The Art of Experiential Marketing
Marketing used to be about selling products. If you had a pair of shoes to hawk, you’d place a magazine ad, or pay for a primetime TV commercial to highlight the shoes’ unique features. But that kind of advertising is officially outdated; in the internet era, everything is about experience.
Study after study shows that millennial consumers are far more interested in accumulating experiences over things. Want proof? Forbes found that “In a recent survey, 70% percent of respondents said that funding travel is a motivation to work, second only to paying for basic necessities.” So, what’s a brand to do if their ultimate goal is, after all, to sell things? The answer is to turn your marketing efforts into an experience. Today’s successful brands create a narrative and project an ethos that make the product secondary to the experience that the consumer is buying into.
It’s hard to overstate how important this experiential aspect is. The internet has created a reality for young people wherein their social media presence becomes a brand in and of itself. As a marketer, investing in an event that people could get excited about—whether watching online or in real life—is exactly the kind of strategy that turns into good will for a brand. Your demographic then has something to align themselves with by posting or sharing on social media without feeling like they’re being sold to.
If you’re a brand or company thinking about your marketing strategy, this can sound very theoretical and hard to put into practice. To help highlight this kind of marketing in action, it’s good to look to prime examples such as Nike’s recent Breaking2 initiative. The objective of the stunt was to break the two-hour marathon threshold by training and working with three notable distance runners to create optimal training and racing conditions. While the goal wasn’t quite reached—one of the runners came within half a minute of the barrier—the marketing goals of the campaign were reached. People were engaging with talking about the idea elite athleticism, and more importantly, they were associating that idea with Nike.
In other words, Nike wasn’t selling shoes with its Breaking2 stunt, it was selling the idea of athletic excellence, determination, and success, which is more valuable than a shoe will ever be. As a writer for TechCrunch put it, “Breaking2 seems to have reached a kind of marketing nirvana, something that brands promise all the time without really delivering — a great story that also happens to be part of an advertising campaign.”
Nike’s campaign fundamentally worked because it provided value even if you were not interested in the product it was ultimately selling—i.e. shoes and sportswear. Nike invested heavily in these runners’ training, and in creating the optimal performance conditions. Anyone who viewed the event online (assuming they were already interested in sports or athletics) benefited from seeing three amazing athletes do something incredibly difficult. That experience of watching something go down in real time—and that event being only tangentially connected to the product—made it feel real, exciting, and completely nonmanufactured.
In addition, Nike masterfully integrated the initiative across social media, placing ads using the #Breaking2 hashtag, but also getting regular social media users to use it as well. As TechCrunch went on to say: “while Kipchoge didn’t quite reach that official two-hour goal, Nike will get plenty of mileage from the event. It posted live video of the race on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — on Facebook, as I write this on Saturday evening, the livestream has been viewed 4.9 million times, and a shorter clip highlighting Kipchoge’s finish has been viewed 4.2 million times. (You’ll probably see plenty more ads featuring that clip.)”
So next time you have a product, campaign, or idea to launch, think less about how you can sell it, and more about how you can create a unique or engaging experience or event that your core demographic can align themselves with. Once they do that, they will post, share, and amplify your message without you having to do a hard sell of anything. That in turn will lead to more sales than a shoe commercial ever could.