Introduction to Experiential Marketing
Conventional media channels are saturated with advertising that we go out of our way to ignore. We skip past adverts on the TV, we block or are blind to banners on websites and we switch off to posters, billboards and the barrage of messages that bombard our everyday lives.
For the online marketer looking to promote a commercial website, this immunity to sales messages can make it difficult to get people to link to or share our content. There is almost a repulsion of any message which has an underlying sales agenda.
That’s why experiential marketing should interest you. It is a relatively new approach to marketing that seeks to immerse consumers in your brand, allowing them to feel and experience it, rather than simply be exposed to it.
Experiential marketing is about creating a memorable and emotional connection between your target consumer and your brand, with a view to fostering loyalty and influencing their purchasing decisions. This is done through experiences which are often tangible and will involve a small targeted group – such as hosting a special event or providing a free sample of your product. However, although the initial campaign may be small-scale, the end result often provides wider exposure if the campaign goes viral or the consumer becomes a brand advocate.
Amazing experiential marketing campaigns
There are hundreds of great successful experiential marketing campaigns but three stand out as being truly exceptional examples: Red Bull’s Stratos Jump, Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign and Milka’s Last Square promotion:
Red Bull: Red Bull does a huge amount of experiential marketing and one of their greatest campaigns took place in 2012, where Felix Baumgartner took part in the highest recorded parachute jump and broke a 52 year old record in the process. The event was covered live around the world, giving Red Bull some incredible brand exposure. So how did this huge PR stunt touch the emotions of consumers in a way that made them engage with the brand? The heroic jump captured the public’s imagination as a ‘death defying act’ that (quite literally) pushed all boundaries. The jump created an instant association between Red Bull and adrenalin-pumped activities –an association that Red Bull has been working very hard to nuture (see its Air Race http://www.redbullairrace.com/en_GB, F1 team http://www.infiniti-redbullracing.com/en_GB and extreme sports events http://www.redbull.com/cs/Satellite/en_INT/Sports/001242745950183 for more examples).
The campaign spoke to anyone who has ever dreamt that they might do something extraordinary. It brought people together through its ideals of sportsmanship and heroicism.
Red Bull’s campaign was not only pure genius from a PR perspective, but it was also link building gold. There was an insane amount of video footage capturing the event with hundreds of high-quality video clips and images ripe for sharing. These were posted on its social media pages where a captivated audience engaged heavily with the brand through excited discussion of the event.
What makes Red Bull’s campaign experiential and not a mere PR stunt? The key is lies in feelings and interaction. The event inspired, excited and enthralled millions, and resulted in discussion and sharing centred around news, photos and pictures from the event. The huge amount of content generated was a link and share magnet for Red Bull whose website includes hundreds of features on action-packed Red Bull sponsored activities with breath taking high resolution pictures that are easy to post on various social media sites. Through this and its other campaigns, Red Bull has successfully positioned its product as a drink that is enjoyed by thrill seeking adventurous people.
Coca Cola: Through the summers of 2013 and 2014, Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign saw personalised bottles featuring the ‘Share a coke’ logo hit stores throughout the UK. The campaign started with just 150 popular names and then went ‘on the road’, hitting 65 locations across the UK, and giving those with more unusual names the chance to get their hands on their own personalised bottle. The campaign was further extended online where the company’s e-commerce store allowed personalisation of a glass bottle.
By the end of the campaign, Coca Cola had printed more than a thousand different names on their bottles and sold more than 150 million promotional drinks across the globe. The site also allowed personalisation of ‘virtual name bottles’ which could be shared online across Europe.
Why was this campaign a success? The campaign embodied the essence of experiential marketing – consumers actively involved in the co-creation of a company’s campaign and experiencing one of the brand’s core values, sharing. Coca Cola’s Senior Brand Activation Manager Chris Ross explains: “Share a Coke is about taking our global brand and making it personal to our consumers, giving them the chance to Share a personalised Coke with friends or loved ones and creating special moments of happiness, and memories”.
The public loved searching for and buying bottles for themselves, their friends and their family. They also loved sharing pictures of their bottles across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. A staggering 235,000 tweets were sent from 111,000 consumers using the #ShareaCoke hashtag.
Coca Cola had plenty of ways to keep the campaign alive, too. They used the campaign to congratulate Wills and Kate on the birth of baby George (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152547558963306&set=a.99394368305.88399.40796308305&type=1), introduced Bobby the Dog to their campaign TV adverts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKXNjHJNxnQ) and launched a poll on their Facebook page to find the top 50 most popular names to appear on their posters. A chap called Donnie McGilvray even bought six bottles to spell out the words ”Beautiful Eloise Will You Marry Me”, which he left in the fridge – a story that went viral, attracting over one million likes on Facebook. This made the campaign feel even more authentic and personal to consumers.
Milka: Our final choice of great example campaigns is Milka’s Last Square promotion. This is a particularly interesting choice in that there was no accompanying roadshow or event, and so it demonstrates how a company could make experiential marketing work for them remotely. Milka’s brand message was ‘dare to be tender’ and the Last Square campaign was thought up to help people experience this message, rather than it just being communicated to them.
