In today’s digital age, the best and brightest campaigns and experiences throughout the world can be shared in an instant. Whether it’s a breathtaking sunset, a modern art museum or a pop-up retail shop, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make it easier than ever for people to not just tell others what they are doing, but to show them. It is natural for humans to be more enticed by visually pleasing aesthetics over a written description of a product, place or service. For marketers, this means it is no longer enough to expect that a customer will engage with your brand because they read or hear about it – they will need to actually see it for themselves. Creating a visual, consumable, tactile experience that is designed to be shareable on social media is a win-win situation; adding an experiential element to a brand compounds its reach because when consumers snap a picture to share, more consumers will be driven to connect with the brand in real life, too.
As evident by the wide adaptation of “click-to-brick” pop-up stores or retail showrooms, from brands like Warby Parker and Casper, the relationship between real-life engagement and digital engagement is paramount to the forward mobility of a company. The age-old standard of excellent customer service is still a guiding factor for customer happiness and company success, but it acts as more of a reactive measure, whereas a creative experiential campaign is a proactive way to surprise-and-delight a customer base.
Marketers in any industry can utilize this trend, whether they are a startup or working in a mature product space. Bruce Clark, an Associate Professor of Marketing from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, explains that experiences are a cultural cornerstone right now, not only because of the sharing power of the internet, but also thanks to the spending power of Millennials.
“As Millennial spending power grows, spending on experiences will grow,” Clark says. “Experiences are built for the social media age. You share your moments and images with the people in the experience and with others. You’re more likely to share pictures from your vacation than pictures of your new TV.”
With this mindset, any company can devise a plan for an experiential activation or stunt to engage with consumers. According to Mark Testa, owner of Mark Stephan Agency, an NYC-based experiential agency, it is worth the invest; it pays off for a brand to use activations to create deeper ties with its audience.
“Brands are really seeing positive financial returns on a well invested and executed experience,” says Testa.
Also capitalizing on the viral effect of social media shares are a sector of companies solely built on experiences. For example, the pop-up installation Museum of Ice Cream, a multi-sensory exhibit dedicated to sweet treats, describes itself as an “experience-first brand”. It can now be found in multiple cities and has collaborated with other major brands like Target and American Express. Then, there are also companies that market themselves as “immersive” experiences, such as escape room concepts like The Escape Game or creative arts groups like Meow Wolf. Visual, shareable experiences are fundamental to their business models; this category of companies not only wants consumers to share their visits on social media but also encourages consumers to share the experience with each other, in the moment.
“We’ve arrived at a place where experiences are this generation’s form of storytelling,” explains Jeff Meade, the Managing Director of Tara Wilson Agency, a Fort Worth-based experiential marketing firm that connects brands with audiences via creative, immersive and transformative live experiences. “The best way to reach one another and connect people is through storytelling.”
As for the future of the experience economy, most experts believe it will continue to grow and be a larger part of consumer-brand engagement strategies, which ultimately affect shopping behavior and habits in the long run. Whether a company is diverting marketing funds into creating live events or new companies emerge based on an experiential idea, the industry sees no signs of slowing down.
“Companies are allocating more money than ever to experiential budgets and I think this trend is only going to continue to grow,” says Meade. “It’s an exciting time to be part of the experience industry.”
Another expert, Allen Yesilevich, the VP of Marketing & Growth at experiential agency MC2, agrees.
“Studies have shown that consumers of all ages, and especially millennials, are opting to spend their money on experiences rather than consumer goods,” he states. “And the hunger to capture moments and collect likes on social media only encourages the shift in spend. As more brands begin to recognize and understand this dynamic, I only expect to see the number of experiences to grow exponentially.”
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