Experiential Marketing Industry Report

What is experiential marketing and
why are brands turning to it?

In a saturated media landscape, brands are in search of new differentiators to set themselves apart. While conventional methods of reaching consumers can leave an audience feeling “talked to,” experiential marketing confronts this challenge head-on by elevating experiences as the crucial new avenue for nurturing the consumer-brand relationship.

Also called “engagement marketing” or “live marketing,” experiential marketing necessarily involves the active participation of the target audience. Employed as a key component of an integrated campaign or PR strategy, immersive experiences build stronger connections, help develop brand affinity and deliver measurable return on investment.

91%

of consumers have more positive feelings about brands after attending events and experiences.

Positive sentiment in experiential marketing

Brad Rencher, Former EVP and GM of Digital Experience, Adobe

What draws audiences to experiential marketing?

Festivals, pop-ups, activations, product sampling, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are all tools that brands are using to center experience in their marketing strategies, creating deep connections by directly involving their audience in their story. Combining emotional and sensory marketing, personalization, and authenticity creates immersive, all-encompassing brand experiences that do more than break through the noise and clutter. Experiential marketing doesn’t just force consumers to pay attention – it makes them want to.

Relying exclusively on digital and traditional marketing channels to capture and hold an audience’s attention is harder than it used to be due to the accelerated pace of media cycles and mass quantities of content of varying credibility being circulated online. Patterns in public media consumption reveal “shorter bursts of collective attention given to each cultural item” and “a more rapid exhaustion of limited attention resources.” Consumers worldwide increasingly lack confidence in the information they see online, and are so averse to advertising that they turn to ad blockers and subscription services to avoid it. Together these factors mean it is becoming progressively more difficult for marketers to make a lasting impression in digital and traditional marketing spaces alone.

Augmented reality for retail

Brands can overcome such obstacles and rise above the deluge by leaning into a cultural moment defined by consumers valuing experiences over physical objects and products. The “experiences, not things” mentality has been steadily gaining momentum, cementing the notion that the most effective way to connect with an audience is through experience-driven means.

Augmented reality

The four pillars of
immersive brand experiences

Immersive brand experiences reach consumers through
four key areas* of potential engagement:
01
Emotional marketing
02
Personalization
03
Sensory marketing
04
Authenticity

*Interestingly, during our fact checking we found another report that also makes a connection between these four characteristics.

01
Emotional marketing

Emotional marketing is grounded in the idea that appealing to consumers’ emotions is a more effective tactic than promoting the logical benefits of the product in question. Customers who feel an emotional connection to a brand have a 306 percent higher lifetime value.

45%

of customers who are merely satisfied with the brand say they would give a recommendation

71%

of customers who feel an emotional connection to the brand say they would give a recommendation

02
Personalization

Personalization in marketing meets consumers’ growing demand for individualized recognition. Customers have come to expect tailored marketing communications that cater to their specific needs and preferences.

63%

expect personalization as
a standard of service

03
Sensory marketing

Sensory marketing engages consumers on a fundamental, physiological level. It’s about more than sight and sound.

75%

prefer to feel a product
before buying it

90%

are more likely to revisit a store that leverages music, visuals and scent

04
Authenticity

Authenticity is touted as the new benchmark in branding, although it can be tricky to define exactly what makes a brand or a company resonate as “authentic.” Factors like transparency, competence, trust and social responsibility all contribute to this intangible quality.

86%

of consumers say brand
authenticity plays a major role
in purchase decisions

Common missteps
Playing it safe

Brands need to be brave. Because experiences can be multidimensional, the brands can be pushed into areas they may have never had to consider.”

Conor Brady, Chief Creative Officer, Critical Mass

What makes a successful
experiential campaign?

Fifty-one percent of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences. This means there is enormous opportunity for brands that commit to the experiential approach – and commit to doing it well – to set themselves apart.

Knowing what makes an immersive brand experience is a starting point, but the experience is ultimately a medium for meeting three core objectives:

Purple road

Humanizing the brand

The modern captive audience challenges brands to win their attention amidst a sea of competing distractions. But once consumers are engaged in a branded experience, brands have access to the most direct and effective channel for communication: face-to-face interaction.

