Remember the capitals of all 50 states? You were taught them in school. You’ve heard many of their names since. But the information just doesn’t stick.
Remember the capitals of all 50 states? You were taught them in
school. You’ve heard many of their names since. But the information just
Now recall your first real kiss. Take a deep breath and bring to mind
the moment. Reflect on this, and you’ve just defined the difference
between ’experiential’ and conventional marketing - or so the experts
’You’re focusing on not just the arguments but the consumer experience,’
says Bernd Schmitt, professor of business marketing at Columbia
University and author of the book Experiential Marketing. Good marketing
campaigns do try and create an aura of emotional energy around a
product, but they tend to overwhelmingly focus on features and facts.
Experiential marketing takes a very different approach.
However sexy and slick it might be, traditional marketing concentrates
on arguing a product’s benefits, rather than focusing on that consumer’s
own experience of a brand. ’Traditional marketing is very mechanistic,’
Schmidt says. ’The whole point of experiential marketing is to take the
customer seriously.’ Rather than describe, promote, argue and pronounce,
experiential campaigns need to ’sense, feel, act and relate,’ he
And instead of appealing to frequently distracted and sometimes brittle
intellects, experiential marketing attempts to reach deep down into the
unconscious of the people it targets, creating an emotional resonance
that practitioners say dramatically increases the chances of making a
sale. And an increasing number of America’s leading manufacturers,
retailers and marketers seem to agree.
Engaging the consumer
Products and services promoted with an experiential spin range from
Nike, through the sneaker manufacturer’s NikeTown, to American Express’
new Blue Card, and even consultancies such as The Gartner Group. In many
ways, experiential marketing mixes the best of public relations and
marketing techniques, generating visibility, energy and even passion
about a brand by giving consumers a chance to experience it while doing
something they enjoy.
’It’s all about enhancing your experience when you’re doing something
you care about,’ says Chris Weil, EVP of account services for Momentum,
a subsidiary of the McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, which includes celebrity
PR firm PMK. For the American Express Blue Card campaign, this
translates to such activities as providing a VIP tent for card holders
at the World Golf Championships - and then staging a clinic with Tiger
Woods that they can join.
PR is an essential ingredient of experiential marketing campaigns, Weil
says. Many experiential events only reach a small number of people.
Without PR spreading the word, the activities wouldn’t be affordable.
The key is to keep the focus tight: ’If we’re creating a good
experiential branding moment, we try to leverage those by bringing in
For The Gartner Group, experiential marketing means stepping back from
the specifics of what the company is selling and looking at how
customers relate to the brand itself. ’In addition to traditional
advertising, what we do is very similar to what Coke and Nike do,’ says
Carol Wallace, vice president of PR. ’We are fierce about our brand,’
she says, and that brand is not just about analysis and information.
’You’re talking about not only selling knowledge, but integrity and
authority.’ And conventional marketing can convey this only in a shallow
way. The best way to project those values is through in-person
Whether they’re rock concerts, education seminars or basketball practice
sessions, in-person events are among experiential marketers’ most potent
weapons, says Carol Simpson, vice president, marketing services for The
Jack Morton Company, a New York-based firm that is an acknowledged
leader in experiential marketing. Anyone interested in conducting
experiential marketing, Simpson says, should live by a simple mantra:
’Attract, engage, educate, inform and immerse.’
Experiential marketing seeks to create intimacy above all else. The most
important step in accomplishing this is to both understand and tightly
target customers. ’A lot of people come in and think their audience is
one thing, and when they go through the research methodology, they find
out it’s something else,’ Simpson says.
’We look at experiential marketing as conveying the entire experience of
using a product,’ says Nancy Wagman, a consultant with San Diego-based
Intuitive Communications. ’It goes deeper than what you see in the
media. It’s not only the sensory experience, but the inner
But simply staging events isn’t enough, experts say. A program must be
fully integrated into all of a company’s other marketing activities.
Good experiential programs reinforce conventional marketing efforts
rather than replace them, Wallace says. A key tool in Gartner’s arsenal
is the informational event. Decision makers who pay for Gartner’s
services tend to be busy, high-powered people. Gartner grabs their
attention by making sure its events provide valuable information, along
with a chance to meet and share information with peers from other
companies. The desired effect is to create a high-intensity experience
of the Gartner Group brand.
Accounting for taste
Experiential marketing does have some serious risks. Not everyone
interested in buying a pair of sneakers wants to shoot hoops at
NikeTown, says Art Stevens, chairman of Publicis Dialog/Lobsenz Stevens.
’The danger is that each person chooses a brand for his or her own
reasons,’ he says.
’There’s a strong chance that, in seeking to create a strong emotional
experience for one consumer, a company will wind up alienating a lot of
others,’ he claims.
’It’s difficult to be all things to all people, and I think you have to
take that into account,’ he adds. ’We each buy for different
Some of those reasons are universal, like food, clothing and
The rest of it is of a highly personal nature. The concept of creating
clones of their entire customer base goes against this.’
Proponents of experiential marketing say that market forces such as the
Internet make personalization and the experiential approach all the more
essential. Price is currently a favorite tool for retailers. But the
increasing prominence of price on the Internet will eventually blunt its
effectiveness for conventional retailers, says branding guru Al Ries,
chairman of Ries & Ries.
’In the future, the retailers that are going to be successful are going
(to follow) Nordstrom’s direction with an emphasis on service and an
emphasis on environment. NikeTown is a very good example of the
environment of the retailer of the future, and Nordstrom’s is a good
example of the service,’ Ries says. And when companies learn to combine
both, experiential marketing should really take off.