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What is Experiential Marketing?

Updated on February 21, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Experiential Marketing in Action (See If You Can Find the Company Who Sponsored this Marketing Campaign)

Experiential Marketing Definition

Experiential marketing is a branding activity that seeks to engage potential customers with a business and its brand through events, experiences and sponsorships. However, these are not product demonstrations or sales presentations! Rather, they are unique experiences that help potential customers positively associate with the brand and its message or mission.

With today's social media capabilities, the marketer's hope is that those who do have an experiential marketing experience will share it with their friends and followers, thereby amplifying the reach of the brand through influencers.

Some examples of these experiential marketing activities can include:

  • Special invitation-only concerts or shows sponsored by the marketer.
  • Sponsored services or products to allow people to experience these offerings while engaged in another activity.
  • Sponsorship of events where the target market demographic would gather. In this case, the marketer seeks to be associated as an organization that serves and understands the market. This goes beyond merely throwing money at an event to have a logo plastered on a sign! If going for the experiential factor, marketers will take it one more step to become involved in the actual event itself with their products, personnel or services.
  • Unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that are only made available to a limited (and targeted!) market segment. This might include the opportunity to meet a celebrity, participate in a "tell your grandchildren someday" type activity, a behind the scenes tour or other memorable experiences not available to the general public.

As is obvious, this is done with a non-sales approach by:

  • Increasing the number of "touches" that a business has with potential customers in a positive, non-threatening way.
  • Building positive recognition of a brand.
  • Utilizing an inbound marketing strategy that attracts instead of hunts customers.
  • Breaking down buyer resistance.

Keys to Making Experiential Marketing Work

Though the intent is to be subtle, the brand must be obvious enough for people to make an association with it. This can be a tricky. So keys to making it work include:

  • Marketers need to think outside (or inside!) the proverbial box to come up with unique and surprising ways to positively associate themselves with audiences. In the featured kitten campaign, people were invited into a special box that allowed them to play with kittens as a surprise remedy for stress. The thought chain is a bit long here. Participants will need to enjoy their kitten experience so much that they may consider adopting a cat or kitten. When the cat is then adopted, they'll need to remember the brand that introduced them to the wonderful world of cat ownership. Then they'll need to remember that brand as a kitty litter manufacturer and look for the product at the store.
  • Marketers must consider what action they want participants to take... sales or otherwise. Alteratively, the kitten campaign could also have used this experiential marketing effort to connect with existing kitten and cat owners, many of whom can't wait to see—and share!—the next cute cat YouTube video with their social media friends. (That's why we have the Internet, right?). That video definitely scores on the cute cat factor! As well, the brand developed a "virtual" stress reduction box with a YouTube video for those who couldn't experience for real.

And for Walking Dead Fans Out There, Check This!

Integrating Social Media and Experiential Marketing

A campaign that skillfully melded social media and experiential marketing is Bud Light's #UpForWhatever campaigns. Bud Light drinkers were invited to participate for the opportunity for some exclusive access events and experiences such as:

  • The chance to play electric football with a famous college and NFL football coach.
  • A living room and backyard tricked out in the theme of the fan's favorite NFL team.
  • Bud Light drinkers were invited to audition for an exclusive party weekend with performances by hot musical acts, going to "beer school," getting served treats by a famous rap artist, sports activities and more.

One fan summed up his experience saying that the best part of the experience is that one didn't know what would happen next. Again, the elements of surprise and uniqueness are critical to providing a memorable campaign.

Also notice that Bud Light used the #UpForWhatever hashtag for the campaign so that fans could share their experiences and conversation on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.

Experiential Marketing Downsides

As is evident from the above discussions, experiential marketing is not the same as a sales presentation or even advertising. So it does present a wealth of challenges to marketers including:

  • Difficulty Measuring ROI. As noted in the discussion on the kitten therapy segment, the path from initial contact to the ultimate sales opportunity can be quite circuitous and participant prospects could drop out of the sales funnel at any point.
  • Cost. Looking at the examples presented here, imagine how expensive each one of these efforts was! This is not to say that all experiential marketing efforts have to be expensive. Leveraging social media can help absorb some of the public relations costs while still achieving coverage and reach. But the costs must be carefully evaluated before attempting any of these efforts.
  • Remembering the Experience, but Not the Brand. Some experiences can be so intriguing that the brand sponsoring it may be completely missed or dismissed... not what the marketer intended.
  • Deceptive? Some participants may feel duped if they realize that their awesome experience was actually part of a marketing effort.
  • The Negative Experience. What if a brand's customer prospects truly aren't "up for whatever?" And it was probably a trick for the kitty litter folks to recruit participants that weren't allergic (physically or emotionally) to cats without letting on what the experience was all about. Knowledge and research of the target market demographic is an absolute must, along with consulting an attorney on liabilities prior to launch.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, LouCannon! Glad you found it interesting. Happy New Year!

