Experiential marketing has been dominated by large brands, but it shouldn’t be. 

Whilst brand experiences can be used as part of huge ad campaigns, they are also very effective when deployed on a smaller scale. A well-planned experiential campaign need not be expensive, and can be a highly effective way for smaller brands to make a real impact. 

As the The Huffington Post pointed out in a recent article, Experiential Marketing will Rule 2017, and the brands that stand the most to gain from this transformation are startups and disruptive new companies. In the first few years of existence, it is critical that new brands build a personal, emotional relationship with their customers, and experiences are undoubtedly the best way to do that.

Planning an experiential campaign for the first time can be a daunting prospect. In this guide, we’ll take you through how to and when to use experiences, though of course you can always give us a call if you feel you need further expert advice.


When and Where To Use Experiential Marketing

The first step to take when designing an experiential campaign – and, in fact, any kind of campaign – is to identify the objectives you want to achieve, and the audience you want to reach. As Adam Azor, Senior Vice President of Jack Morton Worldwide says, you should use the limited strategy time you have available in “understanding the most important competent of any experiential campaign, the audience.”

Identifying a target audience is, perhaps, the most important factor in determining whether an experiential campaign is the right approach to take. This type of campaign can be effective in reaching almost any demographic, but is particularly powerful when it comes to engaging with younger people. The reasons for that are pretty clear: people under 35 largely ignore ads. Having been bombarded with traditional advertising their entire lives, millennials have got extremely good at filtering them out. 

On the other hand, younger audiences enjoy experiences more than their older counterparts, and so in trying to reach these target groups it makes sense to give them what they want. Multiple surveys have shown that the millennial generation enjoys experiences, with fully 72% saying that they prefer paying for an experience than buying a material item. 

Brand experiences are so effective with younger audiences for a few key reasons. The first is that events can quickly build an emotional relationship between your brand and your audience. Millennials love being given the opportunity to “peer behind the curtains” of their favorite brands, and will respond with increased brand loyalty. Experiences like this also give customers a chance to contribute to the development of your company: a good example of this is the 2013 show that folk musician Laura Marling produced in collaboration with Secret Cinema, where audience members inhabited her album, brought to life in a mashup of set, soundscape, movement, and performance, and eventually took part in a ‘grand ball’ which gave them a real sense of ownership over the album.

The second major reason why experiential marketing is effective when trying to reach younger audiences is that this kind of marketing produces social media content like no other. According to Splash, 81% of people under 35 admitted to sharing pictures on social media at a branded event. If you can encourage your audience to share their experiences, you are well on the way to creating a viral sensation.

Planning Your Event

When it comes to the practical process of planning an experiential campaign, there are a few key principles to keep in mind. Whilst every event will be – and should be – different, successful experiential campaigns are built on the consideration of these factors:

  • First, think carefully about the scale of your event. If this is your first campaign of this type, make sure you don’t get over-ambitious. Events stick in customers’ minds a long time, and in fact that is why great events are such a powerful tool, but if you get it wrong your customers will remember this for years.
  • Next, you need to spend some time thinking about the goals you want to achieve with your campaign. Objectives such as “creating a buzz” or “building a relationship” are great, but should be secondary to the concrete aims of your campaign, such as securing leads or increasing sales. As Sally Durcan, Managing Director of Hotcow, puts it: “when planning your campaign, work backwards based on what your most important goal is. For example if it is ‘product trial’ – ask yourself when everyone has trialled the product, what’s next?”
  • From here, you should do your research. Experiential campaigns are now everywhere, and a quick look at what your competitors are doing in this space can generate plenty of ideas for your own campaign. Jason Megson, Managing Director and Vice President at George P. Johnson, suggests the same : “if it is your brand’s first foray into the broadly defined world of experiential, then I’d advise you do your research. Start with competitor brands’ recent and most successful work.”
  • The best experiential campaigns make use of all five senses, and leverage technology to do that. If you are inviting guests to engage with your brand, you should use every sensory means you have available to make the experience as immersive as possible, because that will make it more memorable. As Joss Davidge, Director of the Unexpected for BEcause Experiential, says “technology provides an incredible opportunity for consumers to immerse themselves in products and brands in fresh, unique and engaging ways.” Here at MCI, we’ve written a lot about how to use technology in your events, so check out our guides to VR and AR, for instance, to see if these technologies can help you in your experience design.
  • Next up, think about the location of your experiential campaign installations. Your choice of location, like everything else about your event, should flow from the target audience you are trying to reach. If you want to generate a mixed, large, audience, go for a public space with plenty of foot traffic (just make sure you have the permits in place to do this). On the other hand, targeting audiences with particular tastes can be done with smaller experiences in carefully selected, more private spaces – such as at music festivals.
  • Make sure your event is interactive. Interaction is the key to successful experiential campaigns, because when customers are an active participant in an event they are likely to remember it for much longer. This interaction can even take the form of a competition. Coca Cola, for instance, gave away free tickets to the James Bond movie Skyfall to participants who successfully raced through a train station, navigating obstacles and taking on the role of a Double O agent.
  • As part of the interaction your customers have in the campaign, you should make it shareable. Participants sharing their experience with friends can greatly increase the reach of your campaign, so make sure that it is social media friendly at the very least. Or you can go further: in 2013, Milka sold 10 million chocolate bars that were missing a piece. Inside it asked the buyer if they wanted the missing piece to be sent to them or to a friend. This kind of ‘real-life’ sharing can be a very effective way of increasing the visibility and buy-in of your campaign.
  • A great way of making sure your event is shared is to ask your participants to keep a secret. Ask them not to share their experience with anyone, and you can be assured that they will!
  • Last but definitely not least, measure the success of your event. You should build in measures of success into the design of your event from the earliest stages, in order that you can justify the resources you have spent on it. If you are not sure how to measure this, take a look at our guide to measuring the success of experiences for some tips on how to do that.

Get Some Help

Planning your first experiential campaign is a difficult, but rewarding, process. The sheer number of factors you need to consider, as well as the challenge of planning and managing real-life interactions with real-life people, can be a stretch for even the most talented ad creative.

So if you need help, don’t be embarrassed: give us a call. We can help with all aspects of experiential design, from the earliest stages right through to the practicalities of staging your event. As Tomasz Dyl, Managing Director of GottaBe!, puts it, “when picking an agency it is important that they are passionate and love what they do. Make sure they are enthusiastic about their clients and go that extra mile to reach success.” 

And that’s exactly what MCI offers.