Experiential Marketing: Magnet For Millennials

Mark de Bruijn

Millennials have grown up in a world that seamlessly merges the virtual with the real – but also a world in which “fake news” seems to increasingly dominate social media. They are in dire need of authenticity, but are also seeking engagement and an intense customer experience.

Experiential marketing allows you to provide all of the above. However, it requires the proper approach.

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing directly integrates the customer experience with your marketing and branding activities. You bring your target group on board in the creative process and have them participate in various marketing activities, thus creating moments in which they are intensely engaged with your brand. Consider playful campaigns (based on guerrilla marketing) during live events, or an active use of followers in social media campaigns, but also, for instance, serious brainstorming sessions with your most loyal customer base and the marketing department.

Experiential marketing is the perfect strategy to intensify your connection with millennials. And that’s important, since a survey by Accenture has indicated that this group accounts for over 20 percent of the total purchasing power of all consumers. And brand loyalty is not automatically assured with the millennial. It requires a creative investment. But once you have won your way to their hearts, they become loyal fans who could really make a difference, extending a long time after that initial first purchase of your product.

Raise the bar to 2017

Experiential marketing is not a new development. For instance, free tastings in local supermarkets have been around forever. The trick lies in reinventing this type of marketing and elevating the interaction level and digital options to meet 2017 standards. Only with that specific combination will you be able to effectively reach millennials. They’re a generation that truly appreciates experiences and, moreover, they are willing to commit and do their part for a brand.

“Okay,” you may be saying, “this sounds great in theory, but what does it actually look like in practice?”

Let’s discuss a few examples to shed more light on how experiential marketing can make an impact.

1. Lean Cuisine: weigh this

Fitness and food manufacturers do not hesitate to tell you to change your body into a sleek temple. Lean Cuisine, an American manufacturer of healthy ready-made meals, took the world by surprise by using an experiential marketing campaign that was at least as sleek as the bodies that this industry is trying to cultivate.

Right in Grand Central Station in New York, Lean Cuisine had constructed a big wall featuring the hashtag #WeighThis. They asked women how they would like to be weighed—not in pounds, as one might expect from an exponent of the fitness industry, but based on what they mean to others or what they have achieved. The womens’ responses were written on small scales, which were hung it on that huge wall.

Lean Cuisine used this campaign to successfully find the emotional connection, showcasing a sense of perspective and self-criticism, without even spotlighting their own products once. This type of authenticity and sincerity was very well received by many people, especially millennials.

2. Red Bull

The majority of all Red Bull marketing activities can easily be categorized as experiential marketing. Examples include their extreme sports events and their Formula 1 activities. Red Bull is very active in this field in the Netherlands, for instance, in their air shows in the Port of Rotterdam. They have also established a very solid link with social media; many of their events have their own social media channels. A good example is the Instagram account for the air shows, boasting more than 100,000 followers.

The Red Bull Stratos project is also another fine example of experiential marketing. In close collaboration with Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, Red Bull broke the 52-year-old altitude record for skydiving. But perhaps even more spectacular: they broke the sound barrier with their jump! The audience could join the fun by watching a live stream during the jump.

Red Bull has shown that it not only wants to project an extreme sports image, it wants to show that they actually live and breathe extreme sports. The target group connects the positive vibes and the spectacular events to the brand, identifying Red Bull with action, excitement, and pushing boundaries. For an energy drink brand, that’s obviously the perfect fit.

3. Celebrating King’s Day with Heineken

There are few countries in the world where the King’s birthday is celebrated as enthusiastically as in the Netherlands. Countries that don’t have a royal family can hardly imagine anything like it. Heineken used that experience in a brilliant experiential marketing campaign: The Orange Experience.

The beer brand gave ten randomly selected people who enjoyed a Heineken in various cities, including Los Angeles, Oslo, and Rio de Janeiro, a check with the text Ticket to King’s Day written on it. These lucky few had the opportunity to celebrate the King’s birthday in the Netherlands’ capital city, including a ride on one of the festive canal barges. KLM arranged their flights. Heineken linked amazement and surprise to an undoubtedly unique and memorable experience.

