As content marketers, we constantly aim to connect with audiences in engaging, memorable ways. Our usual domains include digital channels like email, social media and brand websites. We gather feedback from online forms, customer surveys and comments.

But what about venturing offline to promote branding? Going out in the real world to meet with customers and prospects in person?

On-site experiences are a direct marketing approach worth considering, says Ray Sheehan, founder of experiential marketing agency Old City Media. He recently shared his perspective on experiential marketing and how it can give content teams a refreshing, results-driven option for capturing consumer attention.

What Exactly Is Experiential Marketing?

“It’s having that experience, having that connection, having that interaction with your potential target consumer,” Sheehan explains. “In practice, it means creating immersive experiences that allow hands-on engagement with messaging and products.”

If this approach reminds you of free samples brand ambassadors hand out at Costco, rest assured that there’s more to it — and it’s not just a tactic for B2C brands. B2B can benefit, as well. 

Real-world encounters can occur in many settings, from sponsored areas at public venues and retail displays to trade show booths and standalone branded events. The key is facilitating a dialogue in contexts that align with the audience.

“We’re taking the brand message, and now we’re starting to really have a conversation with their end user,” Sheehan says. Experiential marketing brings branding to life, whether you’re showcasing products, demoing software or taking factory tours.

Why Should Content Teams Care? 

Besides the novelty factor, experiential marketing can help brands directly capture consumer perspectives that inform communication strategies. Unlike passive digital advertising, experiential fosters two-way discussion, giving you direct access to people’s opinions.

“You can start having conversations about why you’re unhappy with a brand or what interests you in a product,” says Sheehan. Marketers gain visibility into actual objections, needs and motivations.

These organic insights offer invaluable qualitative data for optimizing messaging approaches. “Experiential marketing gets you out in the field,” he says, “and you’re able to start grabbing insights that you wouldn’t normally get by just placing an ad.”

3 Experiential Marketing Takeaways

Like any marketing approach, experiential marketing should serve your content and business goals. Here are three key actions marketing leaders need to take when incorporating experiential marketing. 

Align Internally Before Deploying Externally  

Brands must align internally to extract and apply what they learn in the market. Sheehan advocates holding preparatory workshops to develop positioning. “It brings everyone together — content, creative, sales — for the greater good of the company,” he says.

Cross-departmental collaboration helps you construct a coherent brand narrative before testing it externally. What emotional associations do you want to build? What differentiates your offering? Answering such questions through collective brainstorming lays the foundation. 

As Sheehan points out, these workshops are opportunities for brand managers, content managers, copywriters and field marketers to collaborate on and develop a unified brand message. The process also allows for a greater understanding of the customer’s perspective, leading to more effective communication.

“You have the people that are really coming up with the look and feel: How do we position our brand? What is the emotion going to exude?” Sheehan says. This understanding sets the stage for experiential execution.

Sheehan also emphasized keeping team engagement high during these workshops for improved idea generation, accountability and action items.  

Capturing Data Is Essential 

To get the most value, brands must implement data capture mechanisms for these in-person activities and events.

“The more sophisticated companies, they’re armed with an iPad, or they’re armed with some sort of technology where they’re going through a little bit of a Q&A,” Sheehan says. “They’re having a gazillion different conversations. You’re clearly not going to remember all those conversations.”

Surveys, lead generation forms and session recordings each gather tangible feedback for extrapolation. The goal is to integrate online and offline efforts. “When that consumer’s coming to your website, how are you grabbing that data from that consumer and then having other conversations with them?” Sheehan says.

When brands capture information about their potential customers, they better understand consumer needs and preferences. Then, they can use this data internally to improve marketing strategies, refine messaging and increase sales. 

Execute Omnichannel Strategy Holistically

Ultimately, experiential marketing is one component of an orchestrated omnichannel approach. “It all kind of works together in a very synergistic way,” Sheehan says. The data and insights gathered in the field shape initiatives executed across other channels.

The key is that content teams must connect the dots between these efforts, Sheehan says. “When everyone’s communicating, and everyone’s aligned, and you’re doing something with those leads and that data — this is what companies do, and it works.”

Experiential Marketing Best Practices for Content Marketers

Sheehan offers these tips for content teams looking to embrace experiential marketing:

  • Establish solid internal processes before launching an experiential marketing campaign.
  • Have a clear plan, goals and objectives.
  • Incorporate technology, including artificial intelligence, to capture and analyze data from experiential marketing efforts, then apply it to your content.
  • Use internal workshops to brainstorm and align brand messaging before taking it to the market.
  • Make experiential marketing part of an integrated, strategic marketing approach across channels.

In-person activations might require greater effort than digital set-it-and-forget-it tactics. But for content teams feeling social media fatigue or locked in digital silos, experiential marketing can help them get immersed in the consumer mindset. Plus, the qualitative insights you gain can prove invaluable in steering your communication and content plans.