Individualized, one-to-one engagement with consumers allows the brand to exercise more control over perception. Experiential marketing also creates new opportunities to restore the human dimension of consumer relationships by bringing brands to life, presenting them as people in an age where a majority of people say they feel companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience.

Experiential beauty event

Enlisting brand advocates

Experiential marketing is designed to leverage the way that people instinctively share experiences that resonate, with the potential for each person who engages with the brand to become an ambassador within their own extended networks. Press and media coverage and influencer collaborations can elevate reach, but a well-executed overall event or campaign leads to organic amplification of the brand message – an updated way of tapping into the power of traditional word-of-mouth marketing.

Organic social sharing is a potent resource for marketers: Crafting branded experiences inspires endorsements and recommendations from consumers’ most trusted sources – each other.

Brand advocacy

Experiential is a bit like a tree falling in a forest: It’s great when brands get that one-on-one engagement with consumers, but we want people to share well beyond what they’re experiencing on-site.

Jenna Marrone, Executive Vice President, Lifestyle, United Entertainment Group

Measuring success

Brands need to know their experiential marketing activity is worth the associated cost. Could the same results have been achieved by some other method, for less? Measuring ROI can be a real challenge if baselines are not established beforehand. Unambiguous goals and objectives for campaign success need to be outlined and assessed from the start. Targets for participation, social engagement, sales, improved brand sentiment, and consideration might be key performance indicators (KPIs).

Digital campaigns are easily measurable thanks to trackable hashtagging and data-friendly metrics like clicks, views and newsletter opens, with custom apps allowing for more tailored analytics. Attendance can be tallied manually or through quantifiable data like email addresses collected or giveaways distributed.

Ruler

Methods of measuring sentiment and consideration vary in thoroughness – from observed cues to surveying; social listening can help here, too. Less obtrusive (but more costly and often controversial) technology is being developed to assess targets specific to live events: Facial recognition software that reports perceived mood, and beacons, smart mats and wearable tech that provide insight on behavior and dwell time are some of these.

Ruler
Common missteps
Making a hard sell

[People] don’t want to feel like they’re at a sales pitch. Make it too salesy, and you’ll turn them off, or worse, they’ll share that they had a negative experience.”

David Jacobson, Founder & CEO of TrivWorks

Four brands
that aced experiential

From hyperlocal activations to global campaigns, these brands used experiences to raise brand awareness, increase sales, deliver personalized shopping experiences and generate organic amplification as well as media coverage.
Aperol Together We Joy Campaign

Brief

Plan a series of global events to celebrate Aperol’s milestone 100th birthday and expand the brand’s popularity in markets like the United States.

Objectives

Strategy

In the United States, the brand focused on delivering “summer experiences” as part of the overarching Together We Joy campaign.

Aperol established a presence at festivals on both coasts. At New York’s Governors Ball, the Aperol Spritz Italian Club served up “sunshine in a glass” in an all orange everything outdoor cocktail lounge; the experience was recreated for Kaaboo Del Mar in San Diego.

To further synonymize itself with summer and vacations, Aperol outfitted Hampton Jitneys – the coach bus service known for ferrying city-dwellers to summer homes and beach towns – in a bright orange wrap bearing the message: “So it’s orange-y and bubbly at the same time. Plus it’s super popular in Italy, so you know it’s good.”

Experiential moments

  • Hosting experiences in physical spaces associated with festive gathering allowed the brand to participate in people’s celebrations, making an emotional impression.
  • Oversized orange swings in front of a playful “Together We Joy” sign were an interactive and Instagrammable photo opportunity at a festival in San Diego.

Results

  • Aperol sales rose by 48 percent compared to the previous summer (before the Together We Joy campaign’s launch).
  • Media outlets from Vox to Business Insider to Town and Country acknowledged Aperol Spritz as the “drink of summer” – and while the New York Times’ reactive take denounced the cocktail’s appeal, it ultimately created even more notoriety for Aperol when it went viral.
Oranges
Glossier Seaport Village Pop-up

Brief

Raise brand awareness and increase sales for the online retailer with exclusive brick-and-mortar shopping opportunities in North America.

