Events are one of the most powerful marketing tools because they center around an intentionally designed experience. And experience is in high demand. According to Eventbrite’s research, 77% of millennials say some of their best memories are from an event or live experience they attended. Additionally, they are much more likely to spend money on experiences rather than products.
Maya Angelou said that people will forget what you said and did, but never forget how you made them feel. This is great news for event marketers and planners who can plan experiential events – events that aim to evoke positive emotions in attendees and resonate with their values. After all, what makes an incredible event is not the stage and the logistics, but the atmosphere and the positive emotional state of the attendees.
Any event can be experiential: conferences, meetings, exhibitions, trade shows, and corporate events. At the heart of experiential events is the intention to include attendees in a meaningful, action-oriented way. It’s one of the most powerful forms of marketing. If done right, they boost ROI and strengthen the reputation of a brand.
What Is Experiential Marketing?
As the name suggests, experiential marketing centers around creating an impactful experience that affects the consumer’s behavior by appealing to their emotions. That’s why it’s also known as engagement marketing. And since the designed experience is typically a part of a larger event, some consider event marketing a special type of experiential marketing.
In a sense, all events are experiential. Whether event planners intentionally design them or not, attendees will have had an experience at an event. The job of an experiential marketer is to make that experience unforgettable and enjoyable, prompting the customer to develop an emotional bond with the product or brand. In turn, such experiences boost event ROI and help marketers achieve their goals.
The Benefits Of Experiential Event Marketing
The benefits of experiential event marketing highly resemble the benefits of event marketing itself. Here is why experience marketing should be the guiding light in your overall event marketing strategy:
- Boost brand awareness & loyalty. Brand activations and product launches can center around the actions of your end-users. Give them a chance to try your product or interact with it tangibly. By including your audience in your marketing efforts, your brand will connect with them in a much more effective way.
- Increase your presence on social media. Experiential events can be a goldmine for user-generated content. Create a memorable hashtag and give your audience a chance to participate in an activity they will want to share on their profiles (ie. social media wall).
- Highlight your sponsors in organic ways. Co-marketing is all the more impactful when it revolves around an experience. Think of ways you can join forces with your sponsors and have the attendees interact with both your products at the same time. Research shows that when your customers have a positive experience when interacting with brands, they are much more likely to purchase their products or services in the future.
- Improve your lead generation opportunities. Reframe your lead gen efforts into a fun experience. Make a game out of it. Incentivize customers to give their contact information with a giveaway, raffle, etc.
- Increase attendee retention. Attendees will be much more engaged at your event and have a better time if you follow an experiential marketing strategy. And happy customers mean returning customers. Make sure to measure attendee retention to prove the ROI of experiential event marketing.
How To Plan Experiential Events
When planning experiential events, you need to think about your specific target audience. What makes them tick? What makes them happy? How can you best create an emotional connection between them and your brand? What’s the kind of story they will like? Then, tell them that story.
For example, be mindful of pop culture trends or references that your target audience might appreciate and incorporate them into your experiential strategy. This marketing tactic is especially powerful if it provides true value to your customers, not just engagement for engagement’s sake. Let these experiential marketing examples serve as inspiration; some offer free products while others use thought leadership.
Once you know what delights your audience, it’s time to tackle the ‘how’ of experiential design. Here are some of the most essential ideas in the events industry. Remember: event technology solutions alone are not enough to turn your event into a boundary-pushing experience. Design your events with the experience in mind and use technology to support you in that vision.
Engage All Senses
Unlike most other marketing strategies, experiential event marketing can make use of all five senses to create an impactful experience. Event planners can focus on the feeling they aim to generate by intentionally choosing the right food, music, colors, etc.
For example, if event planners aim to energize their attendees, they should play high-energy music, use strong and bright colors for event signage, and serve foods that will give attendees an energy boost. On the other hand, if the event is to put the audience at ease, planners should ensure the space is never too crowded, that the music is calm, and that the colors are soothing.