The company manufactured 13 million bars of chocolate which they released across France and Germany, each with a missing piece. When buyers tried to find out what had happened, they were told that their piece had been set aside for them to mail back to themselves or to send with a personalised message to a friend or loved one. They simply had to log into the campaign website, enter their code and create their personalised mailing.
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The beauty of this campaign was that it not only created an emotional connection with Milka’s existing customers, but it extended this connection to whoever they decided to send their missing piece of chocolate too.
Of course, Milka’s campaign was no easy feat. It required a complete change to the manufacturing process to be able to create the chocolate minus the ‘missing piece’, which would certainly have cost a fair amount of money. For a novel example of a company that managed to change a product without actually changing anything, have a look at the ‘Diamond Shreddies’ campaign (https://vimeo.com/6033227).
Benefits of experiential marketing
The above case studies show the power of experiential marketing at its very best. By creating an emotional attachment with your customers, a successful experiential marketing campaign can help achieve all of the following:
- Retain existing customers and recapture lost customers.
- Build and increase customer loyalty.
- Increase brand awareness, brand recall and purchase intent.
- Enhance customers’ perception of the brand.
- Drive purchases now and in the future.
- Turn customers into brand advocates and increase word-of-mouth sales.
For online marketers, it should be obvious now that experiential marketing has huge potential to drive links and shares like no other marketing method. It helps to overcome that distrust and unwillingness to engage with a commercial enterprise and replaces it with a relationship that customers are proud to be a part of.
How to succeed with experiential marketing
For your experiential marketing campaign to be a success, there are a number of key steps you must take:
First, you need to decide which segment of your customer base you will target. Your customers will have different emotional attitudes which depend on a variety of factors such as their age, gender, socioeconomic status, culture and beliefs. Tailoring your campaign to a particular segment gives it a greater chance of success.
Look at the case studies above – who do you think they target? In our example campaigns, the demographics for each were fairly wide. Coca Cola targeted children, young adults, and adults. Red Bull targets anyone interested in improving performance and boosting endurance – athletes, workaholics, clubbers, adrenalin junkies and perhaps also those who want to be in those groups, even though they are not. Milka’s campaign is interesting in that it primarily targets anyone who loves chocolate but since we tend to have friends with similar backgrounds and preferences, the recipients of the free chocolate samples are also likely to be within its target market. This is a far more cost effective strategy than distributing free samples of its chocolate to random customers.
Once you have a clear target market, you need to choose an appropriate location and venue. This might be a shopping centre, supermarket, festival, airport, train station or somewhere else that your primary target market frequents. Bear in mind that although many examples of experimental marketing campaigns include an offline event but this does not always have to be the case. The Coca Cola ‘Share a Coke’ campaign would likely have worked extremely well without the roadshow.
The next step is to design a fun and memorable experience. This is the essence of experimental marketing campaigns – they create memories and feelings that help customers connect with your brand. The best way to generate ideas is to look at what other companies have done – although don’t try and be a ‘me too’ as this will rarely spark interest and may even attract negativity. Try to think outside the box and come up with something original and quirky that is likely to get people talking.
A key part of experiential marketing is to have a story. Where did the idea come from? What are you trying to achieve? In Coca Cola’s case, the story was sharing special moments with friends and family. In Milka’s case, the story was ‘daring to be tender’. The story should be about your customers, their lives and their feelings, and it should appeal to as many of their senses as possible – sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch, as this is what makes memories. So, for example, ‘We make the best energy drink in the World’ is not a story. ‘Ever dreamed you could fly?’ is.
Once you have your idea, you need to be clear on the aim of your promotion. Although experiential marketing is about creating an emotional connection, it can also drive sales or attract links and shares, all of which are realistic end goals. Choosing the right platforms for your campaign will be the key to success here.
Consumers are unlikely to build links themselves – these will tend to come from bloggers and the Press. Another valuable source of links is marketing websites – you’ll see that there is a lot of interest in experiential marketing campaigns as a relatively new way to reach out to customers, and creating an overview of your campaign strategy can attract valuable links from these sources (use a link tool like Majestic to check out the backlink profile of Coca Cola’s Share a Coke campaign page as an example: http://www.coca-cola.co.uk/share-a-coke/share-a-coke.html). This will require some outreach on your part to get people interested in what you are doing.
Finally, you need to make sharing easy to ensure that you squeeze every last drop of value out of your campaign. Red Bull released a tonne of beautiful pictures, articles and video footage that made sharing a no-brainer. Make sure your campaign is visible on your website and across all of your social media channels. Look for ways to keep your customer engaged in the longer term – for example, by liking, sharing or commenting on your campaign updates, offering their email address to enter a competition or creating a Pinterest board around your event. Think about how your target customer can expand the reach and impact of your campaign such as by creating pics with friends or sending something to another person.