When the term "experiential" marketing was mentioned in the past, one’s first thought was typically the now dirty word, "guerrilla" marketing—brand ambassadors passing out product samples or a car parked out in front of an event space. However, with the rise of social, local, and mobile (SoLoMo) technology, both the ad industry and consumers’ perception of experiential marketing has shifted, as more and more brands are recognizing the need to combine digital technology and personal experiences to effectively connect with consumers. Brands now are recognizing that actual physical and emotional experiences, versus just brand swag, help link the offline and online world and build loyalty and trust in consumers—something that really didn’t happen before the influx of digital.
Experiential marketing can thank digital for this shift for various reasons.
Social, local, and mobile integrations have allowed consumers the ability to take control of their own experiences with brands and be given opportunities to share their experiences within their own social channels. Check-ins, hashtags, likes, and more have become the de facto standard for many brand experiences and retail doors.
Building on how retail has played a role in this, many brands have started to drive awareness, buzz, and even promotion and CRM into consumers’ lives through the smart integration of digital, mobile, and social technology into their brick-and-mortar businesses. For Kate Spade’s new weekend-wear line, Kate Spade Saturday, the company created four interactive storefronts in New York, all digitally powered and including one large touch screen and zero products. Using the touch screen, consumers are able to browse and purchase products from Kate Spade’s new line—a new version of the in-store retail experience.
Brand experiences are also different now than in the past because digital allows consumers to interact with the experience in different ways. Gone are the days of the museumlike brand space where consumers are invited into a stagnant atmosphere and don’t actually engage with the brand at all, apart from a few free product samples.
Experiential marketing used to struggle in convincing consumers to bring their mobile or digital lives into the experience. People wanted to avoid a bombardment of spam emails from the brand, so they declined to share their email addresses or Twitter handles. Now, brands are becoming smarter in how they are reaching their target consumers and brand spamming has become less frequent.
This change in brand behavior led to consumers to come around to the idea of sharing information about their social channels during these experiences. People are now less concerned about brands violating privacy laws because they are engaging with brands they trust, thus the experiences have been given license to become richer and more dynamic.
Brands that create experiences allowing consumers to interact digitally and socially with both themselves and others will succeed in the long term. The Nike FuelBand is a great example of this action—the product allows users to set their own goals and track their progress alone, but at the same time, it gives them the opportunity to share their updates and successes and even compete and collaborate with friends in a social space.
We will begin to see more of these one-to-one and one-to-many experiences, as they provide brands the ability to connect with consumers in a completely new way that eschews traditional marketing.
Smart brands are increasingly willing and wishing to play a part in culture that is more genuine and of-the-moment than broadcasting a message simply meant to drive purchase consideration. Well-crafted experiential marketing that is mindful of natural social, mobile, and digital behaviors allows brands to take a seat at tables and therefore play a role in conversations in contexts where they might never otherwise have been considered, let alone invited . . . or even appreciated.
Overall, when brands try to build relationships with consumers, a simple plan is still the best plan. Experiential marketers must first put themselves in the eyes of the consumer in order to understand the interaction process and the emotions they are trying to evoke from the consumer. Fortunately, technology can’t do the job on its own, nor will our innovative spirit alone propel experiential activations to succeed. Creative ideas and emotional context remain critical for creating powerful and memorable brand experiences.
Michael Ventura is founder and CEO of Sub Rosa.