“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
—Carl W. Buehner

What if a vending machine fail was the key to one of your brand’s most successful marketing campaigns? This is exactly what Orangina set out to accomplish with their #ShakeTheDispenser campaign. In 2017, the iconic soft drink company installed custom-built vending machines at La Defense and Lille Europe in France. These machines, which were designed to trap cans as they were vending, required users to shake them to free their drink. They even egged buyers on, prompting them to shake harder if they weren’t getting aggressive enough.  

The result? Over 48 hours, Orangina raised awareness for their new brand signature: Shake the World. And customers’ initial frustrations became a viral opportunity to share their experiences and love for the product. 

This is a prime example of experiential marketing

Essentially, experiential marketing is marketing that creates immersive, interactive experiences. Also referred to as engagement marketing, it helps consumers get to know your brand, product, or service. An experience can be as small as a well-told story or as large as an international “easter egg” hunt for the Iron Throne

They can be events like Ikea’s in-store sleepover, or installations like Volkswagon’s piano staircase. It’s all about creating a unique experience that appeals to the attendees’ emotions and senses. Orangina’s “broken” vending machines worked because they encouraged consumers to live Orangina’s brand message. 

As Caroline Goldstein, former staff writer for Fundera, notes in a 2019 article: 

“At its heart, experiential marketing is a marketing strategy geared toward promoting a brand’s message, rather than focusing solely on selling the brand’s product. And where traditional tactics (think print ads, TV and radio commercials, and billboards) market products to a passive consumer, experiential marketing encourages active participation with that brand by engaging as many of the participants’ senses as possible: hence Orangina’s “broken” vending machine, Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis installation, and Ikea U.K.’s in-store sleepover.”

Events, pop-ups, installations, and even interactive sites all promote brand visibility, generate excitement organically, and lead to more word of mouth (WOM) hype than traditional forms of advertising. How likely are you to talk about a commercial over an experience you’ve had? Plus, studies show that experiential marketing may boost brand loyalty. In fact, 65% of brands report a positive correlation between sales and experiential marketing. 

Why experiential marketing works

These sorts of interactive, immersive experiences are becoming more and more important because of several key factors. First and foremost, the digital landscape is noisy. Today’s consumers are more adept than ever at tuning out. Considering that the average person sees upwards of 5,000 ads every single day, it’s no surprise that many have learned to ignore them. Plus advertisers have to overcome the rising prevalence of ad-blocking plugins and ad-free streaming services. Creativity is key to breaking through the noise and getting your brand noticed. 

Another reason this type of marketing works is that it’s more than a sales pitch— it’s an experience. Today’s consumers are also well-informed and distrust most traditional marketing efforts. We’ve already talked about how as many as 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. That means 83.1 million Americans don’t connect with brands through traditional advertising methods. 

Finally, experiential marketing works because it relies on people at your event to create the hype. Considering the effectiveness of user-generated content (UGC) and word of mouth referrals, this may be one of the more valuable aspects of experiential marketing. If your event generates enough excitement that attendees to pick up their phones and start posting, your brand gets to ride the wave of all that social sharing. 

Moving beyond the generic trade show

While something as simple as a booth at a trade show or industry conference technically counts as experiential marketing, today’s most innovative brands are moving beyond that. Experiential marketing is an opportunity for your customer to live and interact with your brand’s unique message or mission. Compare the sample table at a local trade show to Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light “Up for Whatever” weekend, and you’ll see the opportunities you miss when playing it safe. 

How to harness experiential marketing 

Consider partnering with local artists and influencers

If you’re working in a particular region (or across multiple regions), it can be helpful to align yourself with someone who is locally recognizable and has their own audience of loyal followers. Partnering with local and regional celebrities also means that your event or immersive experience will be broadcast across your partners’ social media channels, boosting exposure, and hopefully driving interest. Just make sure that any partnerships logically tie into your brand identity and don’t come across as gimmicky. 

Keep it on-brand

Whether you’re encouraging philanthropy, installing an interactive piano staircase, or hosting pop-up beach party celebrations across the country, make sure your marketing matches your brand’s voice and mission. Knowing your target audience and ideal customers is a great starting point for determining what sort of experience to build. Once you’ve identified who you want to connect with, it will be easier to figure out how to connect. Or as Hubspot’s Braden Becker says, “Go nuts, but keep it on-brand. An experience should be memorable, but relevant to the people attending.” 

Get people talking about the experience

One marker of your experiential marketing campaign’s success is how much dialogue it generates. And rightly so. According to the fourth annual EventTrack Consumer Survey, up to 71% of participants will share their experiences, either face-to-face or via social media. It’s true: experiential marketing is appealing because it happens offline. But you’ll still want to get people talking online. 

Luckily, something as simple as a branded hashtag goes a long way towards building buzz and generating brand interest. Plus it gives customers an opportunity to tell their story and share your branded experience with family and friends. Make sure there are reasons for attendees to document their experience: photobooths, Snap-worthy visuals, and even offering prizes are all effective ways to keep the conversation going. 

Experiential marketing is a chance to humanize your brand

Above and beyond trying to go viral or score creativity points, experiential marketing provides a unique opportunity. It lets people connect one-on-one with your brand. During a recent roundtable conversation with media researcher PSFK, Ron Faris, the general manager of NYC Digital Studio and the SNKRS App at Nike, characterized it another way. He claims, “[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.”

Sure, personalized emails are great, but are they as memorable as stepping into the world of a brand’s passion? Studies have shown time and again that millennials live for experiences rather than possessions. With the right planning, your brand can be one of those experiences. Not sure experiential marketing is right for your brand or industry? Creativity is the only limit for what experiential marketing can look like.