Objectives

  • Deliver a physical shopping experience to raise brand awareness offline
  • Generate coverage in the press, on social media and on beauty blogs

Strategy

In Boston, Glossier took over all nine of the freestanding “microshops” that make up the Boston Seaport’s retail village. Each cubic shop delivered a distinct experience dedicated to a particular product or beauty category. After selecting their purchases, guests collected their orders from a pickup window where Glossier “editors” (what the brand calls their pink-jumpsuited sales assistants to empower them to deliver a more personalized level of service) called them by name.

Makeup

Experiential moments

  • “Showroom editors” in pink utility jumpsuits personally collected and assembled shoppers’ orders, delivering a tailored and individualized service experience.
  • Taking over the entirety of the village’s individual retail spaces created a truly immersive shopping experience.

Results

“The [Glossier] product and how you look at it… It’s made for Instagram, it’s made to take photos. It’s a way of creating content and sparking conversation in a different way.”

Brittany Ricca, Former Experiential Marketing Manager, Glossier

Nobis Laundromat Pop-up

Brief

Create a highly engaging brand activation to showcase the new collection while giving back to the local community in downtown Toronto, Canada.

Objectives

  • Bring the Nobis brand to life with a lifestyle experience that is unique and memorable, and communicates brand values and community engagement
  • Highlight Nobis’ unique selling points and showcase the brand’s singular form and function
  • Generate brand buzz through earned social and traditional media coverage

Strategy

Nobis hosted an immersive laundromat-themed pop-up event highlighting the brand’s unique USP of product machine-washability. Guests were invited to freshen-up their fall wardrobe with complimentary express jacket refreshes, all for a good cause.

The Nobis Laundromat Pop-up featured the latest collection of styles to try on, a custom vending machine filled with exclusive offers and gifts, and a fun photographable video booth space that guests couldn’t help but capture and share on social media. Guests could donate a jacket benefitting a local charity in exchange for a redeemable store credit.

Experiential moments

  • Guests could star in their own shareable Nobis commercial in the two-way mirrored Try-on Tunnel video booth.
  • Partnership with a local charitable organization amplified brand values and connected engagement in the downtown Toronto community.
  • Vending machines dispensing covetable gifts and offers created an element of suspense and surprise.

Results

  • Over 70 guest attendees on Media, Influencers & VIP Preview day, resulting in over 4.3 million potential social media impressions.
  • Over 1,500 total guests, resulting in over 889,000 potential earned media impressions.
  • 19 million total potential earned media impressions.
Washing machines

The Nobis Laundromat brand experience was planned and executed by Bookmark Content and Communications.

Pandora Garden Launch Events

Brief

Showcase the new Pandora Garden collection in Toronto, Canada, in an unexpected way.

Objectives

  • Generate excitement surrounding the new collection
  • Attract media attention for mass coverage on traditional channels
  • Leverage partnerships for added exposure

Strategy

Pandora created an immersive event where consumers, media and local influencers previewed the new collection and enjoyed a one-of-a-kind experience aboard the chartered Pandora Garden streetcar in Toronto. The streetcar was designed as an indoor garden complete with the garden-themed spring collection, making for a fully Instagrammable experience. An outreach strategy targeted relevant media and influencers and the hashtag #PandoraGarden was coined for the events.

Experiential moments

  • Transformative, themed decor created an immersive environment fully optimized for social sharing.
  • Mini flower bouquets and product giveaways were take-home mementos.
  • The street car activation was complemented with in-store garden-themed events in Toronto and Montreal.

Results

  • Top-tier media and influencer guests in attendance, resulting in more than 600 Instagram stories and posts, generating over 22 million impressions in total.
  • Media coverage highlights included: a broadcast segment on Cityline, earning 850,000 potential impressions and feature on EliteGen Magazine, resulting in 30,000 potential impressions.
Pandora jewellery

The Pandora Garden collection experiential launch events were planned and executed by Bookmark Content and Communications.

Common missteps
Forgetting the bigger picture

Strategists must plan with PR in mind, as it’s very hard to do at the tail end of a strategy. If you build it in from the beginning, then your content will become amplifiable.”

