Experiential marketing is one of the most engaging marketing practices available. This type of marketing completely immerses your customer with your brand by having full experiences with your brand; you are engaging most of their senses with your product or service. What more could you want that to have fully immersive experiences with your consumer.

Some people classify experiential marketing as PR stunts; we don’t really care what the bystander critics say as long as the consumer experience has them talking. And this is exactly what experiential marketing does – gets your audience talking about the experience and lends itself to viral marketing.  And don’t let the name fool you – experiential marketing is not new; have you taken the Pepsi Challenge in the 80s? If so, you have enjoyed the effects of experiential marketing.  And if you recall, you probably told your friends about it.

The Psychology Behind Experiential Marketing

There are a few psychological phenomena that play into the powerful result of experiential marketing. After all, this tactic impacts most of your senses since it is immersive. That alone tells you the power it has over your mind and memory.  And if there’s one thing all marketers are after, it’s brain share and memory.  Marketers want their target market to remember their brand and have positive thoughts. Let’s explore more of the psychology invoked in experiential marketing.

Flashbulb memories are considered memories that are emotional and emblazoned in our minds forever. Examples of this are the memory of JFK’s assassination, the space shuttle challenger explosion, and 911.  Most people can tell you where they were when they heard the news; they can tell you what they were doing and how this news impacted them.  This is all due to how emotional the news was.  While the reports people will tell may be far from accurate, their passion and commitment to their story is unyielding and exactly the emotion marketers are yearning for. How can you create an emotional experience that’s emblazoned in your consumers’ mind?  Sometimes the Pepsi Challenge can do this – just ask me as 39 years later and I can envision the stand at Wild Rivers water park when I was 9 years old… and I picked Pepsi…the crowds cheered… and I was a part of it.

Experiential learning is a theory put forth by David Kolb in 1984.  Kolb identified that, “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.”  This translates to mean that experiences create memories and we as humans love making memories as it includes our favorite person, “me.”  It also means that we learn by doing, which is the most effective method of training. This includes vestibule training and on-the-job training that have proven to be the most effective method of creating repeatable behaviors.  Now invoke your brand into this theory and you may just come up with your next genius experiential marketing campaign.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is where you come across a specific item you have never heard of and then once you have, you suddenly see this item everywhere – or you hear it everywhere.  A common occurrence is when you decide to buy a new car you had not considered and as a result you suddenly see this car everywhere.  You are now part of a club you did not know existed.  This is another phenomenon you want to take advantage of. Your goal is to introduce a consumer in a holistic and emotional brand experience anticipating that they will start to notice your brand everywhere – in other people’s hands, homes, cars, on billboards, in stores, and more…hopefully in this new consumer’s shopping cart or online basket, so they too can be part of the club.

The Cool Factor and Word of Mouth Marketing is extremely powerful. These both leverage all psychology principles discussed and even more not referenced. Once you have had an immersive brand experience, like the Pepsi Challenge or attending a Red Bull Flugtag event, you sure are not keeping it a secret. Believe me that 39 years my family and friends know about my involvement and maybe even exaggeration as the flashbulb memories indicate – and no flugtag attendance ever went without social media pictures and massive brags for days.  “Dude, you should have been there” has been heard far and wide after these aerial stunts across the globe.  Again, how do you incorporate your brand into these cool factor and bragworthy experiential marketing opportunities? Get your juices flowing by attending a few yourself.

Experiential Marketing Campaigns that Delivered

  1.  Airbnb and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:  This campaign included all the players, Airbnb, Will Smith, and the owner of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” house joined forces for the show’s 30th anniversary. The real fresh prince sitcom house was decorated with Fresh Prince gear and made available for only $30 a night for a few nights.  This received more media attention than you would imagine during the pandemic and considered a wild success as media coverage costs nothing but delivers big impact with editorial coverage showing support beyond general word of mouth marketing as editors are considered authorities and influencers which now invokes the cool factor!
  2. JetBlue and the Ultimate Ice Breaker:  In an effort to find a clever way to promote their new direct flights from New York to Palm Springs, JetBlue placed a number of summer accessories inside a six-foot by six-foot ice block in the dead of winter in NYC.  The exhibit told New Yorkers that anything was up for grabs. People had to use whatever they had on their person to break into the ice to claim their prize. Prizes included summer accessories such as beach attire, golf clubs, and, of course, free tickets to Palm Springs.
    JetBlue - Experiential Marketing Examples

    Image Credit: Eventmarketer.com

    This was an extremely successful experiential marketing event that produced phenomenal results for JetBlue as well as their partnership with the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. A comprehensive social media campaign was executed in conjunction with the strategy and the result was great online buzz for JetBlue.

  3. Doc McStuffin’s check up:  This campaign took the popular Disney TV show, Doc McStuffin where a young girl heals her toys in her backyard check up room. Disney set out to take Doc McStuffin Check-up Clinics across the country to 20 different cities, enabling all youngsters to have the opportunity to heal a stuffed toy.  The opportunity was rolled out through Toy’s R Us, Tesco, and Smith’s stores. Each child was given the opportunity to do a 10-minute check up on the stuffed toy. While other children waited, they were given Doc McStuffin plush toys and coloring books to play with. Once the child did the check-up, they were provided with a Doc McStuffins certificate and given a free “Doc Is In The House” door hanger. This experiential marketing campaign resulted in a 5.3% increase in propensity to purchase, interacting with over 7,700 children in the process. 87% said they would recommend Doc McStuffin to other parents.
Doc Mcstuffin - Experiential Marketing Examples

Image Credit: Kelseyads.com

4. M&M’s Pop Up Flavor Explosion:  This was an interesting experiential marketing event as it was marketing a future product and getting consumer involvement up-front. And honestly, who doesn’t like being asked their opinion.  They are free and we all certainly have a lot of them to share!  M&M set up flavor rooms and invited passer byes to participate in voting on their favorite new M&M flavors to determine which flavors will make the cut and roll out to stores globally.  And imagine this, you attend the pop up experience and  tell your friends how Mars brand asked you for what you think about their future brands – pretty cool right? Now imagine you see the flavor you voted for in the store at the local convenience store or bodega and now you’re telling the clerk as you checked out that you personally helped Mars determine which brands would sell.  As a marketer you are hearing music to your ears – is it that easy? No, but with clever strategies it can deploy and reverberate just like that.

As y0ou can see experiential marketing is extremely powerful with some real strong hold in the foundation of psychology and how live events impact emotion and memory.  More research shows that this is not a type of marketing you can afford to ignore. While this may be difficult during the pandemic, there are definite pivots that can be made extremely successful with digital activations.

Over 65% of brands using experiential marketing say that it proves worthy with an uptick in sales as well as these additional benefits:

  • 80% of engagement participants report experiential marketing events have a significant impact on their purchasing decision. (EventTrack)
  • 70% of users adopt the brand in their regular consumption as a result of the experiential event. (EventTrack)
  • 75% of companies with experience budgets ranging from $50-100 million anticipate/forecast more than 5:1 ROI when executing experiential marketing events. (EMI & Mosaic)

Next step is to gather your creative team to drum up some uberly creative ideas to support world-class brand engagement.  There are also plenty of event production companies available to light a fire with creativity under your product or service.  Just remember the psychological principles in every tactic and you’re sure to get your consumers buzzing about how they helped you and it was so cool – Just like me, choose Pepsi!

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