Experiential marketing

Markets have evolved from an agrarian base to industrial products and later to services. With changing focus of economy, needs and wants have undergone radical changes giving rise to new consumer behavioural patterns. Today’s consumers are exposed to a plethora of choices in each and every product category. However, value as perceived by customers is based on ‘little difference’ in product features and benefit offers. This raises an important question: what makes a customer choose a product or service? Marketing is faced with the problem of making a choice between traditional marketing (features and benefits based marketing) and innovative practices like experiential marketing. The experiential marketing framework appears to be the approach most suitable in present day context for it makes a company and its brands relevant to the customer’s life. Experiential marketing also demonstrates the power of collecting truly relevant customer information, developing and implementing winning strategies and measuring their results. Experiential marketing goes well beyond simply delivering consumption experiences to give information consumers need to make a purchase decision. This marketing tool can be applied creatively to deliver greater impact while reducing costs. It can be used in market research or customer insights research in the ways not practiced before. It is a private event that happens to people in response to some kind of internal or external stimulus. It involves both rational and emotional sides of us. The aim of experiential marketing is to make the customer delighted in exultant jubilation.

Unlike other marketing tools, experiential marketing is intangible and cannot be easily copied and, hence, it provides sustainable competitive advantage. It serves as a differentiation tool that separates the company or the product from competition. It focuses on imparting experience to customers through strategic experiential modules viz. sense, feel, think, act and relate. The foremost challenge lies in imparting these experiences to customers right from the pre-purchase stage, to using the product and dumping the used product. A brand’s ultimate objective is not need-fulfillment but experience satisfaction. To install or instill these experiences generates and necessitates the role of experience providers which are typically communication, people, website, electronic media, product presence and spatial environment. Experiential marketing is a widely recognised marketing methodology. Experiential marketing uses brand relevant experiences to appeal to both ‘rational and emotional buying triggers’ of the intended audience.The concept of experiential marketing reflects a right brain bias because it is about fulfilling consumers’ aspirations to experience certain feelings – comfort and pleasure on one hand, and avoidance of discomfort and displeasure on the other. In contrast, traditional product centric marketing reflects a left brain bias because it generally seeks to persuade consumers by invoking rational factors that position the advertised brand as better than competing brands. Product centric marketing presumes a degree of rationality in consumers’ decision-making that contemporary brain science refutes. Consumers’ decisions are much more influenced by emotionally generated feelings than by their rationally derived thought.

Experiential marketing has become an accepted alternative-marketing -methodology. The term experiential marketing now receives 12 lakh on hits on Google. Experiential marketing continues to grow in popularity as it becomes a more widely adopted methodology by mainstream marketers.

  • Marketers spent more than $150 billion (approx. Rs 6,000 billion) on experiential marketing in 2005. According to a study by HPI Research Group, 68 per cent of surveyed marketing executives spent more on experiential marketing in 2005 than in 2004 and half of those executives expect to increase spending in 2006.

Experiential marketing is also termed as customer experience marketing because the idea is to communicate the essence of the brand through a personalised experience. "Remember," says Erik Hauser, "experiential is a methodology not a medium." With emerging media entering the marketplace on a regular basis, vying for consumers’ attention is becoming increasingly difficult. The 30-second spot is proving to be less effective and marketers are forced to look for alternatives. Consumers themselves have even resorted to avoiding messages whenever possible by installing pop-up blockers or fast forwarding their DVR (such as Tivo) to avoid commercials. Experiential marketing was once seen as an alternative approach to reaching the most media-savvy audience. It offers an engaging, entertaining and interactive brand experience unmatched by traditional marketing. In today's marketing landscape, experiential marketing is leading the way. During the past ten years, experiential marketing has become a hot topic in the branding world. Some of the most prominent brands such as Levi’s, Nokia, Harley-Davidson and  Volkswagen have implemented successful experiential programmes to reach their target.

