Experiential Marketing Re-Energized
As full-size crowds returned to Super Bowl LVI in February, so did live experiential marketing events. According to Event Marketer, Super Bowl-related experiential campaigns were conducted by Subway, Smirnoff, NBC Sports, Groupon, Gillette, Ford, Lowe’s, Shaq’s Fun House, Michelob Ultra, Courtyard by Marriott, and the FLUF World NFT Marketplace.
The resumption of in-person experiences in 2021 was good news for print-service providers (PSPs) that produce backdrops and props for staging brand experiences at stores, trade shows, concerts, and other areas where target customers gather. This year was expected to bring a host of new projects.
Understand the Basics
To serve agencies that specialize in experiential marketing, here are a few things to know.
Experiential marketing takes many forms.
Experiential marketing includes any experience (physical or digital) that enables brands to interact directly with consumers. For example, a campaign might include one or more of the following elements:
- Interactive attractions or activities
- Launch parties and celebrations
- Guerrilla marketing that uses unconventional tactics to gain consumer interactions
- Installations that surprise consumers with unexpected art in public spaces
- Mobile tours that bring products to event sites or public spaces
- Temporary pop-up stores, restaurants, VIP lounges,
- PR stunts that attract publicity
- • Sampling that lets consumers try the product being promoted
The cancellation of live events in 2020 forced marketers to rely strictly on digital forms of experiential marketing, including livestreamed concerts, online classes, or personalized consultations (followed by shipments of recommended products).
Brands and consumers both like experiential marketing.
According to the experiential agency Factory 360, brands like experiential marketing because it works. “When an experiential marketing campaign goes well, 100% of consumers share information with friends, 98% share on their social media channels, and 91% report having stronger, positive feelings about a brand after engaging with them.” When companies host live events or other experiential marketing campaigns, there’s a 74% chance that consumers who attend will buy the promoted product or service.
“Where marketing was once a visual monologue, brands have begun to view their efforts as an interactive dialogue that should directly incorporate the customer,” Michael O’Connell explains in AnyRoad’s experiential marketing guide. “This is because interactive customer experiences are inherently personal and able to develop an emotional connection between the customer and brand.”
Many consumers value unique experiences more than tangible goods and they don’t like feeling as if they are being “sold” to. Many consumers at brand experiences voluntarily share feedback or join communities.
It is ultra-creative.
In an interview with The Drum, Hamid Habib of Havas Media jokingly described experiential marketing as “wacky shit that delivers growth.”
While experiential marketing has existed in different forms since the 1890s, it surged in popularity in the 2010s, in part because social media enabled excited attendees to share visuals with their friends and connections worldwide. Plus, improvements in wide-format and 3D printers made it easier for marketers to request one-of-a-kind branded environments and made-to-order 3D props or brand art. Now, experience designers are incorporating emerging digital technologies, including 3D digital signs, holograms, and mixed reality.
Hybrid in-person/virtual forms of experiential marketing are taking shape.
Technologies for virtual events and next-generation e-commerce were quickly adopted during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. And although consumers have been eager to attend in-person events again, experience designers discovered that using both in-person and online channels can do more than simply build brand awareness. Well-executed experiential campaigns can convert people into purchasers, influencers, and brand evangelists. Some brands may use experiential marketing to build lasting communities of consumers.
Dozens of agencies and service providers have evolved into brand storytelling and experience specialists.
Event Marketer, which serves creators of brand experiences, publishes a list of top experiential marketing agencies. Each listing includes the agency’s ratio of B2C and B2B experiences and areas of specialization (e.g., launch events, mobile tours, viral marketing stunts).
Here are a few of the trends shaping experiential marketing in the comeback year of 2022.
A Creative Explosion in Out-of-Home (OOH) Advertising.
In a 2022 Experiential Marketing Trend Report, Agency EA noted that as more people rediscover the great outdoors, brands are paying more attention to outdoor activations and out-of-home strategies. “From hyper-realistic billboards to inventive guerilla campaigns, the line between traditional outdoor advertising and experiential marketing is beginning to blur in an exciting new way.”
For example, anamorphic 3D billboards in Time Square, Picadilly Circus, and other urban centers cause passersby to capture videos of what appears to be live animals or characters breaking out of the billboard’s surface. The “Wheel of Time” video for Amazon Prime Video is a good example.