Vida Schultz, Executive Director of Brand Amplification, Bookmark Content and Communications

Trends and the future of experiential marketing

While patterns and trends have emerged, ongoing cycles of reinvention are what will allow innovative brands to continue to find success in the experiential arena. Everything has a lifecycle, and brands will continue to adapt in order to set themselves apart.

Beyond the photo op

As the experiential movement has gained momentum, marketers have placed increasing emphasis on incorporating a specific “Instagrammable moment” into experiences and campaigns. Rather than confining opportunities for amplification to a single “Instagram-worthy” microevent like a photo booth, entire experiences will not only need to be optimized for social sharing, but give social sharers something to do as well as something to photograph.

Branding an existing venue for a launch event is not enough anymore. Partnering with established designers and subject matter experts will be essential in order to maximize spatial impact and transcend expectations. The most experientially adept brands have “evolved beyond creating activations with social media in mind to building activations for the social media-minded,” says Adweek.

Public relations

Sustainability and social responsibility

Experiential marketers must consider their environmental footprint when building one-off events or activations. A majority of consumers across generational divides seek companies that care about and implement programs to protect the environment – a trend that is set to continue, with a growing number of Americans claiming that climate change is of personal importance to them. Brands will need to go further and further to project consciousness of and action on issues that matter to consumers through their experiential and PR activity. As Ashley Pontius, Print Campaign Manager for News and Experts Public Relations, has said, “While experiential marketing is [mostly] brand building, focus [on making it] more brand being.”

Smarter tech

Brands are already deploying VR, AR and smart technology as tools to deliver fully immersive and novel experiences that might not otherwise be possible. A newer development we will see more of is mixed reality – a hybrid of VR and AR that “anchors virtual objects to the real world” and uses geographic and location information to allow users to interact with the virtual elements (think Pokémon Go).

But barreling headlong into the future isn’t the only way ahead – brands can employ existing technologies and even hark back to outdated ones, using them in smarter ways that make sense right now. Just as we’re seeing the entertainment giants court millennials with media content that’s set in the ’90s, experiential marketers can harness the power of nostalgia with “old school” tech – arcade games, for example – and target specific generational demographics.

Virtual reality
Common missteps
Losing sight of your audience

“You can throw the greatest event of all time, but if it’s not targeted or directed to the people who are there, it’s a complete miss. Taking the time to understand your audience, what they want, and what they’re looking to get out of an event is super important.”

Andrew Edell, Director of Experiential Marketing, Convene

Key takeaways

  • Experiential marketing is now essential for connecting with today’s consumer: Immersive experiences engage the senses, make emotional connections, deliver personalized interaction, and project authenticity.
  • While an ad in any medium is by nature temporary, experiences have the power to create lasting impact by creating memories at the individual level.
  • A successful experiential campaign humanizes the brand, enlists brand advocates, and generates measurable ROI.
  • Brands that are doing it right are creating fully optimized experiences that go beyond the photo op and actively engage consumers.
  • The future of experiential marketing will be shaped not only by evolving tech, but by the issues that people care about.

Contributors

Author:
Rebecca Riordon, Content Marketing Specialist

Contributors:
Natalie Haggar, Marketing Copywriter
Vida Schultz, Executive Director, Brand Amplification
Joelle Irvine, Director, Marketing & Growth
Arjun Basu, SVP Product

Art Direction & Design:
Gabrielle Simpson, Senior Digital Designer
Alexandra Snell, Junior Digital Designer
Romualdo Faura, Illustrator

Senior Project Manager: Jen Gorman
Copy Editor: Jonathan Burze
Fact Checker: Tara Dupuis
Proofreader: Katie Moore
Web Developer: Benoît Lapointe
Performance & Insights Specialist: Arnaud Juhere

What’s next?
From content mapping and ideation to distribution and analysis, these resources are geared to help marketers plan and craft high quality content for their audiences.
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Are you looking to create the best immersive experience for your brand but don’t have the time or resources? Bookmark is available to help brands devise personalized launches, experiential activations and strategies at scale. Check out Bookmark’s PR and experiential marketing services for more information.