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8 Ideas for Experiential Marketing

Customers Crave Immersive Experiences

As online retailers are scooping up more and more business, brick and mortar stores seek to creatively win customers to their locales. While they compete with the internet in the areas of price and convenience, they still have some advantages over an online store. Retail stores can offer better customer service and real experiences. The newest trends in brand loyalty and buying habits are showing that millennials seek experiences. They want custom-tailored products and services that speak to them personally so they connect with a brand in new ways. And they do that in store.

Traditional stores have an advantage because once you are in there, you are on THEIR turf. Smart store owners will manage their turf well. One clothing store in our mall has a climbing wall inside it. While parents shop, their kids can climb the wall. Literally. The store employs an associate to man the wall for safety, help the kids get harnessed if they’re climbing high enough, and keep them corralled if they’re just bouldering. You better believe their sales are climbing, too!

Your B&M store can make a statement! The next town over from us has an American fare restaurant. The food is pretty good, but the best thing about the restaurant and the reason everyone eats there is because they have an aquarium built in the middle of the eating area. So while you eat, you’re watching all manner of fish and sharks (and occasionally scuba divers, too)  swim around in half a million gallons of water. It’s breathtaking! It’s fun for adults and especially for kids. It makes for easy conversation, a really relaxing dinner, and an enjoyable experience. (And I think they don’t even serve seafood! But who cares?!)

The key to enticing your customers is to transform your store from “just another errand” they have to run into a place they like to go. What could you do to infuse some FUN into your retail environment? It doesn’t have to be related to your product or service. The store with the climbing wall has NOTHING to do with climbing! Maybe add a juice bar or a phone-charging station. One bookstore in our town has a small kids’ area made to look like a treehouse. It has child-size furniture, loads of books and toys, and occasionally they play a kids’ video or even have a performer back there.

Make your product experience and store an oasis instead of a chore. Think creatively about how to alleviate the “chore”-ness of that chore. Could you offer coffee or fresh baked sweets to attract people? Could you have some local musicians (even some talented child musicians) in to entertain the crowd? What about some unique local products that would be worth featuring occasionally? Our local garden center has a display table when you walk in, and on it are placed some really fun eco-friendly soaps for men and such. The wrappers on the soaps have hilarious little sayings and jokes on them (“Smells like victory!” “Lasts 3x longer than girly soap!”). Often, when I enter, I’ll see people gathered around that little display reading the soap wrappers out loud to each other!

It does not matter what your product is… No matter what product you find yourself manufacturing, you can likely create a campaign to connect and engage with customers. The end game is to create an activity that drives a positive experience for your customers — one that customers will find it hard to forget and easy to recall.  At the end of the day, the efforts need to culminate in driving sales and draw foot traffic later. Following are eight of the most effective experiential marketing campaigns manufactures and retailers can undertake:


  1. Edu-Tainment

Consider teaching customers how to use your products or a lifestyle-focused workshop on a skill relevant to your industry segment.  You can do some beta testing and start small by hosting “live” events at a brick-and-mortar store. One great example is New Era Cookware in Tennessee drives retail sales by doing a combination of educational classes at their facilities.  They also will do cooking demonstrations in the retail stores that carry their products.  The results are dramatically higher.

  • Temporary Pop-Up Shops

If you sell some or a majority of your products online, think about the viability of hosting a pop-up shop or partner with a complementary business to hold an event at their store. For example, one idea could be creating a pop up store at an airport in the concourse or at a NACAR event.  These can provide a unique opportunity for your customers and prospects to try out your products at the pop-up stores.

  • Live Meeting Series

Host an series of meetings or live events or start a monthly club. You could also, for example a host a Book Club, Round table discussion and Comic Book Club that meet monthly. You could also invite a guest speaker to your location each month to educate your customers on a topic that relates to your business.

  • Trade Shows

One of the better methods to get your customers and prospects an experience is to go where they are.  If your customers are going to a particular trade show or series of shows, then see if you can’t meet them where they are at and give them an experience they will likely not forget.  Trade shows can be tricky and can be executed poorly, so please plan carefully if this is a direction you choose to promote some customer expiences.

  • Local Events

Tie your product into an event, like Casper did with SXSW. Become a sponsor, host a booth or offer samples of your products or services. You can also host your own event, like lululemon’s SeaWheeze Half Marathon.

  • One Off “Buzz” Campaigns

Finding a clever and buzz worthy way attract attention can be an excellent way to show your company or product in a new way.  For example, when State Street Global positioned a small girl in front of the iconic bull on Wall Street and named her the “fearless girl.”  The idea was to gain attention and boost brand awareness by using guerrilla marketing tactics.  The result was unprecedented and drew lots of attention from around the globe.  What a great way to build brand when they did not even product, rather a service.

  • Take it On the Road

Take your business on the road by organizing a tour that stops in a variety of locations. Or be a destination of a tour. Miller Electric out of Wisconsin brought their welders on the road for their prospects and customers to experience live.  The results were a spike in sales and brand awareness.  The same applies in retail to take your show on the road doing live demo’s in retail locations where your products are displayed.

