A few weeks ago, I was having a discussion with one of my clients on the difference between event marketing and experiential marketing. Interestingly, there is a lot of confusion between the two and quite often the words “event” and “experience” are used interchangeably.
I offer that although there are similarities and the two often complement each other, they are fundamentally different.
Simply stated, in this context an event is a gathering of people at a predetermined place and time for the purpose of exploring and sharing information that is of common interest. There are several different types of events, ranging from large tradeshows and conferences, to panel discussions, networking meetings and intimate proprietary engagements. Each event type has a purpose in the sales and marketing cycle – a topic which I’ll discuss in a future post. But is an event in itself an experience?
A brand experience can be as complex as a visit to Disneyworld, or as simple as a discussion with a customer service representative over the phone. We all have experiences every day. Some are positive, some are negative, but few are designed effectively.
An effective experience engages all senses. It activates the emotional and rational triggers within us and motivates us. A typical event marketing program will employ some experiential tactics, but few completely. Here are seven ideas that will help you integrate powerful brand experiences into your event marketing program.
1. Start with the audience. In order to design an effective experience or series of experiences, its important to understand your audience first. What are their emotional and rational triggers and inhibitors? What do they need to feel and understand in order to act on your objectives? Make sure your experience puts your audience in a position of power and confidence. After all, its all about them, not about you or your products. Although you are creating an experience for the masses, its important you drive a sense of intimacy with each and ever member of the audience. Make it as personal as possible. This foundation can be used not only in experience design, but in product development, sales process, customer service training and beyond.
2. Know your objective. Event marketers often get trapped in their own repetitive cycle of events. Year-over-year they build and plan the same events, perhaps swapping out products and messaging from time-to-time. Its important to step back and examine the business, marketing and sales objective of your program, and then the contribution of each event tactic to that program. Establishing appropriate objectives for your event is the easy part. Sticking to these objectives and designing unique experiences which truly deliver against these goals is often the challenge. Focus on as few objectives as possible. This will ensure you invest time, budget and resources appropriately to drive success.
3. Design the experience to be immersive with all six senses in mind. Yes, I said six. The sixth being rational intuition. If it all comes together, your attendees will feel and think they “belong”. Its important your experience is as immersive as possible, surrounding attendees from all sides and use external influencers to effect internal responses. Event marketers often focus on the visual, sometimes the audible and seldom any of the other senses. Here are some thoughts on engaging the senses.
- Sight: Make it compelling: exciting video,vivid photography, appropriate colors and graphics all play a part.
- Sound: The volume is often just as important as the audible content itself. Remember to use ambience and silence to your advantage. These can be powerful engagers or distractors.
- Touch: Give your attendees something to touch, and to engage with. Think about texture. Holding something in their hand has been proven to drive value perception and ownership. Also don’t forget about temperature or air quality. At a tradeshow even plush carpet with a thick pad creates a welcome retreat for foot-weary business infantry. In speaking sessions, make seating comfortable, but not too comfortable.
- Smell: Site inspections are important. If a hotel conference room has a mold or mildew problem, this can detract from the experience. The same goes for strong cleaning products. Plan for the aroma of attendees. Ambient smell can be just as distracting as ambient sound.
- Taste: Especially important for hospitality settings. Make sure the food and drink is of the highest quality possible.
4. Don’t forget about interaction. Interaction with things, as well as people. Arguably, the most important part of any experience is the people present and audience interaction with those people. Human interaction can make or break an attendee’s experience. Be professional, be engaging, be friendly, and most of all, be human. This is what will build real long term brand relationships.
5. Tell a Story. In my earlier post Storytelling in Social Media and Events, I described some ideas on how to incorporate effective storytelling as a tool to engage and interact with audiences on both an emotional and rational level. You can tell a story at a single event or across several tactics. Success will be determined by your audience, your message and the way in which the story is told.
6. Stay on brand. Do not sacrifice your brand intent to create an experience. Ensure the type, quality and tonality of your experience reflects well against your brand personality. Anything else will hinder audience engagement and long-term retention of message and brand association with the experience.
7. Be authentic. Authenticity is critical in driving trust with your audiences. Ensure your experiences are genuine, authentic and true. Consider adopting a case study approach within your experiences driven by customers, partners, etc. to further empower authenticity.
Is your event an experience? These are just some guiding principles to get started. As marketers, we should walk around in the shoes of our audiences as often as possible to build effective and relevant experiences both face-to-face and virtually. As always, if you have other ideas, please share!