10 key principles for experiential marketing the right way

We’ve been leading the field in experiential marketing for twenty years. Not that we want to blow our own trumpet, but in that time we’ve learned a thing or ten about what makes experiential marketing work.

We’re constantly evolving and innovating the ways brands interact with their audience, online and off – yet the core principles and processes are surprisingly consistent.

1. Strategy first

Experiential marketing makes a splash, but without a coherent strategy, that splash might as well be a stagnant puddle. Establish why you’re doing what you do in the first place. What do you want to achieve? How will the experience you’re offering address your bottom line?

Current marketing theory suggests strategic planning and thought is even more important in the ‘Era V’ of marketing – a period in which every aspect of a company’s operations is now part of the marketing machine. Marketing is holistic, looking inwards to ensure that everyone in the company is fully aware of its goals and how they’ll be attained. Experiential or in-store can’t afford to be afterthoughts, they’re as crucial as every other cog in the marketing machine.

2. Customer (also) first

You might like the experience you have in mind – but does your customer?

A firm grasp of the end user – the retailers and consumers – is essential. Focus on the user experience: how it feels to interact with your brand. Users expect their experiences to be integrated and intelligent. They expect connections: relevant, personal interactions with the brand, and seamless cross-channel functioning between their experiences on different devices and in different locations.

Your strategic goal might be sales, but your tactical goal is giving your customers something to remember you by – and making sure it’s positive.

3. Your people are your product

Your product, the tech or the pitch are all undoubtedly important, but what matters most is your people. They are the face of your brand for the day. They form the personal connections that make marketing work, and they can compromise everything else if they’re not on-message. Everything they say and do needs to communicate your brand values.

Your people

What does this all mean? Train your people. Make your expectations for the event – targets, behaviours, messaging – crystal clear, and ensure the staff know exactly what actions they have the authority to take. Clear, concrete briefings build the confidence that makes for effective encounters.

4. Ideas over technology

Tech is a tool, nothing more. VR, AR, AI, apps and games – they can all be engaging, but not without a creative concept or idea. Don’t use these tools for the sake of being on-trend, without a clear link between the experience, the content and your brand offering.

Wow them with ideas, not with gadgets.

5. Engagement is everything

Is your marketing passive or active? Experiential marketing has to be active. You’re not just giving out product or information for the customer to receive. You’re inviting the consumer into your branded world for a part of their day. Is that world a delight? Would they revisit? Is there something for them to do there?

When you want to tell customers something, make them discover it. There’s a balance to strike between making it too hard to discover basic facts about a product, and leading customers to engage in more depth, but the basic principle is “don’t tell them about your product – make them ask.”

6. Aftercare isn’t an afterthought

Field marketing and experiential campaigns lead to an uplift in immediate sales results. Our in-store sampling campaign with Ferrero saw an average sales uplift of 186% after two weeks. In some locations, this figure was closer to 500%.

Short-term success is fantastic, of course. But experiential marketing offers the opportunity to create something longer-lasting. ROI isn’t simply what happens on the day. Experiences can stay with people, building brand equity in the long term. A brand needs to consider what they can do to continue the relationship with the consumer after they’ve moved on to the rest of their day.

7. Smiles are currency

Do you delight? Does the visitor come away from the experience beaming? They need to. Smiles are a powerful trigger: the physical movement of the face triggers a psychological reaction, and the customer feels happier, lighter, and more engaged with the day.

If a customer associates those feelings with your brand, you’re on to a winner. While there’s a known link between sadness and spending – the ‘misery is not miserly’ effect – there’s another, less documented link between relaxation and spending. Relaxed people spend more. What you’re looking for isn’t forced happiness, but a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere.

8. Little things are huge

Every interaction is a touchpoint between your brand and the consumer, and the little touches are the things that delight. These can be something as simple as the tone of your brand or staff, or a follow-up – something that makes transient visitors feel like more than just customers. Show them how much you value their engagement (not just their money), and you’ll see more of both.

There is a direct correlation between product performance, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, powerful enough to reverse trends across whole industries. In banking, for instance, quality customer service and long-term relationships are enough to counter a general feeling that banks are not to be trusted. The little things are enough to make your business stand out.

9. Think about impact first: the reach will follow.

Word of mouth referrals are the best form of advertising. 84% of consumers trust recommendations from influencers, friends, family members and peer networks – so make something that people want to recommend.

Make an experience people want to talk up – something people want to share around. Think about Kickstarter, a platform which bears out this approach to business. If a project doesn’t stimulate sharing, it’ll languish in obscurity – no matter how good it is, it won’t attract attention from potential backers.

10. Consistency is key

The bottom line: all marketing needs to be consistent and coherent and that includes experiential. Your experiences need to look and feel like they belong with everything else. Your above the line advertising, direct marketing and customer experience all need to say the same things, with the same language, and evidence the same values. A brand that can’t get its messaging together won’t be trusted.

Experiential marketing is a unique opportunity for brands to connect with the public, and leave the right kind of memories with every visitor and customer. Join up the strategy, think about how it feels to interact with your business, and strive to keep a smile on your customers’ faces.