We see so much through our smartphones, talk to people in far-flung places, make new friends we’d never get to meet in real life, and read fascinating articles and learn facts through a wealth of information available online.

Our screen-life is rich with interaction and visual appeal, so much so that it’s changed how we do business.

Since online shopping overtook brick-and-mortar stores back in 2013, we’ve all concentrated on expanding our online presence, our business social media strategy, and our website click-through rates and SEO optimization.

But what if we’re writing off the real-time shopping experience too quickly?

What is experiential marketing?

It’s all in the name.

Experiential means engaging customers in an interactive experience with a brand.

But it’s also so much more than standing to the side of a display of your products with a brochure and hoping people will take one as they walk by.

These days, not even a cart or tray with food samples gets as much engagement from customers as it once did. But what is it, really?

Experiential marketing is in-person, tangible participation with some aspect of a brand’s marketing or company philosophy.

The primary purpose is for consumers to experience the brand in a hands-on, offline, real-life, but-you-talk-about-it-online kind of way.

Still not super clear? Okay, here are some examples.

Zappos and Google Teamed Up

When Google wanted participants for their launch of Google Photos, they drove around Austin, Texas in a cupcake truck. Instead of having people pay for cupcakes with cash, the only accepted currency was a photo using the Google Photos app. Online, they called it #PayWithaPhoto.

Well, Zappos wanted in on this action, and while everybody loves cupcakes, it’s a pretty small reward, right? Zappos decided to have people #PayWithaCupcake to get Zappos items like watches and totes and even shoes.

Zappos didn’t detract from Google in the least because they weren’t competing over the photo.

People had to take the photo first to get the cupcake, which they could then use to “pay” for whatever merchandise the Zappos box (a big, low-tech vending machine with a person inside it to pass items through designated slots) would give them.

Word spread, and soon, people were lining up to take their photo for the cupcake to pay for the watches or shoes or other merchandise. Consumers walked away with an experience to talk about, beyond just a watch or a cupcake or a new tote bag.

Both brands got more exposure than they necessarily would have on their own, and the co-branding experience sticks in people’s minds. It won’t be hard for those people to remember the fun they had taking a photo for a cupcake to pay for a pair of shoes.

Bring the power.

It doesn’t have to be an experience involving your company giving away free products.

Lean Cuisine set up a wall in Grand Central Station in New York on which they hung scales (the kind women everywhere love to hate). These scales bore answers women gave to the question, “How would you like to be weighed?” The answers were things like “55 and back in college,” and “I saved my brother’s life.” “Single parent of 2 teenagers.” See for yourself.

The power isn’t in Lean Cuisine meals. The power was in the reminder that we all weigh ourselves by much more important factors than the number on the scale.

Lean Cuisine wanted to remind people of that. While their branding was all over the #WeighThis campaign, they wanted to be part of a bigger conversation, to amplify the accomplishments that mean so much more than how we look. And it’s a powerful message, one people who experienced it will remember, because it touched them in a deeper, more meaningful way. Maybe the message isn’t entirely tied in with a product (or in this case, seems to contradict the purpose of Lean Cuisine products), but maybe the message has more impact than that.

It’s in the numbers.

According to a 2016 EventTrack report, 70% of respondents became regular customers after experiencing a band’s experiential marketing event, and nearly all of them posted about the event online. It doesn’t have to be a flash in the pan event, either.

Media and lifestyle brand FlavorPill introduced Quiet Mornings, wherein they run guided meditation sessions in iconic museums like MOMA in New York and MOCA in L.A. before those locations are open for business.

FlavorPill’s Quiet Morning Experience

The opportunity to connect with art, with your inner quiet mind, and with other like-minded individuals makes for a powerful connection that leaves people feeling refreshed like never before. The chance for city-folk to begin a busy day with a bit of quiet connection is not lost on those who have hectic lifestyles, and FlavorPill reminds people to take a minute, take a breath, and take in our surroundings so we don’t miss the beauty of it all and lose connection with ourselves and the world around us. And because it’s a series of events and not just one, participants get a chance to feel that power over and over again, or those who missed it can participate in the next one.

The takeaway here is there are many opportunities to give your target audience a bit of that “Disney magic” where “Disney” = “Your Company Name” and the magic is all yours to deliver.

The immersive, personal experience can reach people in a way an online experience cannot.

It is the best of both worlds, increasing foot traffic to your physical location and giving your customers something to talk about online when they just have to tell their friends on social media about this amazing experience they just had.


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