Experiential marketing: 3 tips for an experience-driven event

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If you were asked to recall a successful event experience, it’s probable that the big budget headliners will come to mind. From HBO’s #SXSWestworld by Giant Spoon at SXSW 2018 to VICE’s skate park at this year’s event, experiential activations are renowned for being unique, immersive, and highly memorable. But these qualities can also be applied to experiences at smaller, more strategic events like road shows or sales recognition events.

Experiential activations are renowned for being unique, immersive, and highly memorable.

The key to scaling down an experience while retaining what makes it effective is to still stimulate several senses at once. We call this focusing on “the feels”

Do that well, and you can tap into the fact that 98 percent of consumers are more inclined to purchase after attending an experiential brand activation. We’ve compiled these tips and inspiring examples to give you a head start on maximizing the experience at your next strategic event.

1. Consider an activity-led experience

When attendees can actively engage with an event, they are almost guaranteed to better remember it — and even share it. In research by the Event Marketing Institute, it was found that 83 percent of consumers share content from events up to 15 times. This means that focusing on experiences that people will want to share should stay a priority, whatever your budget.

One popular route, often taken by wellness and lifestyle brands, is to host inclusive fitness classes such as HIIT or yoga. These are part of a growing trend for health and wellness sanctuaries at events and even non-traditional brands are now getting in on the action.

At this year’s SXSW, Michelob Ultra Beer was the brand behind an exceptionally well-attended sunset meditation session. Not quite the experience you’d associate with a bottle of beer, but it was immersive and attendees loved it. Sessions like this are also relatively straightforward to put together. All that’s needed is some empty space and an instructor, yet attendees leave buzzing on endorphins and brand appreciation.

At SXSW 2019, vitamin and supplements brand Swisse hosted outdoor fitness classes that were conveniently located next to their booth. Image from    Zimbio   .

At SXSW 2019, vitamin and supplements brand Swisse hosted outdoor fitness classes that were conveniently located next to their booth. Image from Zimbio.

If heading outside for a mass workout isn’t an option for the brand or your event, just rethinking how content is delivered can lead to a more memorable experience for attendees. Oracle hosts its OpenWorld conference annually and in recent years has shifted to offering sessions “aimed at making attendee engagement of equal importance to the content”.

By moving away from the traditional keynote approach, information exchange at OpenWorld becomes a dialogue. Attendees are encouraged to engage throughout as they work together to solve problems related to the conference topics. This is a low-budget way of heightening the experience and stimulating the minds of attendees by encouraging ongoing active participation. 

2. Create a theme around what you have to offer

Memorable experiences at events often center around a story. Whether that’s total immersion in the recreated town of Sweetwater (setting of SXSWestworld) or something more simple, a good event experience will usually have a strong narrative at its heart.

Experiential agency Jack Morton was tasked with creating a conference for Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring that would re-invigorate sales teams and build momentum for the coming quarters. Based on the company’s existing brand and messaging, they adopted the theme “Warriors Together. Fit for the Fight.” This gave purpose and meaning to all parts of the conference, from big to small. 

Speeches at the Dexcom conference were given by fighter pilots, in tune with the story of Warriors Together. Fit for the Fight. Image from    Jack Morton   .

Speeches at the Dexcom conference were given by fighter pilots, in tune with the story of Warriors Together. Fit for the Fight. Image from Jack Morton.

As well as extravagant experiences like a deep sea fishing excursion, the conference included team-building activities and inspirational speeches. There was even a step challenge. All spoke to the same story of camaraderie and combined effort, which created an emotional connection between attendees and the event experience.

3. Personalize further with an event app

An event experience is going to resonate more with an attendee if you can make it feel personal to them. An event app can deliver relevant and timely information that can elevate the overall experience of an attendee.

The event app works so well because it is one of the most personal communication channels available. When you think about it, attendees have more control over their mobile experience than almost any other part of the event. This means that when done right, it can be incredibly effective – in-app messaging typically receives eight times the direct response rates of push notifications.

In-app messaging typically receives eight times the direct response rates of push notifications.

The event app offers a multitude of other benefits too. Leveraging AI-powered recommendation engines within your event app will help to provide meaningful, personalized recommendations at scale. Polls, surveys, and networking hosted in the app get people involved and engaged with event content. Plus, you can further boost the experience attendees have with your event by including useful information about the local area that they may want to explore.

The event app can host a wealth of unique content that benefits attendee experience at lower budget events.

The event app can host a wealth of unique content that benefits attendee experience at lower budget events.

Getting the right technology in place is also crucial to prove the success of your events. Beacon technology and wearable tech can provide insights on behavior so you can map the attendee journey. Beacons collect attendee dwell time data that organizers can use to see which sponsors and exhibitors are most popular and segment the types of attendees that are there. These metrics help to quantify the value of the overall event and in doing so make it possible to run it more successfully next time.

These elements of what makes a good event experience can easily be applied to an event of any size. By encouraging participation and drawing attendees in with a compelling story, any event can increase its experiential qualities. Tie that all together with a great app and you’ll have an event that generates positive word of mouth and returning attendees.

Find out more about experiential marketing for strategic events by downloading our eBook Experiential Marketing Trends from SXSW.