Due in part to the rise of social media, as well as economic shifts, consumer attitudes have changed significantly over recent decades. Writing for Forbes, Blake Morgan sums up how consumer interests (especially amongst the young) have seen a general shift away from “products”, and further towards “experiences”.
“For many [after World War II], ‘things’ represented milestones in life [but now] these markers of success are no longer as meaningful as they once were … People want to experience all that life has to offer, and since acquiring things no longer dictates your class or status in life, millennials are simply enjoying experiences over things, access over ownership…”
Experiences such as concerts and festivals have long been hugely popular, but recent years have seen brands from more unexpected fields thinking about how to create experiences in which to immerse their audiences, through — for example — pop-up spaces, live events, and interactive installations.
In a world where interactions between brands and consumers are increasingly digital, what are the advantages of pursuing this sort of effort?
There are a number of ways in which creating an experience for audiences can be a really good way to develop a brand and get its message out into the world. Probably most obvious is the fact that creating something memorable for your target audience to be a part of can generate a wealth of free promotion in the form of social media engagement.
Speaking to Adweek, Stephen George — the CEO of events agency Surkus — stresses the advantageous relationship between experiential marketing efforts and social media:
“If you want customers for the long term, you have to offer them a way to connect … You want them to become ambassadors, give feedback, and engage — that’s more important than short-term revenue.”
Writing for Hubspot, Braden Becker describes an example from Lean Cuisine, for which the diet-food brand hosted a gallery of weighing scales in New York’s Grand Central Station. On these scales, passersby were invited to “weigh in” and write down the achievements and attributes by which they would rather be measured by. Becker writes about how the display, though not explicitly related to the product, was able to resonate via social media:
“[Though not an overt advertisement, the interactive experience] was clearly branded, to make sure people associated it with Lean Cuisine. The company’s Twitter handle and a branded hashtag were featured on the display in large text, which made it easy for people to share the experience on social media. And that definitely paid off — the entire #WeighThis campaign led to over 204 million total impressions.”
In addition to the social media benefits, another positive boost to a brand’s profile could come in the form of wider interest in the event or installation leading to organic coverage from other media outlets.
Such benefits are accessible for many different kinds of business. For those that are more online-centred, experiential marketing can present an opportunity to show a more human side than can be conveyed through screens alone. As Simon Callender notes in his article for The Drum:
“As a channel, experiential is open and honest, it puts a human face on your brand, builds one-to-one connections and shows consumers that your brand walks-the-walk when it comes to the role it plays in their lives.”
And for more “bricks-and-mortar” businesses on the other hand, adding an experiential touch is an effective way of doubling down on what they uniquely offer that their online competitors generally can’t. Take a look at cinemas, for example: despite the threat posed by more convenient digital home streaming services, 2018 was reported as being UK cinemas’ best year since 1970.
Certainly one reason for this can be identified within the efforts that many cinemas have taken to enrich the experience of seeing a film at the cinema. As larger chain cinemas are adopting environmental effects technologies like 4DX, many independent cinemas and film exhibitioners are also experimenting with ways of bolstering what they can offer — through such methods as pairing screenings with live music, hosting them in unusual locations that sync with a particular film’s atmosphere, and blending them with elements of immersive theatre.
Of course, many brands many not have the time and resources to dedicate to organising an ambitious public event or display. There are, however, a multitude of smaller-scale ways in which brands can create memorable, shareable experiences for their audiences.
Writing about experiential marketing on his blog, the marketing writer Mark Schaefer identifies elements of the practice in IKEA’s use of social media to encourage and share the ways in which customers creatively “hack” their products and find alternative uses for them.
“Customers are immersed in a brand experience and telling the world about it as a leading marketing tactic. A different angle on the experiential marketing topic, but I like it. Customers are creating the brand experience!”
Accomplishing some of the other goals of experiential marketing — humanising your brand, and inviting your audience to participate within it — can be done via social media platforms through things like online Ask Me Anything (AMA) events, which can present an organic opportunity for your audience to learn more about your brand and the people behind it.
So, have a think - how can you translate your products or business offering into an experience that can entertain and educate your target audience?