Holographic advertising displays make it appear as if 3-dimensional objects are floating in thin air. OOH advertising has always thrived on creative executions of simple, high-impact visual messages. OOH experiential activations give marketers a way to reach consumers of all ages, even those who don’t use TikTok or Instagram to share their experiences online.
Circle Graphics, the largest producer of OOH advertising graphics in the U.S., recently announced a 3-year partnership with ODN, an OOH agency dedicated to simplifying the OOH-buying experience and lowering overall costs. ODN has added experiential marketing services to their capabilities because they believe OOH now goes beyond traditional placements.
Experimentation with Extended Reality (XR).
XR is the catch-all term for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). With XR, brands are creating experiences that blend physical and digital environments to produce higher levels of interaction.
It also allows brands to start testing concepts for the metaverse, the immersive simulated worlds that will be experienced simultaneously by large groups of users who will feel a strong sense of mutual presence. Regarded as the next iteration of the Internet and mobile commerce, the metaverse can be fully virtual or an augmented metaverse in which layers of virtual content are overlaid on the real world.
For example, Nike has created NIKELAND on the Roblox gaming platform. Here, Nike fans from all backgrounds and athletic abilities can connect, create their own games, share experiences, and compete. And of course, each player can outfit their avatar in virtual NIKE gear.
Visitors to the kid’s floors in Nike’s brick-and-mortar House of Innovation in New York can use a special Snapchat lens to see the physical store transformed into an augmented reality version of NIKELAND.
New Approaches to Sustainability.
As consumers pay more attention to a brand’s environmental initiatives, creators of experiential marketing events are paying more attention to using props and materials that can be stored and repurposed instead of being sent to landfills.
For example, print service provider Britten Inc. of Traverse, Michigan specializes in customizing upcycled single-use shipping containers that can be moved and reused at multiple events. In a blog post, Britten illustrates shipping containers it has converted into pop-up restaurants and retail shops as well as product showrooms, bars, brew pubs, fan zones, VIP lounges, and restrooms.
A shoppable experience compresses the time between the point of influence and the actual purchase. With mobile technology, the creative shoppable experience could occur either in a physical store or a virtual one.
For example, Lancome used Beyond XR’s 3D and augmented reality technology to create an immersive virtual pop-up store. Visitors could browse photorealistic store shelves and displays, purchase products, attend panel discussions led by influencers and experts, or get virtual skin-care consultations.
How Print Service Providers Can Participate
In theory, any shop equipped with grand-format printers, wide-format flatbed printers and cutters, and 3D printing could supply elements needed for experiential retail, experiential events, and OOH marketing. Companies skilled in wrapping different types and sizes of vehicles can wrap some of the trucks, trailers, vans, and other vehicles used for mobile tours.
But before diving into the market, take some time to understand the experiential marketer’s goals and objectives. Understanding more about what’s involved can help your company make smart suggestions about project execution and become more than a producer of ink on media. Instead of talking about your fabrication equipment, show examples of some of the most creative objects or exhibits your shop has produced.
To help experiential agencies and event marketers find suppliers, Event Marketer publishes a “Fab 50” list of the top 50 fabricators serving the event and trade show marketing industry. In its listing, Britten not only discusses its advanced printing services but also talks about its “BoxPop® custom shipping containers, larger-than-life Foam3D props and sculptures, proprietary display hardware, and custom wood and metal work capabilities.
Like any big event, experiential marketing campaigns can involve the coordinated production of multiple physical and digital elements.
So, be prepared to handle out-of-the-ordinary requests and stick to promised delivery dates.
It also can’t hurt to keep up with emerging technologies and companies that specialize in supplying them. You never know when you may be asked to collaborate with providers of other elements of the project. At some point, you may want to consider adding new services yourself.
Encore Visuals, a long-time provider of interior and exterior graphics and printed displays, now offers digital signage, augmented and virtual reality experiences, 3D modeling and design, and project management for digital branding and experiences.
Duggal Visual Solutions promotes itself as “a producer of compelling visual communications in multiple mediums.” Along with the 35 presses in the digital printing and finishing departments, Duggal offers digital signage and operates a Creative Studio that can help with CGI animations, video and online content, image retouching, and more. Duggal’s Innovation Lab integrates multi-media and cross-platform projects and integrates digital signage with fabricated displays.
Even if cutting-edge digital elements are increasingly being fused into experiential marketing projects, printed graphics, customized packaging, and specialty products will continue to play a role.