Experiential Events Have Gamified Elements
The best experiential events incentivize attendees to have fun and to actively participate in challenges, raffles, and games. This is a powerful lead generation tool at exhibitions and trade shows.
It is also a great idea to inject a healthy dose of creativity and imagination into the event. If there is an event theme, gamification offers a great opportunity to double down on it.
For example, Stella Artois set up a giveaway during tax season and added a flavor of experiential marketing by aptly calling participants “account holders” and the prize “investment vehicle” rather than simply a tandem bicycle. Their messaging was teeming with financial references, which served to increase audience engagement and boost their loyalty to the brand.
🔔 Last chance 🔔 to invest in life’s most memorable moments and sign up for Stella Mutual.
— Stella Artois (@StellaArtois) March 30, 2021
Have Event Staff Support Your Event Concept
Make sure your event staff is familiar with the concept of your experiential event and instruct them to make people feel a certain way. If you want them to feel excited, have onsite staff cheer for them. If you want them to feel like a VIP, assign them a personal concierge.
Your speakers and emcees should also know about the experience you’re planning. That way, they can prepare their content accordingly. For example, they can make references to your event theme and promote your event games.
Experiential Events As Part Of Community Marketing
If events are to create a lasting impact, marketers need to create a powerful story before the event itself, tapping into the attendees’ emotions and excitement with teaser trailers, persuasive copy, and messages in the event app or platform. Similarly, the experience itself should stretch out beyond the event itself. Keep the emotions alive by posting an after-movie, a heartfelt message, and encourage others to share their thoughts and feelings as well.
And what better place to create an emotional setting for your event than your online community? Building a strong community around your brand has become a big trend in the events industry. Marketers can keep their audience engaged year-round by providing value in terms of networking, content, and education. In a broader context, experiential events are seen as a culmination of excitement within that community.
Elevate Attendee Experience With Event Personalization
Personalization is a key ingredient in the experience economy. After all, human experiences are deeply personal. Evergage’s 2020 research shows that 92% of customers are expecting to have a personalized experience with a brand. The personalization trend plays into the hands of experiential marketers: it boosts loyalty and drives ROI.
Implement event personalization by:
- sending personalized emails with a targeted message (segment by name, company, title, and other registration metrics),
- setting up different workflows for different registration tiers,
- offering attendees personalized agendas based on their interests or expertise,
- measuring the success of personalized marketing efforts.
Experiential Virtual Events
Experiential marketing is not only reserved for in-person events. As AJ Williams pointed out in an #EventIcons episode, we can also translate experiential events into a virtual setting. She shared her experience with sending virtual attendees a so-called party-in-a-box or a meal with instructions.
Taking it a step further, a virtual attendee can also invite several people into their home and turn it into a small hybrid event venue. Thus, they are no longer a mere observer, but co-creator of powerful experiences. The main hub can then showcase such small gatherings on the main live stream and offer the event on-demand afterward. And that is sure to create lasting memories and excitement.
A Pinch Of Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality are among the most exciting current event technology trends and will undoubtedly build buzz at your event. Many attendees might have never used a virtual headset before or used a custom event AR filter. This is a golden opportunity to give your audience an experience they’ve never had before.
Additionally, VR and AR make for great user-generated content to be shared on social media and an attractive marketing asset for your future events.
When you think back to that special event you attended or planned years ago, what do you remember? The precise answer often eludes us; it’s the positive emotion accompanying the memory that makes that experience so dear to your heart. Experiential events strive to evoke that feeling in attendees. And when events are successful in generating positive experiences, attendees will return year after year and become true brand evangelists.
Endless Events is a full-service event management company that approaches every event as a unique experience. Leaning on technology-driven solutions, we help event planners and event marketers define and reach their goals. If you’re looking for a strategic partner to help you create meaningful event experiences, reach out to us. Our team is here to help you turn your event into a truly unforgettable experience.