Sometimes it feels as if you’ve just got your head around the last industry buzzword, when along comes another one. Whether you’ve heard of ‘experiential marketing’ or not, it’s actually been around for quite some time, although it’s not always been defined quite as clearly.

Experiential marketing, as the name suggests, is all about experiencing a brand or a product, rather than just having it passively thrusted upon us. It’s a pretty big deal too, with two thirds of companies who’ve used it claiming it’s helped increase sales. It even has a three day summit dedicated to it.

According to the EventTrack study by the Event Marketing Institute, companies are spending around 5 per cent more each year on event and experiential marketing. And for companies with more than $1bn in revenue, this budget increase is even greater, coming in at a substantial 9.8 per cent each year.

From cybermen on the London underground to Virgin Atlantic’s extraordinary park bench, experiential marketing has the ability to grab your customers by the imagination and hold them tightly to your brand. But what exactly is it, and how you can you make the most of it in your business?

Defining experiential marketing

This type of marketing is all about audience participation. While traditional marketing methods give customers the option to ignore or bypass the media (read: fast forwarding through ad breaks on the DVR, deleting unwanted emails without reading, binning ‘junk’ mail without opening), marketing which is experiential really looks to involve the customer in an interactive, imaginative way.

Marketing in an experiential way is designed to reach out to the physical senses, and to provide that participant (yes, participant – not ‘reader’, ‘viewer’ or ‘recipient’) with a fun, memorable experience. By engendering an emotional response to a brand or product, the customer will form a positive association with it, which could influence purchasing decisions further down the line.

Where traditional marketing focusses on pointing out the features and benefits of a product in order to drive sales, experiential marketing invites the customer to become involved with it personally. It can be something as simple as offering a free sample or taste test to shoppers in a supermarket, or something more ambitious like the D Rose Jump Store in London which was promoting a basketball players new line of sneakers.

How can your brand use experiential marketing?

The way in which experiential marketing could work for you will depend greatly on what you are trying to promote, and to who. It would be ridiculous, for example, for Samsung to attempt to promote their latest smartphone at an alternative, eco-friendly festival. Being in the right place at the right time is key, but so too is the format you choose for your marketing.

Making it work for your business requires some thought about:

How welcoming will the audience be? Exhibitions and events work better than trying to target busy commuters, for instance.

How can you make your campaign appealing, engaging and personal to the people you are targeting? How will you ensure they have ‘fun’ and remember your brand?

Can you integrate this as part of a bigger marketing campaign? Messages work best when simultaneously delivered through multiple streams.

Are you talking to the right people for your brand / product? Are the staff delivering this marketing appealing to your demographic?

Is the product going to be well demonstrated? If your brand identity and value being suitably upheld?

A great experiential marketing campaign will generate lots of chatter about your business. However, be aware that it can generate just as much negative talk as positive, so it’s crucial to make sure things work well, and that the impression left with your audience is a good one.

Measuring success

There’s simply tonnes of feedback about the benefits of experiential marketing. As long ago as 2009, marketers were singing the praises of this promotional channel, explaining that it invests in healthy customers relationships for the future, something that marketers of today have dubbed Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which is probably the hardest thing to measure of all.

There are a few outcomes of experiential marketing which should be relatively easy to measure. For example, if sales increase as a direct result of more free samples being offered, you know you’ve won. However, it’s not always quite that easy, or that direct, to see the impact you’ve had. To get an overview of your results, remember to look at:

Social media impressions: When something amazing is happening, there will be a social buzz around it too. Estimates suggest that almost half of the visitors at a branded event will make and share a video, with 39 per cent sharing it on Twitter. Make it easier to count this outcome by using a branded hashtag and measuring social mentions before, during and after the campaign.

Direct engagements: Simply counting the number of people who get involved in your campaign should be relatively straightforward to do. After all, this isn’t a faceless piece of PPC advertising; you’re actually out there getting people involved in your product and brand.

New users: Loyalty is great, but for your brand to survive and thrive, you need to be drawing in new users too. Experiential marketing is a great way to reach out and surprise people who previously hadn’t considered your brand themselves. Look to gather data on new sign ups and fresh customers immediately after the campaign, so you can directly tie these figures to your marketing efforts.

Experiential marketing is absolutely quantifiable, which means you can measure the ROI of your campaign, and therefore use business logic to ensure you are getting great value from your efforts. It’s a great way to reach out to new people, as well as to reaffirm the loyalty of previous customers, so don’t overlook this exciting marketing channel when you’re planning your strategy for the coming year.