  • Immersive Retail Environments

People love to shop in an immersive environment. One example is Target and how brightly lit it is, along with a Starbucks who also creates and environment where you feel comfortable to get a coffee and hang around and chat.  You can also look at the apple store and how open it is with accent lighting and natural wood tones contrasted by gloss white.  The end result is that this environment woos the women in. On the other hand, Bass Pro Shops is entirely decked out like the great outdoors and has boats (and other big toys for big boys) right out in the middle of the store. It’s enticing. It makes you want to go in. Even if it’s fresh flowers and a new coat of paint, every store has SOMETHING more that it can do to beautify itself and draw in its client base.

Most of all, and it really is the most effective way to increase the level of fun shopping, train your staff in customer service. Drive the people in your store to serve your customers happily. Smiles and laughter are infectious, and if you can move the needle in the way your staff interacts with your customers significantly you can dynamically change the way shoppers perceive the experience at your store.

As retailers we are compared against the convenience of online shopping and we need to have a better alternative to shopping from the kitchen table.  We must differentiate!  That said, we can provide a great outlet for customers to get an experience with your products and in your retail space that they could not possibly get online.  Find new ways to allow the customers to interact with your products. Sometimes it can be a small screen located at a strategic place that customers can’t help but see a live demonstration of the products.  The spend for these LED screens have dropped dramatically and allows a first step to generate interest and then move to investigating your products.  Allow at least one product to be available for the customer to try it out, see how it looks, and become comfortable with their purchase.  The more immersive we can be, the more likely that we will build our brand, drive sales, and loyalty.

People crave instant gratification.

I remember when you had to drive to the local video store to rent the latest movie release. And, oh how we prayed that it wouldn’t be rented out already! I even remember the pre-DVD/VCR days (back in the 1900s) when we had to wait for a movie to come on TV to watch it. I can recall the early days of everyone getting a microwave oven and being amazed at how quickly they could make popcorn, boil water, reheat a meal. Nowadays, I’m grumpy if my phone service isn’t at lightning speed or there are more than 2 cars in the drive-thru or the self-checkout at the grocery store is backed up.

Your customers crave immediate gratification, too.

People are conditioned these days for immediate responses. Because it’s readily available in so many areas of our lives, we want it EVERYWHERE. And it really doesn’t matter how kind or patient or carefree they are, your customers want what they want. And what they don’t want is to spend a lot of time NOT getting what they want. They want their questions answered; they want to find what they’re looking for; they want to be in and out without delay. If you’ve spent any time at all on-line looking at reviews, you’ll find that customers don’t consider these things inconveniences, they find them inexcusable. And they judge your store based on their shopping experience being diminished. Fair or not, your customers can feel “mistreated” and can walk away from your store with a negative feeling.

Look for ways to scratch the “want it now” itch.

How can you help customers find what they need quicker and easier? More signage? Clearer displays? How can you streamline the checkout process for ease and speed? Think of the kinds of businesses that you like to frequent. Think of what they are doing right and best. Think of why you like to shop there. Think like a patron as you seek to find solutions to your own store’s shortcomings.

Keep quality in mind.

You don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of speed or ease. Customers still consider a great product or a top-notch service as their primary consideration when purchasing. So your job isn’t to JUST hurry people through; it’s to make the wait enjoyable – to make them not notice that they’re having to wait a bit. Streamline the process, and make the process pleasant.

Consider implementing speed bumps.

No, not ACTUAL speed bumps, just metaphorical ones. Ways to slow shoppers down. While we all have the instant gratification gene in us, we also have the free will to stop and look at something or do something that we are drawn to. For instance, my husband and I love to visit the big box stores here in town. They have the massive quantities of peanut butter and toilet paper and dry goods our big family needs. They also have big beautiful displays of their latest products. They also always have food samples constantly going. So, while we load up big batches of olive oil and almond butter and ponder if we need a massive 30-foot unicorn float, we can also gnosh on crab wontons and fried pickles. Win-win. Meanwhile, we forgot all about the fact that we just came in to grab a quick item.

What speed bumps would work best for your business?

How could you slow your customers down – not just delay them but engage them? How could you do it in a way that they wouldn’t see it as a disruption, but an enjoyment? Our local coffee shop has an ever-changing mural on its wall near the service line. It’s made up of rolled up pieces of colored paper that are inserted into tiny holes in the mural and that make up a larger stunning picture. Patrons are invited to write jokes, prayers, blessings, thoughts down on the strips of paper and insert them into the tiny holes, making their small writings a part of the art. Genius! People don’t even notice that they are actually waiting in line! There are a thousand ways to divert your customers’ attention from their inconvenience to your benefit. A clothing store could demo a seasonal capsule-building. A hardware store could have a game built out of nuts and bolts and more for customers to tinker with. The ideas are endless if you put your thinking cap on!