Experiential Marketing: How Brands Connect With Their Audience

By BrainStation April 1, 2019

We’ve written about the Future of Marketing and how the industry is changing, and experiential marketing is one trend that has gained a lot of popularity. 77% of marketers say that it’s a vital part of their brand’s advertising strategy, and for good reason, as the same report shows that 70% of participants convert into repeat customers after an experiential marketing campaign.

To find out more about experiential marketing and how brands are using it to connect with their audiences, BrainStation held a Future of Marketing panel discussion last week. The event featured panelists from McCann NY, Fake Love at The New York Times, and Everlane, who shared their experiences working in experiential marketing.

What is Experiential?

Many organizations are talking about it, but what does experiential marketing actually entail? Our panelists explained that experiential marketing is a way for brands to bring their products and services to life, to create an experience for users in real life rather than only marketing through digital or traditional means.

This is often done through pop-up shops or installations, but the exciting part of experiential marketing is that the more you think outside the box, the better.

“I get to work on something different every single day,” explained Christine Lane, SVP Executive Producer Innovation at McCann NY. “Sometimes that can be working with emerging technology, something experiential, something digital, or something installation based.”

The work is diverse, but the experience is always at the core.

“When we’re in a public space enjoying things together, we experience it completely differently,” said Sam Ewen, SVP of Business Development for Fake Love at The New York Times. “There’s an intangible energy that happens when you view things with other people. I love the idea of figuring out how to get people to spend more time together.”

Sometimes, experiential marketing is a way for brands that don’t have as much physical presence to connect with their consumers beyond digital.

“We’re a brand that started online and now we’re in retail, and people are really excited to interact with us,” said Kellie Spano, Experiential Marketing at Everlane. “So how can we bring that excitement into the physical realm, be it in our retail locations or concept shops, in a way that feels authentic to us and is something that our customers are really excited about?”

The Intersection of Digital and Physical

A common perspective across the panel was that it can be difficult to quantify the success and reach of campaigns, as often experiential marketing is about more than just the number of people who show up.

“There are certain intangible elements and benefits that come from experiential marketing that you can’t necessarily put a number on,” explained Melanie Olar, BrainStation’s Global Community Manager and the panel moderator.

“29 percent of all TV ads play to an empty room. 40 percent of all banner ads are being clicked on by bots,” said Ewen. “But I can guarantee that 100 percent of the people who come to our events are there.”

Not only are brands creating an experience for the people physically present, but constant sharing on social media enables campaigns to have an even broader reach.

“In my experience starting off in experiential, it was really hard to prove scale,” said Lane. “The fact that social exists and that we can scale this in more ways is one of the reasons why experiential is so popular in marketing.”

Where the lines become blurry is around the question of whether brands should build experiences specifically aimed at creating shareable moments. Our panelists acknowledged that part of the excitement surrounding an experience is the ability to share it with friends and family. “Bring the physical into the digital,” said Spano.

Maintaining Authenticity

While social is an important way to spread the word about experiential marketing campaigns, creating experiences that are designed solely for the “instagrammable moment” can feel inauthentic.

Authenticity is a word that gets used a lot in marketing, but it is so important that brands stay true to themselves through any campaign, experiential or otherwise.

Kellie Spano explained that the way Everlane maintains authenticity in their marketing is by always having a “why” behind every campaign – a concept that every marketer should keep at the forefront of their decision-making process.

“Purpose is a part of our mission. In that regard I think that everything we do is really mission driven,” said Spano. “I’ve been very privileged to work at companies where that is the main focus, and that’s always the ‘why’ behind doing something.”