party, with rooms dedicated to art installments, lessons in local history, and mingling opportunities. Potential buyers were able to get a sense of how to incorporate the home into their social lives and multiple brands were able to gain engagement.

Other realtors have been successful on a smaller scale, hosting local dinner clubs in available homes to showcase their listings in addition to gaining support from local restaurants. Using listings as an overnight stay or for other events can be a great way to engage the local community in addition to potential buyers.

Experiential Marketing For Hotels

Hotels themselves can be an immersive experience, but experiential marketing goes beyond a stay itself. There are a few types of experiential engagement campaigns that hotels, from luxury to economy, use.

  • Influencer campaigns are very popular, in which an internet personality is given a free stay in exchange for posting their experiences and creating content. Their followers tend to trust them and their reviews, and may even feel as if they’ve stayed there themselves after a few posts.
  • Destination-focused campaigns are almost a pre-experience marketing opportunity. Rather than advertising based on price or the hotel amenities themselves, promotions that focus on the hotel’s location and what else you can do during a visit tend to get guests in a more immersive mindset and prepared to book a trip.
  • Partnerships can help a hotel drive media coverage when they host other events. A local cooking class, a large conference, or even a unique murder mystery party can be booked at a hotel, giving anyone who attends a positive association with the location and increase their chances of returning.

Engagement Marketing For Banks

Banks have often faced marketing challenges as they can be more of a necessity than anything and may even suffer from poor reputations. But in the modern world, banks focused on customer service and sleek interfaces have done well and been able to brand themselves effectively. Without a tangible product, banks have to think outside the box to make use of experiential marketing, and some campaigns have been very successful.

Education is a key component of effective experiential marketing for many banks. Offering classes, virtually and in-person, on personal finance, investing, and other topics is a great way to get the community engaged and discuss your products. If this can be paired with a more laid-back experience, like cocktails or a fun venue, it is more likely to draw in those who are generally intimidated by these topics and broker a trust in your bank.

Community investment is also a great way for banks to use experiential marketing while improving their brand perception. Local charities and volunteer networks can always use donations and sponsorship, and a bank’s name behind someone’s favorite cause may be enough to give them a positive association with the brand.

Engagement Marketing For Luxury Brands

Some of the highest name recognition and brand associations are bestowed upon luxury brands. Most people who will never purchase these items have a positive, sometimes reverent, view of their products. Despite this, it can be a challenge to bring new consumers into the luxury market while maintaining the exclusivity that customers enjoy.

Experiential marketing and technology can be combined to keep these brands connected to customers in a variety of ways. Some successful examples include:

  • Jeep inviting the public to “test drive” their new high-end vehicles using virtual reality technology.
  • LOUIS XIII Cognac tapping into relevant topics and releasing a song about the need to combat climate change.
  • Estee Lauder creating pop-up makeup cafes, themed to match their new lines and products, with limited guest lists.
  • Samsung collaborating with NASA to create virtual reality experiences that mimic visiting space.

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What Type of Retailers Can Use Experiential Marketing?

One of the great things about experiential marketing is that any brand or company can use it to some degree, including most retailers. Many retailers have an advantage already because of their large public spaces that can be used for immersive experiences while relying on natural foot traffic, rather than needing to drive the public to a location. Once there, customers can engage with a variety of experiential marketing tactics and promotions.

With people in-store, it is easy to create an emotional connection between a customer and your brand as they interact with representatives and products. Live feedback and access to samples and experiences make this more effective than online options and drive greater associations with a brand overall.

Almost any retailer can benefit from experiential marketing in this sense. Whether it is a grocery store offering samples or cooking classes using branded products, a clothing store setting up a fashion show, or a pet store using an adoption drive to bring in consumers, there are endless options available for retailers. Even something as simple as a prize wheel that customers can spin upon entering the store is enough to create a great experience using retail space.

What Brands Use Engagement Marketing?

Experiential marketing is not experimental, and some of the world’s biggest and most successful brands already rely on these tactics to maintain their position. Below are just some of the recent examples of experiential marketing and its successes.

  • During the height of quarantine, Taco Bell launched its Taco Gifter, which allowed you to “gift” a taco to a loved one through their app, keeping you connected.
  • Lexus built a car complete with a full turntable in the dashboard, rather than the typical Bluetooth for phone connections, as a promotion for monthly music subscriptions.
  • Whole Foods and Headspace collaborated on a “Food for Mood” campaign to educate consumers on how their cooking and eating habits can impact mental health.
  • Oreo built a vault in Scandinavia modeled after a seed vault designed to prevent food disasters, so that future generations will always be able to access the cookie.
  • Dole created “malnutrition labels” on their food to bring awareness to food insecurity across the globe.

Why Experiential Engagement Marketing Is the Future of Advertising

Advertising is always shifting, as evidenced by past decades, as digital media has become the most prevalent element of campaigns. With newspapers and billboards less relevant than ever, most consumers are instead seeing online pop-ups and sponsored content on a daily basis. But unfortunately, as these methods become commonplace, people learn to tune them out. In order to stay effective, campaigns need to be nimble, unique, and embrace new technologies.

Advances like virtual reality allow more connection than ever, even without any interaction in the real world. Advertising may even be contained within the metaverse in the near future. As these shifts occur and we begin to understand what the future may look like, experiential marketing allows for strong engagement and brand presence to persevere. With so many options for execution and a natural synergy with technology, experiential marketing is the clear choice as brands look to modernize their marketing.

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Trends in Experiential Engagement Marketing

Like any form of marketing, experiential marketing shifts and grows over time. The COVID-19 pandemic and other global trends have had an impact on how the technique can be used most effectively, and general consumer attitudes will always be evolving. However, it remains true that a well-executed experiential strategy is a good choice for marketers. To stay abreast of the landscape, here are three trends that should be considered when making your plans for 2022 and beyond.

  • Virtual reality remains popular and is usually not something a consumer has in their home, making it appealing. With so much less travel in recent years, things like vacations and live music events are in high demand for this technology, as well as escapist options like being “inside” a movie.
  • In-person events are still highly sought after by both businesses and consumers. When possible, these provide a great base for experiential marketing as well as some more traditional tactics to be married together.
  • With social media an important component of marketing, art installations have become extremely popular as an immersive experience and can provide great word-of-mouth opportunities after the fact. Installations allow for creativity, community engagement, and content creation – all critical for an experiential campaign.

Use Experiential Marketing At Your Next Event

Experiential marketing is one of the best tools in a brand’s arsenal to engage your audience. In a world of digital advertising and social media, face-to-face marketing gives your company an edge. It allows you to truly bring your customers into your world in a fresh, exciting way.

At Exhibitus, we manage trade show programs and live events for many big companies. We’ve had the honor of building custom displays, creating unique strategies, and bringing fresh ideas to the table for our clients. If you’re in need of live-marketing help, or want to bring your brand to live at a company event, give us a call today. We’ll help you create the perfect brand experience for your customers.