The live brand experience is becoming the single most powerful tool in experiential marketing as per the finding in a new global survey conducted by the International Experiential Marketing Association (www.ixma.org) and its interactive newsgroup, the Experiential Marketing Forum (www.experientialforum.com). The informal online survey polled members in 159countries and sovereign nations to determine the most successful experiential marketing tactics implemented internationally, as well as the tactics that have the most potential to negatively affect the brand experience. Benefits of experience marketing are far reaching. These come in handy for companies that think of turning around a declining brand or when sales just don’t happen. It fits the bill in case of promoting innovations in the product and, above all, in gaining loyalty from customers. Innovation today is not invention. It is about taking the product, putting in a whole new process, thinking around it and marketing it. Innovation is about working on practical utilitarian features that enhance the product experience. Call it disruptive or creative, but today, providing an experience for customers has become the most compelling form of differentiation on the shelves. It is this experience, which brings the customer back to the product, often in anticipation of newer and more exciting value-adds. And, it need not be one radical idea, which will transform the product into super brand, but small discrete steps, which enhance customer delight. It is not just the global behemoths like Levi’s, Nokia, Harley-Davidson, P&G and Eli Lilly who are focusing their innovation efforts to provide the brand experience; examples abound in India as well. Of late, there have been a number of value-added innovations attempted by marketers. Take Hindustan Uniliver’s quick dry net sold along with Rin Supreme detergent soap. Dry net, which enables customers to hang the soap for drying, prevents the bar from melting and it has been well received. Along similar lines to dry net for Rin Supreme was the polycoat film on its Vim bar. Meanwhile, Marico came up with head massager with Parachute Advanced and Colgate toothbrush with a tongue cleaner. P&G devised a hygiene cap for Oral B toothbrush and Pepsi introduced Pepsi Sippers. Most of us enjoy a head massage and attempt was to make oiling your hair more enjoyable. It not only made the product experience more enjoyable, but also made the brand more contemporary in the minds of consumers. A head massager with Parachute Advanced is not just about hair oil but evolving it into the area of personal care. See that a quick dry net or Vim polycoat film becomes a tool to enhance the consumer’s home care experience, rather than remaining just a bar soap.

The challenge in India is in the heterogeneously diverse structure of people, culture and languages. So, a product, service or brand has to act locally in a market. However, full localisation is an unworkable proposition. So, what can be done? Should the brand identity be same - name, visual appeal etc. But, in the way of experiential outreach - whether it’s an event or promotional activities or even communications and advertising - companies may have to localise in order to ‘relate’ to the customer more closely. Marketers can provide experiences for customers through a set of experience providers, which are as follows.

  • Communications: Advertising, public relations, annual reports, brochures and newsletters.
  • Visual and verbal identity: Names, logos, signage and transportation vehicles.
  • Product presence: Product design, packaging and point of displays.
  • Co-branding: Event marketing and sponsorships, alliance and partnerships, licensing and product placement on movies or TV.
  • Environments: Retail and public spaces, trade booths, corporate buildings, office interiors and factories.
  • Websites and electronic media: Corporate sites, product or service sites, CD-ROMs, automated e-mails, online advertising and intranets.
  • People: Salespeople, customer-service representatives, technical spares or repair providers, company spokespersons, and CEOs and other executives.


Customer experience framework consists of five basic steps:

  • Analysing experiential world of customer: Gaining insights into socio-cultural context of consumers or business context of business customers.
  • Building experiential platform: Developing a strategy that includes positioning the kind of experience the brand stands for, value proposition of what relevant experience to deliver and overall implementation-theme that will be communicated.
  • Designing brand experience: Implementing their experiential platform in the ‘look and feel’ of logos and signage, packaging, and retail spaces, in advertising, collaterals, and online.
  • Structuring customer interface: Implementing the experiential platform in dynamic and interactive interfaces including face to face, in stores, during-sales visits, at the check in desk of a hotel, or e-commerce engine of the web site.

Engaging in continuous innovation: Implementing the experiential platform in new product development, creative marketing events for customers, and fine-tuning the experience at every point of sale.

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