Experiential Marketing: So Much More Than Instagrammable Moments

By Chris Olsen

A recent article in the New York Times, “The Existential Void of the Pop-Up ‘Experience,’” sparked some great conversations around the proverbial water cooler at Caravel Marketing. In the article, Times writer Amanda Hess chronicled her journey collecting research for what she thought would be a fun story about “experiencing” several pop-up museums, factories and mansions in New York. Only her experiment didn’t go exactly as planned. For Hess, it became glaringly obvious that “most human experiences don’t have to announce themselves as such.”

Our team got to talking about experiential marketing and its importance as a tool for providing customers with a more pleasurable and meaningful experience with a brand’s product or service, which in turn helps the company build a loyal following of brand advocates. This is essential because brand advocacy leads to a lifetime of sales and increased revenue. Plus, those loyal followers become your brand’s biggest and best cheerleaders.

As sponsorship marketers, the Caravel team works on both sides of experiential marketing, connecting iconic properties, venues and events with adventurous brands. While the audiences and long-term objectives may vary, the goals are the same for the organizations we work with—creating immersive and memorable experiences for audiences. As you begin developing your marketing strategies for 2019 and consider how experiential marketing fits into your mix, keep these key factors in mind:

Find out what your audience really wants.

The Times article illustrated a disconnect between what some brands think is a cool experience and what the audience desires. Do you have a solid handle on who exactly your audience is and what their wants, habits and preferences are? Do you know where, when and how they are getting their information? Don’t make assumptions—dig in and do your homework. It’s easy to get wrapped up in creating an eclectic event or Instagram-worthy experience, but is it truly a fit for the brand’s audience? Remember, experiential marketing is all about the customer.

Create a long-term vision for what you want to build.

Experiential marketing is not a “get rich quick” scheme, but Hess’ article illustrated how many pop-ups appear to be quirky one-time experiences without a long-term vision. Creating a truly meaningful experience has a long-lasting impact for brands. Attempting to turn back time after your audience has had a not-so-pleasant experience can be an insurmountable challenge. Experiential marketing is not something to enter into lightly. If you’re going to invest valuable marketing dollars in it, create a plan with clear objectives and a vision for the future, then work toward it.

Consider the types of opportunities available.

While pop-ups are a popular form of experiential marketing these days, there are many other ways to immerse your audience in meaningful experiences. For example, this summer Caravel worked with the Special Olympics USA Games and Coca-Cola on a “Share a Coke” experience at the Games. It provided event-goers with an opportunity to meet Special Olympics athletes and pose for social media moments. Working in partnership, Special Olympics and Coke were able to elevate a shared message of inclusion and successfully provided an experience that was unique and memorable within an iconic event. The point is that creating your own event is not always the answer. And in fact, you may get an even bigger bang for your buck by partnering with another brand or an existing property, venue or event.

Take a comprehensive approach to experiential marketing. 

This is a big one for Caravel. Oftentimes, the clients and sponsors we work with focus on what’s easiest to execute from a logistics standpoint, or the budget, and lose sight of all the touchpoints and opportunities to engage with the audience. It’s important to keep your eye on the prize. Keep in mind that flawless execution is not just about what happens during the event or experience—consider how you’ll engage fans before, during and after an event to make it memorable. What happens at every phase of the experience must be factored into your return on investment and should be considered early on.

And while you’re at it … don’t forget the Instagrammable moments.

The Times piece illustrated how creating an experience primarily for Instagram can easily fall flat. However, while it’s true the majority of our experiences as humans aren’t conjured up by brands hoping to win us over, plenty of us are preoccupied with capturing our own pictures in the form of social media “moments.” Well-respected brands like Les Schwab, when evaluating event partnerships, list Facebook/Instagram moments worthy of posting as their number one criterion. Experiential marketing may be more than Instagram moments, but these days those moments do matter.