These examples offer several interesting lessons for us:

1. Link IRL campaigns to social media

The most effective and obvious way is by linking social media to the experiential marketing campaign. That allows you to reach a much broader audience than just the people at the event itself. Consider live-streaming what is happening at a real-life event. When you have campaigns with a competitive aspect, you can announce the winners through social media.

Linking a specific hashtag to a campaign is another powerful and effective way to ensure the event continues online even after the offline action is over. The previously described campaigns from Red Bull and Lean Cuisine were not limited to a local impact; they reached a much wider (international) audience due to the online campaign and the complementary hashtag.

Another option is to have the experiential marketing campaign take place entirely on social media. In that case, you will miss out on the face-to-face effect of traditional experiential marketing, but it ensures you will reach a wide audience relatively easily. For instance, you could do a campaign in which you ask fans to post pictures of their daily lives with your brand or product. In any case, the use of social media will result in better measurements of your campaign results. And you can more effectively use personal information about your fans that you collect from social media to engage with them in the future.

2. Ensure instant gratification

Millennials are not fond of endeavors that might possibly result in rewards at some later point in time. This generation wants instant gratification. Keep that fact in mind in your campaign. If you organize a contest, do not postpone the results of that contest for a week. Instead, opt to declare winners more often, possibly even multiple times a day.

3. Demonstrate corporate citizenship

Millennials have a more engaged and cosmopolitan attitude than the older generations. To millennials, it’s considered cool to care about the planet, to wage war on sugar, or to help coffee farmers get a fair price for their harvest. They consider it normal that when you take something, you should also give something back. And that applies to a wide array of things. They expect this from other people, but also from the brands they use.

You can start exploring that in your experiential marketing campaign. Link to a social purpose, and you’ll increase your campaign’s sense of urgency and enhance the overall image of your brand.

4. Invite them in on the conversation

One powerful experiential marketing strategy is the use of brand ambassadors. These are the dedicated fans of your brand who are willing to convey the message of your brand in person. How powerful is that? After all, no one is better able to express the message of your brand to millennials than millennials themselves!

Using a certain amount of creativity, a wide array of active, meaningful interactions can be possible. For example, invite a loyal fan or influencer to your headquarters and get them engaged in brainstorming about a better communication and marketing strategy towards their peers. Young adolescents in their final years of secondary school or in their first years of college or university are especially interested in a “guest marketer” role. This approach not only creates a valuable moment or special attention on social media (especially in case of an influencer), but with a little luck it will also give you access to unique insights about your target audience.

5. Choose experience and authenticity over material matters

Research shows that millennials are less focused on material things than are, for instance, baby boomers. Sincerity, authenticity, and honesty are more important to them than owning a bigger television or car than their neighbors. There were valid reasons why the Lean Cuisine campaign generated so much sympathy. In addition, millennials are always on the lookout for experiences and are not necessarily seeking material things. The Red Bull and Heineken campaigns are good examples of that.

6. Be honest and informed

Lies or polished truths have never been good for your image, of course, but millennials consider honesty truly crucial. They are the best-educated generation of consumers so far. They can immediately see through falsehoods and are willing to do their research, so lies will blow up in your face at a later point in time. And this generation does not shy away from sharing negative experiences on social media.

It is therefore very important, in experiential marketing events, to make sure that the people representing your brand are honest and able to answer any questions asked by the target group, or can refer them to the proper sources when they do not know the answers themselves.

Entering and maintaining a long-term relationship with millennials is not a simple matter. But by using a smart experiential marketing plan, perseverance, and enough digital media resources to support that, you will have taken a solid step in the right direction.

For more on marketing strategies that get results, see Moving From Digital Tactics To Digital Marketing.


Mark de Bruijn

About Mark de Bruijn

Mark is an energetic and positive marketer with a focus on creativity, teamwork, digital, data and technology. Responsible for SAP Hybris in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). He is passionate about SAP Hybris solutions for marketing, sales, service, commerce and billing.