The best thing you hope for as a business owner is convincing someone to become a customer with you for life.

But how do you go from that one-off purchase to getting them to come back to you time and time again? 

Establishing brand loyalty like this is no easy task as you know. You’re faced with the challenge of proving to them over and over again that your product or service is the very best out there. 

Luckily, there is another way. 

Enter, experiential marketing.

So, what is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing is a modern marketing strategy, which aims to promote a brand’s message – the heart or core of a business – instead of focusing solely on selling a product or service. It is sometimes referred to as engagement marketing, participation marketing, live marketing, or event marketing.

This strategy works by engaging (potential) customers by inviting them to participate in unique, immersive experiences. This helps to establish a strong connection to your brand’s message and values – not just your products. And this is what keeps a customer loyal to your brand.  

Experiential marketing is also a brilliant way to boost the visibility of your small business, by creating events and experiences that catch people’s attention and are readily shared and engaged with on social media. 

The good news is, you don’t need to have a million-dollar marketing budget to use experiential marketing in your business. But it does require research, some careful planning and strong execution to pull it off.

Types of Experiential Marketing:

Experiential marketing can take on many different forms. These include:

  • One-off events (pop-up shops, street art, installations, concerts)
  • Product testing or tasting
  • HQ or factory tours
  • Workshops & classes
  • Giveaways & competitions

As you can see, experiential marketing is all about getting creative and showcasing your brand in the most engaging way to your potential customers. 

Here’s how you can use experiential marketing to benefit your small business.

Tell Your Story

At the heart of every business is your unique story. This is what sets you apart from your competitors. Experiential marketing gives you the chance to tell that story with every event you host.

A great example of this is VEEV Spirits – an American spirit brand founded in 2007. Their USP is their spirit is infused with Acai berries (a super food) and all-natural ingredients, which made it a trendy alternative to vodka for cocktails and other mixed drinks.

Playing on this, the brand launched a “Cheat on Vodka” campaign, consisting of live events where people could try VEEV by tweeting the hashtag #CheatOnVodka to a vending machine filled with small sample-sized bottles. Live music, a bartender mixing cocktails, and branded merch sporting the same hashtag came together to create a highly successful experiential marketing event. VEEV is now up there with the best-selling independent spirit brands in the U.S.

Create Emotional Connection

By design, experiential marketing campaigns activate a consumer’s emotional connection to a brand, which establishes a strong and lengthy future relationship. 

This is what all businesses hope for, rather than a one-off purchase where the customer has to be convinced again and again to buy your offering instead of your competitor’s.

A great way to create this kind of emotional connection is to design an event that is memorable and moving. The effects of this will likely extend beyond people becoming merely customers – they’ll essentially become brand ambassadors because they’ll want to share the emotional experience with friends and family. 

And as we know, word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) is powerful. According to insights by Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from their friends and family over all other types of advertising.  

Foster Community

Another benefit of creating a live event or experience is it doesn’t just allow consumers to connect with your brand, but it gives them the opportunity to meet and connect with each other. This builds an authentic community of like-minded, raving fans. 

For example, a live music concert is a brilliant way to do this. It’s a totally one-off experience that can never be replicated; plus, music is an emotional medium which has the power to move people. Coming together to experience that with friends and strangers alike provides an emotional experience that can mirror that of when someone goes to see their favourite band in concert. The only difference is, the attendees will be identifying with your brand and with each other.  

[Experiential marketing is] about building the types of experiences that are more immersive that would make you feel the same way attending… a music festival—sparking a type of energy that goes far beyond e-commerce and a store.” – Ron Faris (general manager of NYC Digital Studio and the SNKRS App at Nike)

Look for Partnerships

A great way for small businesses to dip their toes into experiential marketing and still have a big impact is to partner with other (not directly competitive) businesses. 

For example, if you’re in the cheese-making business, you might want to partner with a vineyard or wine store, and create regular wine & cheese tasting nights. If you’re in the beauty space, you may want to sponsor a local fashion show.

A fabulous example of this was back in 2018 when beauty brand Glossier teamed up with Rhea’a Café in San Francisco for a whole month. Glossier’s products were displayed in the restaurant where diners could test and buy them, while chomping on a delicious limited-edition menu, created specially for the collab.  

Create An Experience

As a small business, it’s important to first get clear on your budget before finalising what form your experiential marketing campaign will take. But whatever you do, you must focus on creating more than just another event. It’s got to be an experience

The best way to do this is to focus on the five senses, and try and appeal to all five of them. This is what sets experiential marketing apart from traditional marketing, which can usually only target sight and/or sound. 

This is your chance to go beyond that, and create a truly unforgettable experience. What can you offer in the way of smell, taste, and touch, which also links well with your business and offering?

Use Social Media

Your event might be over, but the benefits of it will go way beyond the initial experience of it.

This is where social media comes into play. It has the potential to transport your experiential event way beyond its physical boundaries, and take it to those who aren’t actually there. A healthy 72% of consumers claim that when their friends share posts of branded experiences they’ve attended, it makes them more likely to buy from that brand. 

In the International Journal of Market Research, M. Nick Hajili wrote:

“Trust, encouraged by social media, significantly affects intention to buy. Therefore, trust has a significant role in e-commerce by directly influencing intention to buy and indirectly influencing perceived usefulness.”

Give Your Customers Something New

The key message with experiential marketing is to give your customers something different, which excites and delights them enough to not only buy into your brand, but also share their experience with everyone they know. 

And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. The most important factors in a successful experiential marketing campaign are creativity, careful planning, and quality execution.

Use it to increase your brand visibility, generate leads and increase sales from customers who return to you time and again in the future. 

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