As the internet began its journey of prominence in American culture, businesses where disappointed with their inability to connect their brands marketing efforts with the new popular technological social revolution. Enter the concept of “contextual marketing”. Around since the mid 70’s, it was term that had not yet found a meaningful, real-world connection with its own definition. In practice, contextual marketing refers to advertising that’s designed to align with the media property in which it appears. For example, if you’re browsing Cosmopolitan Magazine you most likely will see ads directed to the female market. If you’re watching Chasing Classic Cars then you might see ads for car care products and specialty, collector-car, auto parts. The standard ad formats for TV, print and radio were set in previous marketing generations but the Internet, with its social media, mobile revolution, user tracking capabilities and interactive dialog with consumers, was a chance for a marketing do-over in which the lines between advertising and editorial were blurred. Advertisers have done a great job conversing with consumers and using behavioral targeting to find people who are in the market for products, but they’ve dropped the ball when it comes to giving them relevant offers. In the opinion of some marketing professionals tangible results have not caught up with all the contextual messages.
Enter “experiential marketing”. Touted as a unique approach to the task of marketing goods and services, experiential marketing, like a contextual experience, is a concept that integrates elements of emotions, logic, and general thought processes to connect with the consumer. The goal of experiential marketing is to establish the connection in such a way that the consumer responds to a product offering based on both emotional and rational response levels. Appealing to a variety of senses, experiential marketing seeks to tap into that special place within consumers that has to do with inspiring thoughts about comfort and pleasure, as well as inspiring a sense of practicality. This means that the marketer needs to have a firm grasp on the mindset of the target audience he or she wishes to attract. By understanding what the consumer is likely to think and feel, it is possible to get an idea of how to steer the customer in a direction that will relate with the product, and entice individuals to act on that impulse to purchase.
In order to engage in experiential marketing, it is necessary to engage as many of the senses as possible. Striking displays with powerful visual elements, such as websites, and visual media such as print ads should not only be visually appealing, but also conjure up daydreams of locales and reminders of sensations that are enjoyable to the individual. Experiential marketing attempts to connect with the consumer on multiple levels. The strategy is ideally suited for contemporary sales and marketing campaigns. Shortened attention spans demand that any ads on the Internet, in print media, and on modern billboards must immediately catch the attention of prospective clients and hold that attention long enough to make an impact. By appealing to all the senses, and making the connection quickly and seamlessly, the experiential approach ensures that businesses can still attract and satisfy the needs and desires of consumers.
While traditional marketing has its basis in volumn of target market impressions, experiental marketing seeks to motivate its target by connecting and engaging propective consumers to “feel” the brand rather tha simply being exposed to it. The premise is that companies that have a deeper, more genuine connection with their target audience will experience a greater value to their marketing efforts. “An experience has much more impact than an exposure,” says Brian Martin, Sr.VP Marketing and Communication for Project.
American Express is embracing the experiental concept of marketing by creating numerous eperiental events in an attempt to strengthen its bonds with exisitng customers and introduce its brand of services with potential new customers. The company has been a long-time sponsor of the U.S. Tennis championship. The American Express Fan Experience is housed in a 20,000 square foot inteactive space located at the event sight. John Hayes, CEO of American Express says, “Experiental Marketng for us is about getting people to feel what it is like to be a member of American Express. Some marketers have recognized the benefits to experiental marketing and are increasing their event budgets for 2014. A survey conducted by Event Marketing Institute, indicates that budgets will likely grow by 4.7 percent for experiental projects in the coming year. Even though brands are best experienced at live events, the digital revolution is helping to extend the reach of the experiential events to the digital world by linking the effort to social media channels, resulting in the extention of the experiential “shelf life”.
Some industry insiders predict that experiental marketing will continue to grow in popularity, particularly with brands that seek to engage consumers at a much deeper, more personal and emotional level. While the desire for a much more touchy, feely relationship with customers is seeing some companies experiment with experiential events, the full effectiveness of these tactics has not yet been fully realized. Like “institutional marketing”, another term from the now distant past, the present day interactive communication approach requires a much longer period of time from implemetation to harvest. Will the promise of a more personal connection between brands and consumers result in greater brand loyalty and sales, or will the buzz of expierential go the way of contextual experience?