Experiential marketing: How to build partnerships with event sponsors

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Experiential marketing. It’s a subject we’ve written about quite a bit since we named it one of our top trends to watch in 2019. Now we’ve seen what SXSW 2019 had to offer – including the unforgettable Bleed for the Throne – and it’s clear that creating great event experiences will continue to dominate the conversation for some time to come.  

Guests at the Bleed for the Throne activation at SXSW 2019 are immersed in a hall of light and sound as they enter (   Source   )

Guests at the Bleed for the Throne activation at SXSW 2019 are immersed in a hall of light and sound as they enter (Source)

But is experiential marketing a worthy investment for your event? We think so. More than two thirds of B2B marketers are anticipating a rise in experiential budgets this year. This means that brands are increasingly exploring their options and, as an event owner, you should want a piece of that pie. Experiential marketing is also more likely to meet the expectations of attendees who increasingly favor experiences over material things. Experiences can be shared online and this has the potential to multiply the reach of your event.

Sponsors are increasingly asking about the opportunity for branded experiences at events. And it makes sense. A study by the Event Marketing Institute found that an incredible 98% of consumers feel more inclined to purchase after attending an experiential brand activation. 

Ninety-eight percent of consumers feel more inclined to purchase after attending an experiential brand activation.

But how do you package these experiences for sponsors? For many event owners, the classic sponsorship approach might need some adaptation. We’ve put together this handy guide to help you approach – and sign – the right experiential sponsors for your event.

1. Know your audience

To secure experiential partnerships, you first need to understand your potential buyers and how to speak to them. Living in a world of experiential marketing as they do, it’s highly likely these buyers will be looking for something beyond your standardized rate card of 10x10 booth spaces. Instead, think about ways that you can show – rather than simply tell – why your event is worthy of their investment. 

Previous years’ press coverage is a great way of objectively showing the success of your event, but consider things like social media metrics as well. Show prospective partners images of the best moments from past events alongside the numbers of impressions and likes they garnered online. Always keep in mind that experiential is what makes these people tick, so hit the ground running by weaving that into how you first approach them.

It’s also important to bear in mind that with experiential sponsors, you might be speaking to multiple personas. As well as the traditional events manager, you’ll potentially need a strategy for winning over brand managers, customer experience managers, and maybe even experiential agencies for larger clients. It’s time to shake up your marketing materials and take a personalized approach to winning the business of these unique partners.

2. Offer experiential options for all budgets

Big experiential activations get a lot of attention. The space is dominated by brands with the budgets to put on memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The skate park hosted by VICE at this year’s SXSW is a good example of this, where a series of retro roller skating parties were guaranteed to be photographed and written about online. 

What’s interesting for sponsors of all sizes is reading about why they did it, with SVP of Marketing, Megan Kirsch, saying “We want to always just have a really immersive one-on-one experience with the consumer, so we thought, why don’t we do something with roller skating?” The key elements here are immersive and one-on-one, and these are easily scalable. With some creativity, immersive and personalized experiences can be created without breaking the bank.

Listening to a brand inspired playlist and wearing branded skates, consumers enjoy VICE’s experience on wheels at this year’s SXSW (   Source   )

Listening to a brand inspired playlist and wearing branded skates, consumers enjoy VICE’s experience on wheels at this year’s SXSW (Source)

The best experiential marketing will be brought to life with technology and your event app is crucial to ensuring that attendees see the best of what’s on offer. Sponsorship of the event app is one way for a brand with a smaller budget to contribute to the overall personalized experience. Through the app, they get their name in front of attendees with a useful piece of technology that is enjoyable to use and unlocks the experience of the rest of the event.

3. Welcome outside-of-the-box thinking

As an event owner, it’s important for you to be able to define the overall experience you want to provide before you engage with experiential partners. That way, you can ensure sponsorship ideas complement the overall vision.

A great example of this is the much lauded HBO’s #SXSWestworld by Giant Spoon at SXSW 2018. On paper, it was a risky strategy to bus attendees away from the main event. But in reality it turned out to be one of the highlights of the year, attracting masses of press coverage and entertaining many hundreds of attendees. SXSW believed in the idea, took the risk, and it paid off.

Another interesting example comes from solar brand Sungevity. They recently rocked up to 60 events with a solar powered (and biodiesel fuelled) popsicle van to raise awareness of a new solar offering for residential homes. Finding this novel way to communicate the brand’s offering worked, in part, because it was unexpected. That’s the beauty of experiential marketing and it’s down to event owners to give enough creative license to allow interesting ideas to take shape.

The solar powered Sungevity popsicle van educated attendees about new residential solar power options while sharing a cool treat (   Source   )

The solar powered Sungevity popsicle van educated attendees about new residential solar power options while sharing a cool treat (Source)

Whatever exciting activations your experiential partners come up with, ensure you make the overall experience a smooth one with an event app. Features like recommendation engines and chatbots help to further personalize the event for each attendee, and promoting social sharing through the app will boost those all important engagement stats when you come to look for experiential sponsors next time around.

Ready to get started?

The tide continues to turn towards experiential marketing and events are a natural place for brands to spend their budgets. The opportunity exists to build long term, productive, and profitable partnerships with these sponsors – if the right criteria is met. 

Develop your communications strategy to appeal to sponsors with an approach they can appreciate, and flex your event’s identity to accommodate activations that have the potential to surprise and delight. The result will be an uplift in word-of-mouth promotion, lasting memories, and more positive associations between your event, the brands on show, and attendees.

For more advice on cementing the partnerships that matter for your event, download our ebook Experiential Marketing Trends from SXSW.