The Value of Experiential Marketing and Storytelling
Published on June 25, 2019
By: Stephanie Atlas
There’s a lot of chatter these days about experiential marketing and storytelling, and it’s not easy to untangle the pros and cons as an investment. Based on my experience in immersive storytelling, and extensive research done by other experts, here's what I've identified as the key pillars of success in experiential productions.
First, let’s define experiential marketing. The idea is for brands to market a product or service by creating a memorable experience that engages customers in an emotional way. Experiential productions can be large interactive events infusing storytelling elements such as culture, art, and technology, or smaller activations like an art installation for conversation. When done right, these experiences are created for people to share with their friends, both in-person and online.
Experiential marketing is best utilized when launching a new initiative, product, or campaign. According to Forbes, experiential marketing is the best way to create lasting connections with your consumers. As of now, millennials are America’s largest living generation and a study from the Harris Group reports that they command an estimated $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending. The study reveals millennials are focused on “living a meaningful, happy life about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences.” When people feel a strong connection to your brand and see themselves reflected in it, it generates loyalty.
So where does that take your marketing strategy? By integrating your brand into a millennials’ environment and meeting them with an experience, it ensures you will be on their radar (and of course their entire social media following’s radar).
Start with Story
Storytelling is the lifeblood of human connection and it’s what sets brands apart from each other. The key to a brand’s storytelling and marketing strategy is weaving together facts and emotions to evoke memorable shared experiences.
Take Apple — their mission encourages consumers to think differently. In May 2019, Apple opened their new store in the heart of Washington, DC with a Storymakers Festival to encourage consumers to push boundaries and experiment with visual storytelling. Apple lined up eight weeks of free hands-on story sessions led by local DC creatives. This festival brought Apple’s mission to life through community innovation in photography, video, and design, while using Apple products. With experiential productions like Apple’s, you end up with a beautiful intersection where your organization’s marketing goals meet its audience’s needs. Plus you open the door for publicity, promotion, and partnerships.
By creating an authentic experience for your consumers, they become your ambassadors by sharing this one-time experience online and offline, which ultimately contributes to your overall brand awareness.
Recently, my team partnered with the Schusterman Foundation for a community cultural production, celebrating identity and social transformation through Jewish values. We curated an installation for conversation with poetry slams and artifact sharing where participants discussed the meaning of their artifact and what it represented, and how it connects to the greater collective. We had a Documentarian set up a Story Booth to capture one-on-one interviews with attendees sharing their artifact and their moment of social transformation. The event curation and programming embodied the core values of Schusterman, and the content shared on social media continues to amplify the organization’s mission and message.
In a nutshell, experiences fuel your content strategy and business growth. And keep in mind that threading your organization’s identity and values through the experience will reinforce your brand’s mission and (bonus!) you’ll gain evergreen content to repurpose.
So how do you measure the impact of an experiential production? It depends on your goals. Some examples of goals are brand awareness, capturing a new demographic, or increased sales. Once you’ve decided what your objective is, you can set your success metrics.
Let’s use brand awareness as a case study. In September 2018, my team curated the social media campaign and storytelling strategy for the first national Biden Cancer Summit. The anchor event was in DC, and more than 450 Community Summits were held around the country. The Summit aimed to raise awareness and spark conversation around developing solutions for cancer. Our storytelling strategy was to humanize the Biden Cancer Summit’s mission by documenting first-person stories of people afflicted by cancer -- ranging from doctors, patients, to their loved ones. We had videographers onsite capturing face-to-face interviews that we edited and shared on social media throughout the event. One of my favorites was Dr. Joseph Ravenell who travels around barbershops talking about colorectal cancer to African American men, who are disproportionately affected by the disease. He can perform blood pressure readings and cancer screenings on the spot. By sharing his innovative community-based strategy on social media, it encourages others to rethink how we approach conversations around cancer. Within 24 hours of the Summit, we captured over one million interactions between people who showed up in person and shared their experience on social media, and communities who participated online.
Two really important factors when developing your experience are to avoid being too salesy and to know your audience. Though it may be obvious, it’s still a good reminder -- attendees don’t want to feel like they’re at a sales pitch. The production should always feel like a community experience with a powerful story. And to the second point about knowing your audience, remember to consider cultural differences to ensure it’s the right fit for your intended consumers. In an Eventbrite interview, Global Head of Activation at Airbnb Anyi Raimondi shares a great example of a misstep from an experiential production in Seoul, Korea. Airbnb had jumped on the terrarium-making trend, and created stations for Airbnb hosts to beautify their space at the Seoul event — and nobody used it. Why? They found out through feedback that it’s considered rude in Korea to go up and self-serve at events. A great reminder about the value of integrating audience research and insights when developing the idea.
Long story short, experiential marketing and storytelling invites customers to actively and meaningfully engage with a brand — making participants more likely to become a brand loyalist than traditional marketing. If done right, it will drive your business’s visibility, profit, and impact. Thinking about creating an experiential production and content strategy? Let’s talk.