Experiential marketing is all the rage, and with good reason as nearly 90 percent of companies are now competing based on experience, according to market research firm Gartner.
Consumers want more than ever to connect with your brand and on a channel that is most convenient for them, whenever, and wherever they want it — both on and offline.
Brands that don’t listen to and act on the expectations of their digitally savvy consumers, will fall to the wayside faster than Kylie Jenner said “see ya” to (former) BFF Jordyn Woods.
Large amounts of marketing budgets are being allocated by one in three chief marketing officers (CMO) toward more experiential activities in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.
The marketing experts at Hubspot define “experiential marketing” as follows:
Brands are breaking through the digital noise the analog way
In today’s always-on world, we find ourselves craving for connection, IRL (millennial for in real life). We spend nearly 11 hours a day staring at a screen versus having face-to-face interactions.
And while digital marketing has certainly transformed consumers to be more passive shoppers, it’s also empowered them to actively participate, which opens up opportunities for brands to humanize themselves and cultivate an authentic brand experience.
Enter the age of experiential marketing.
Custom merch and unique swag items can ignite an ongoing brand conversation and drive conversion
Leading up to, during, and after an experiential event, stoke the engagement fire within your customers with branded giveaways and custom merchandise. Start the buzz before the event to get your audience excited and amped up for the event. Their friends will see the sweet swag and ask how they can get some, too.
During the event, hand out cool swag items to attract attention your way and keep the brand conversation happening throughout the event. Send some goodies as follow-up thank you items with a handwritten nice to meet you note.
Don’t forget to track merchandise ROI by monitoring social media mentions, following the event’s hashtag, and keeping an eye on the follower count across your profiles and website traffic.
The juiciest metrics will be how the merch helped drive more sales, so dial-in on conversion rates between visits or follows to orders placed. Correlate all of that data to when the merch was sent out and/or handed out and associate with your experiential marketing campaign.
You should get granular and segment merch out by timing, if you send out your stuff before or after the event versus handing it out at the event so you know what time is most effective with your audience; great intel to use in future experiential campaigns.
Go further by bucketing different merch items by buyer cycle stages and then drill down by audience demographic. This will help you conclude, for example, that brand new leads who are female loved one item versus repeat buyers who are male loved another item so much so it influenced their buying behavior.
Tracking these metrics can help you judge your experiential campaign’s effectiveness and resonance with your audience.
3 experiential marketing events that are enhanced with custom merchandise
Wineries, craft breweries, and distilleries have been leading the charge when it comes to experiential marketing. These markets are already highly saturated and only growing, so many brands are testing out different ways in which to extend their brand experience to more than just their cans, bottles, and retail packaging.
The brands highlighted below are finding that a direct byproduct of their ongoing experiential marketing campaigns has helped to create a sort of subculture and a loyal community. These metrics translate into more business over time between repeat buyers and driving referral buying via word-of-mouth marketing.
1. Cocktails on the Rocks / 303 Cocktails
Over 35 Colorado distilleries, including our friends over at Cocktail Squad, come together for one afternoon in the summer in the name of disrupting global poverty — rallying around the shared philosophy of how community connection can drive change. What better way to instill the Posner Center’s mission by creating an experience that embodies this.
Cocktails on the Rocks is an afternoon full of food trucks, a DJ, and pop-up shops. Attendees can taste an array of spirits, cocktails, and ciders as one tribe-like community, which in turn, creates a lasting experience the attendees will have to look back on and associate the brands they interacted with a social cause.
How does this elevate the Cocktail Squad brand story?
Cocktail Squad was born on the idea of having a balanced lifestyle: “health and wellness and enjoyment, defining pillars of Boulder living.” Contributing to the annual Cocktail on the Rocks event is one of the many ways the canned cocktail makers live up to that ethos.
2. The Upslope Get Down
Every May the brewmasters over at Upslope put on a free music fest, dubbed The Upslope Get Down, in their back parking lot in Boulder complete with Upslope beer, food trucks, games, art, and more.
How does this elevate the Upslope brand story?
Founders Matt Cutter, Henry Wood, and Dany Page built the Upslope brand from their shared love and an insatiable passion for the outdoors. This includes being in the outdoors and doing what they can to protect them.
From a product perspective, Upslope beers are packaged in 100% recyclable cans. From a brand perspective, Upslope partners with climate advocates at non-profit Protect Our Winters for the annual event, donating a portion of the celebration’s profits to the POW environmental-based cause.
Their experiential marketing strategy here subtly nods to the brand’s fundamental value that Upslope beers should taste as good poured from the tap as they do when pulled out of fishing vest, a testament to the product’s quality no matter when or where they are enjoyed.
3. Stranahan’s Monthly Cocktail Class
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey holds two educational style cocktail classes a month. Each event invites fans of their award-winning whiskey for an experience not found on a standard distillery tour.
How does this elevate Stranahan’s brand story?
Stranahan’s came to be what is today because of friendship between a volunteer firefighter and his neighbor. Colorado born and bred, the Stranahan’s community is as tight-knit as they are welcoming, always encouraging newcomers to sit back, relax, and imbibe together. After all, if you’re alone, who are you going to cheers with?
Their cocktail classes help their fans new and old incorporate the same level of high standards and quality in making a cocktail as they do in distilling their single malt whiskey. Attendees walk away from these events not only warm with whiskey but with gift items they bring home and tell their friends and family about — raising brand awareness exponentially with each person they tell.
Custom merchandise brings your experiential marketing campaign home, literally
Each of these examples is supplemented with company merchandise intended for attendees to wear or use well after the event, integrating the item(s) into their daily life.
Creating those brand interaction moments that extend outside of your building or product or service is the key idea of experiential marketing and a testament to the power and impact it can have on your brand.
The higher the quality and more unique the merchandise, the higher the likelihood is people will not only buy it but extend their opinions on social media and throughout their real life connections. What may seem like a big intangible investment upfront, will pay off in dividends across your business.