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?
1st 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.
“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.
Experience 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
And 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.