  • LouCannon profile image

    Amanda Louise Cannon 

    5 years ago from Wynndel BC Canada

    Interesting and worthwhile read!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi ArtDiva! Yep, the slippery slope is one that marketers definitely need to be mindful of. It can be very subtle indeed. Thanks for stopping by and adding your insight to the conversation!

  • profile image


    5 years ago

    Well, surprise, surprise. A subject closely related to my own background in design. Many, do not "get" what's behind advertising design/art/illustration/commercials—the message, the purchasing power it elicits with image alone. And, talking about the "slippery slope" taken to the extreme. Is nothing sacred any longer? Victoria's Secret is as close to soft porn as it gets. Not prudish, but wonder the defined difference between many of their new promotions and Hustler magazine.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Indeed, CMHypno, being creative and imaginative is critical to making marketing work these days. And you're so right, getting the balance is quite a balancing act. Thanks for checking out the hub. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

  • CMHypno profile image


    5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    Thanks for all the great information Heidi. Brands really need to be far more creative and imaginative in getting their messages across and building awareness. But getting the balance right must be tough

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi teaches12345! Yep, surprise is the crucial element and, you're right, it is difficult to achieve in today's competitive marketing landscape. Glad you enjoyed. Have a great weekend!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    5 years ago

    Marketing really these days does need the element of surprise to capture an audience these days. With all the competition, having an edge on creative marketing is going to put your brand above others. Great article on this topic.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Just found this cool Walking Dead experiential marketing example. Check the video!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Iris! Thanks for stopping by and for your kind support. Happy Monday!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    AliciaC, I would also willingly volunteer to spend some time in the kitten stress therapy box. :) Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful week!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Catherine, like you, I'm always finding new advertising and marketing methods that I've never heard of before... even though I'm in the biz, too. (I go through those "huh?" moments quite often.) Agreed, some of today's marketing methods ride that slippery slope between helpful and opportunistic. I'm sure you'd feel the same way about "native advertising" which is another hot topic in ad circles. Luckily, the FTC is starting to step in there. So watch for some developments coming there, too. Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation! Have a great week!

  • CatherineGiordano profile image

    Catherine Giordano 

    5 years ago from Orlando Florida

    This is very interesting. I was not aware of this term before even tho I am in marketing (as a market researcher.) The world of advertising has changed so much. In some ways it is better because it serves to enrich the subject's life, and in some ways worse because it is so sly slipping past the defenses the subject has set up to wad off advertising. Voted up and interesting.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is an interesting hub, Heidi. Experiential marketing sounds like a great idea, even with its potential problems. I would most definitely volunteer to enter the kitten stress reduction box, even if I knew that it was a marketing ploy!

  • Iris Draak profile image

    Cristen Iris 

    5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

    This is excellent information. Voted up.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, kittens and bunnies playing together? That is cute overload! Glad you stopped by today. Have a beautiful Sunday!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, NMLady! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking time to read and comment!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Our kitten is playing with one of our rabbits as I write this. I'm sooo into cute. Think outside the box? What a novel concept for writers. :) Happy Sunday to you.

  • NMLady profile image


    5 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

    Great topic. Very interesting. Very well written to BTW.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    5 years ago from Chicago Area

    FlourishAnyway, since I'm on the board for our county's pet shelter foundation, I would have been sooooooo in the kitten stress reduction box, too! Absolutely, too adorable. And I love the cats who explore the GoPro cameras.

    I can see why the tobacco company did this type of marketing to bolster their brand. They're extremely limited in the number of marketing avenues they can choose from. I can also see why they didn't want their smoking clientele pushing it on the physical level. :)

    Thanks for stopping by and adding that story to the conversation! Hope your weekend is filled with kitten/cat therapy fun!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    OMG this was over the top cute! I am such a sucker that if they had snagged me, I'd be TIDY CAT brand loyal for life. When I used to rescue kittens and adult cats, there wasn't anything that made me more content than a happy, trusting kitten snoozing in my arms. They take all the stress away.

    When I worked for a tobacco company that no longer advertised on billboards, magazines, etc. they did a lot of this type of marketing. TFor example, they have a huge ranch in Montana that they'd invite certain smokers up to and make a huge deal about (e.g., a sweepstakes winner). They'd send them a cowboy hat, it'd be an all expenses paid visit, the company would pay all associated taxes, then for days the group would do all kinds of adventurous activities that didn't involve much strenuous breathing (because, after all, they are smokers).


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