We have all sat through marketing presentations that expound that brands need to forge an emotional connection with consumers but what does this actually mean? I would argue that in order to connect with one’s audience in a manner that delves deeper than the transactional, we need to apply the same principles that we do to connect with anyone in our lives.

Think about the last time you went to a party where you knew very few other attendees. How did you behave?
Did you talk about yourself incessantly?
Did you storm the stage and belt out a jingle about what makes you awesome?
If so, I can’t imagine you were a very popular guest.
More than likely, you joined a group conversation or engaged a fellow guest at the bar. You probably sought to find common ground—a show you both enjoyed, an issue you both cared about or at the very least, commented on the weather (because that is what Canadians do).

Connecting and creating common ground is the unique value proposition of experiential marketing. It is why brands are beginning to shift dollars away from broadcast and traditional advertising to developing opportunities to connect directly with their audiences.

By inviting consumers to engage with a brand we are employing a pull strategy (as opposed to pushing out our message) and allowing them to make an active choice to interact. And because they are enacting their own free will, they are far more likely to remember the experience and engage with the brand for a longer period of time. This results in a positive brand association, and, best of all: it’s a singular, positive experience with a broad halo. According to Experiential Marketing: A Practical Guide to Interactive Brand Experiences (S. Smilansky, 2009), consumers who participate in a branded live-experience will, on average, tell 17 people about it. This behavior is precisely why experiential marketing is a more effective tool than traditional advertising. After all, when was the last time you told 17 people about a banner ad?

What’s more is that you can see it working. As a self-confessed theatre geek, one of the reasons I fell in love with experiential marketing is the immediacy of it. Much like when watching a live theatre audience, you know instantly if your messaging is hitting the mark.

So, what does that look like?

If the primary principle of experiential marketing is to humanize a brand by giving it a voice, personality and position, then building a connection with consumers should look and feel a lot like meeting a new friend.

Consider these success metrics:

  1. Interest: Is your audience interested in what you have to say? Experiential marketing’s initial job is to pique curiosity.
  2. Engagement: Does your audience care? Interest is great, but ultimately you want to convert that initial curiosity into ongoing engagement—something that only happens when there is substance behind the initial message or offering. This is where a lot of transactional XM programs fail, because simply passing out free tchotchkes on a street corner may garner interest, but it won’t garner engagement. Effective engagement occurs when a brand can provoke a two-way interaction through a conversation, demonstration, or a shared experience. This is the common ground which provides the foundation for an ongoing relationship with your audience.
  3. Advocacy: Think about your own community—what is the difference between your closest friends and your acquaintances? You are willing to go to bat for your closest friends. You’ll vouch for them, you’ll cheer for them, you’ll defend them, and you’ll stand by them. This is the ultimate measure of success, but this level of intimacy can only be achieved through consistent and ongoing engagement. And that is precisely why experiential marketing needs to be placed at the core of a brand’s marketing strategy and planning. It cannot be thought of as an optional tactic, something to be bolted onto an existing campaign. That approach will, at best, make your brand akin to that flighty friend who has been cancelling lunch plans for the past six months and taking weeks to return a text message.

So, go ahead and connect. Make friends. And then employ the same rules of friendship that you (hopefully) employ in your personal life—be genuine, be dependable, be consistent, and, of course, be fun!