Look, Touch, Feel: Experiential Marketing

Partner/COO/CFO Southport Marketing, Inc. Responsible for Company Operations and Finance.

Most of us have walked into a Costco and seen the product ambassador at the end of the aisle asking you to try the free samples they hand out. Costco has been doing this for years, and guess what, it works! You smell the food, eat a small portion and bam—you buy a box! Why? Well, you saw it, smelled it, touched it and then tasted it. You were sold on the product in a New York minute. Clever marketing!

My intro above is the easiest way for me to explain what experiential marketing does for a brand. The odds of success for your service or product are exponentially increased when a consumer experiences your brand up close and personal versus seeing an online ad or commercial on TV. Why? In-person, a consumer is in a focused environment and you have their full attention. Imagine your odds of conversion being in front of your consumer/client.

Post-pandemic, many consumers are burned out on video calls, online ads and commercials. Many long for in-person communication. Prior to the pandemic, spending on sponsorship, events and activation of the event were at all-time highs over digital and radio/TV spot buying. Trade shows, conferences, concerts as well as other live events are now back, and large brands that want to get back out face-to-face with their targeted demographic have the opportunity to do so.

Larger brands have always had a good experiential strategy that complements their ad spend. They understand the value of the product/service being directly in front of the consumer. They run ads on TV and radio so you hear about the brand repeatedly, but they also know when the product is directly in front of the consumer, they typically go from consideration to purchase. In some cases, they have shortened the marketing cycle and spend. Dollars well spent! While the latest global numbers are from 2018, they showed an increase in spending from $42.1 billion in 2008 to $65.8 billion just 10 years later.

Case in point—The automotive sector spends millions annually on sponsorship in many different event categories. You see them on outfield walls, concerts, live events, etc. They engage the consumer at the event with giveaways and a vehicle display so you can look, touch and feel. A car purchase is the second largest purchase a consumer ever makes—most will not purchase a vehicle until they interact and drive it. A vehicle can have a great ad campaign on TV to convince the consumer to consider the purchase. However, until they are “butt in the seat” and driving it, a purchase rarely happens. Having your brand at events is vital to purchase consideration. Think of events as the last hammer swing on the nail to put the sale of your product in the books!

I will provide one last case—Edward Jones—I love their commercials and their USP. They have brilliant ads, but I am not sending my money their way until I can sit down and talk to someone one-on-one. Whether at a trade show, conference or event, I want to have a conversation or see if they are supporting my local community with sponsorship before I write them a check. Financial service providers can do very well in the event space with in-person consulting at a community event and by providing local dollars. Auto dealers do this extremely well.

Now let’s talk about how to select the right event for your brand. When considering sponsoring an event, always look at the demographics of the event, type of event, attendance and promoter reputation to qualify and quantify the event. You want the most bang for your buck when buying sponsorship of events. Also, create a unique experience for the consumer, something fun and interactive—people like to be entertained, so be creative when you build out your space at the event. Marketing is a multifaceted approach, touchpoints are key to building a strong brand and events are one of those touchpoints.

Lastly, measure the ROI of your sponsorship. Measurability is key to all marketing spend! If you are not measuring the ROI on your ad spending, sponsorships and digital, then why do it? Which one is moving the needle for your brand or are some underperforming? Having data analytics programs, lead collection and back-end sales reporting are vital to your marketing spend. Then do your math and figure out your ROI. Many companies will spend a small fortune on ads, digital and sponsorship and never measure what is working and what doesn’t.

In closing, as I said previously, there are many touchpoints in marketing your brand. There is no magic bullet, but if you have a well-rounded approach to your marketing efforts, you will be well-positioned for success. One thing that I and my colleagues do see from smaller companies is they figure out what they want to sponsor and budget for that. They forget, however, a budget to activate that sponsorship. Some brands that plan well put three times the dollar level toward activation versus their sponsorship spend. At a minimum, it would be good to plan for a one-to-one spend on sponsorship versus activation.


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