Experiential Marketing

A woman I interviewed recently said she worked in corporate event planning. I mentioned at the end of our discussion that my daughter was interested in that as a career. The woman said “have her google ‘experiential marketing.’” I passed the thought along, and then looked it up myself. Intriguing and amusing.

Ad Age says that experiential marketing is “loosely defined as messaging you can touch, feel or view in a physical space.”

Another article explained, “In the end, the goal of experiential marketing is to form a memorable and emotional connection between the consumer and the brand so that it may generate customer loyalty and influence purchase decision.”

What’s interesting to me is that for decades, that was the goal of advertising; print, television and radio. We labored long and hard to understand consumers and their brand experience so that we could convey to those who developed the advertising insights that would help them create inspiring work that “touched” people. Then we worked long and hard to define and measure those connections: persuasion measures, loyalty, affinity, emotion measures… That was the work of advertising: to create emotional bonds that would keep someone attached to the brand and make the marketing investment pay off.

And now, because of the combination of social media and technology (we do it because we can), we can far more easily get consumers to actually interact with a brand and have a potential emotionally bonding “experience” with the brand. Even social media, all by itself, isn’t experiential, because it’s not physical interaction with a brand. But combine that with kiosks, events, games, vending machines and you have a multitude of ways for consumers to experience and potentially bond with the brand, and then market it for you, by tweeting or instagramming about it.

Ad Age noted that the jury is still out as to whether this kind of marketing delivers a return on investment.

To which I, old school researcher to the bitter end, say this: simply physically engaging with a brand doesn’t necessarily create the emotional bonds that are golden. Without the fundamental insights about what your target values and needs, you can be just playing games with them, or being super-cool. Generating awareness? Creating buzz? Getting written up in blogs and articles that generate more awareness and buzz? All good. All worthy of time and investment. If you are trying to create an emotional bond, as anyone who’s ever dated someone can tell you, it’s important to be more than just noticed.

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