Connecting with people on an emotional level — that’s the heart of experiential marketing. Founders of startups should consider this approach to raising awareness about their tech innovations, especially since it can forge long-term relationships with customers and foster brand growth.
Experiential marketing, otherwise known as event marketing, is a form of outreach that allows brands and businesses to create an interactive experience or environment for existing or prospective customers with the goal of sharing a specific message, building brand awareness, or achieving a sales result. Examples include but are not limited to pop-up stores, surprise and delight giveaways, and immersive tradeshow activations.
What I like most about experiential marketing are the many creative ways you can tell a story or share a message. What makes events different from other forms of marketing is their ability to produce real-time, in-the-moment feedback from customers. These interactions help build strong and enduring relationships with consumers that go beyond what other forms of marketing can do.
At Conversate Collective, we use a 5-step approach when creating experiences for our clients. This process gets all the key stakeholders aligned and helps our creative teams develop impactful ideas and experiences.
Step 1: What is your why?
The most important thing to do when creating an experiential marketing plan is to clarify your objectives and goals and be specific about your target audience. The way you approached your product development (what problem are we solving, and who is this for?) is similar to the way you should approach your experiential strategy.
For this reason, understanding your purpose, goals, and ideal outcomes is the first step and will shape the rest of your efforts.
Step 2: Who is your audience?
For this step, I recommend creating an ideal customer avatar or persona — a fictional character that personifies your target audience.
When coming up with this avatar, push yourself to think beyond mere demographics. Yes, the consumers’ age, gender, and geographic location are important. But to the extent you can, try to understand their backgrounds and general psychological profile. For example, think about where they are in their personal life cycle and in the customer journey in relation to your product.
These elements are called “psychographics.” What motivates the target audience? What common problems do they encounter? What solutions would make their lives easier? What kind of reassurance would soothe their anxieties?
Diving deep into the target audience’s perspective is necessary to develop effective messages that resonate with them.
Step 3: What is your message?
Next, ask yourself what you want to communicate. What is the one key takeaway people should know about your brand when they walk away from experience?
For the best results, try to design an event that goes beyond telling people this message. The event should show them and allow them to experience the message’s truth for themselves.
Step 4: What is your design direction?
For this step, it’s time to get creative. This is when you pick a direction for your design and determine the creative themes.
Experiential marketing presents many different possible options for mediums. For instance, you could choose to set up a pop-up shop, sponsor an event, coordinate a stunt in a high-traffic area, or have a booth at a conference, among other things.
Keep in mind that when doing anything new, you may not hit it out of the park the first time. That’s why I advise being willing to try different experiential mediums, gather data, and analyze the experience to figure out what works. Any organization that plans to incorporate experiences into its marketing strategy should be willing to invest the right amount of time and expert resources to make it a success.
Step 5: What is your budget?
Finally, ask yourself what the spending guidelines are.
It may seem logical to start your planning session with “what can we do with ‘X’ budget?” But we find that leaving the budget guidelines to the end allows for a more robust ideation session and gives us the ability to trim down or scale up the experience while still achieving the intended outcomes.
Beyond conventional marketing
These steps help create a strong experiential marketing plan focused on achieving specific marketing goals. If you execute the steps out of order or skip some, then you risk creating an experience that is out of sync with your objectives.
Incorporating experiential marketing into your marketing strategy is essential to build any brand. This is especially true for startups, which need to make a splash fast.
Whether your goal is to create evangelists and loyalists for your product, educate customers, or build a sales or talent pipeline, a two-way interaction is required that can’t be achieved solely by advertising, digital marketing, PR, or other marketing activities. Without an experiential component, you hinder your business’s growth.
— Aja Bradley-Kemp is the founder of Conversate Collective, an experiential marketing agency. She has spent more than 20 years growing major consumer, lifestyle, and tech brands worldwide and partnered with A-list celebrities.