Experiential Marketing – “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”

In the later decades of the 20th century a new term arose from the board rooms of Madison Avenue to the halls of convention centers around the world – “Experiential Marketing.” Given the diverse elements and definitions of marketing itself (see here), adding a word such as experiential wasn’t very clarifying.

Clarity wasn’t the objective – differentiation was. Firms quickly began carving out their space with new mission statements, tag lines, and offerings. This was accelerated by the arrival of digital, online, interactive, and social technologies which were truly disrupting marketing, and changing the conversation with target audiences – much more than “experiential” was.

So what types of live marketing are there?

2013 SAP SAPPHIRE NOW1st and 3rd Party Events – The “classic” and most visible, events are a one to many, owned (hosted) or paid (sponsored) activity. Think conference, tradeshow, sponsorship, etc. Much of the content is presented in keynotes, breakouts, labs, conversations among groups, and the networking that occurs. Brought “online” in the late 1990’s, events remain roughly the same. Just look at the traditional metrics: reach, satisfaction, leads, and impact on executive egos.

sample“Sampling”, “Demos”, or “Promotions” – A 1:1 or one to few owned (hosted) experience – repeated. Sampling is a more personal, flexible, and repeated experience. The rise of “viral”, and “street” marketing changed the experience from handing out a sample of a product, to experiencing the brand in a broader sense. But at the end of the day, it is the opportunity to sample an item that distinguishes this category. At a 1st or 3rd party event, sampling may come in the form of a demo, trial, or private “preview”. In any case, there is an earned element if the experience is shared by the participant via PR or social.

experienceExperience Marketing – the newest and most “experiential marketing” in nature, is a paid (if not in compensation or sponsorship, in exchange of some value) and earned (those willing to share their stories) activity that markets or promotes an experience someone had, often designed to amplify the user’s emotions, endorsement, or showcase the value of the product. Skype does this very well with a series of promotional videos showing how a family portrait can be taken “virtually” and in real time using their product.

All of these share common elements such as:

  • They use social media and online strategies to amplify and interact
  • They are live, and often a moment in time
  • Collectively they represent a significant investment for many companies, consumer and commercially focused
  • There is some level of media or production included

ice2And certainly they have many elements that are unique, which is why some view experiential marketing as one might “transportation”, covering a broad range of activities that deliver a similar outcome (engaging with a target audience in some “live” way or with an experience for “experiential”; getting from point A to point B for “transportation”). Others seem to see it as very specific, as specific as Formula One or an Ice Skate might be to “transportation”.

Regardless of how they are categorized, experiential marketing should be a business driving activity. However, it’s important to know clearly what business they are driving – the business of the experience, or the hosting organization? Look to where financial success is measured to make this determination – if the P&L is the bar, then the business is the experience; if the ROI is the bar, then it is the hosting organization’s business that is the driver.



  1. ckwrites2 says:

    Hi Scott – posted this up on a Linkedin board and got back the following question:

    I like that this is looping back around to ROI. If marketers have no way of measuring the ROI of experiential (or any other marketing efforts) then how can they determine if their efforts were successful?

    I don’t follow the last bit about the “business of the experience” vs. the “business of the hosting organization.” Could you elaborate on what exactly the “business of the experience” is?

    So – could ya? Can ya? Will ya?


  2. SBSchenker says:

    An event can be a “for profit” business in and of itself (think auto show) where someone owns the event strictly to make money from the event via attendance fees and sponsorships.

    Other events are owned by organizations where the event is designed to drive business/revenue to the organization more than from the event itself. These are marketing investments.

    Think Microsoft, who uses experiential marketing in all forms not for the revenue that comes directly from the event, but from the business that these activities drive to them via other channels – via their sales force, retail, etc.

    In the middle are associations/organizations who may receive a majority or much of their annual organizational revenue from events and experiential marketing, and therefore need the event to be profitable, but are in a broader business with membership fees, industry or community advocacy and training, etc. Think CES and the CEA.