If you own a startup or small business, you’ve probably heard of guerilla marketing. Guerilla marketing is a low-cost marketing strategy that uses unconventional techniques to garner maximum exposure for a brand. It’s a great tool for startups and small businesses because it doesn’t require a lot of money, and it can be quite effective if done correctly.

Experiential marketing is similar to guerilla marketing in that it can provide a big return for not much investment. That why we believe experiential marketing should be in every startup’s toolbox. Why does experiential marketing work, and what makes it so valuable for startups? What do startups need to know about experiential marketing to plan a winning event? And what are some examples of startups doing well with experiential marketing? We’ll explore these questions in depth below.

Why and how does experiential marketing work?

Experiential or event marketing allows brands to interact directly with consumers with the goal of educating them about the company’s products and service, and/or to create a positive impression of the brand in consumers’ minds.

At experiential marketing events, consumers often get to experience a company’s products or service with all of their senses. For example, they may get to try on a brand new pair of high heels or tennis shoes and see how they feel; taste a new Greek yogurt or spirit; see the amazing graphics in a video game or graphic design program; hear the sound quality in a new home theater system; or smell a new air freshening candle brand.

Consumers’ ability to experience things with their senses – rather than seeing them in print or digital form – makes them much more likely to purchase a company’s products or services. This is especially true for startups. You’re not Coca-Cola or Pepsi introducing a new version of a well-known product. Most people have never heard of your products or services and don’t understand what value you bring them. If you’re in a high tech field, it’s entirely possible no one’s heard of your type of product. Experiential marketing allows people to get a first-hand look at your goods, as well as an understanding of why they need them.

Experiential marketing can also be a slam-dunk marketing ploy because the best events evoke some kind of emotion. And that makes consumers feel more connected to your startup. Have you ever been to a holiday event that made you grateful for the people and things in your life? A family-focused event that made you think about your kids and how much you love them? A giant after-party that provided such a rollicking good time you couldn’t help but love everyone more? After you had that experience, it’s likely you had some pretty happy feelings toward whoever brought those positive emotions to the surface.

Experiential marketing events are a great place to show off your startup’s products and services, but one of the great things about experiential activations is that you don’t necessarily have to make your products or services the focus. As long as you plan an event that’s tied to your mission and values, and that leaves consumers with a positive impression of your brand, you’re doing your job. That means you don’t necessarily have to give out a million samples of your products (which may be outside your budget), or even have your products there (if you’re still in the prototype stage, say).

What you need to know about planning a winning experiential marketing activation

Here are some tips for startups looking to plan experiential marketing campaigns with a big impact on a small budget. We’ll start with a few ways you can get more value out of your efforts.

As you plan your experiential marketing campaign, get really creative. A unique activation is more likely to draw a high number of consumers. But it may also do a better job of attracting earned media. This is one great way to expand the reach of your experiential marketing event and get more bang for your buck.

The other way to keep your experiential marketing event working for you long after it’s over is to have a solid social media component. If you can convince consumers to post pictures, videos and comments from your activation, you reach their friends and family as well. Make sure you have interesting visuals inside your activation so consumers can’t help snapping pictures or taking videos. Use hashtags that will keep the conversation about your brand going for an extended period of time. Consider hosting contests to incentivize consumers to take to social media with your message.

VEEV Spirits, a startup that manufactures a vodka alternative, provides a great example of both of these. VEEV hosted an experiential marketing event at a popular cocktail celebration in New Orleans. Consumers could obtain samples of the spirit by texting #cheatonvodka to a vending machine that dispensed tiny bottles. A celebrity bartender mixed up cocktails using the spirit. Brand ambassadors handed out themed prizes, including underwear printed with the hashtag #cheatonvodka. Throughout the event and even afterward, consumers were encouraged to use the hashtag in social media posts. The campaign was catchy and edgy enough that people caught on and kept using the hashtag after the event was over.

Now we’ll talk about ways you can keep the cost of your experiential marketing activation low. Partnering can be a great way to put on an experiential marketing event. Is there a company with a big marketing budget with whom you can co-host an activation? If you find the right partner, you may be able to set up a mutually beneficial arrangement where they bring the majority of the bucks and you bring the high level of cache associated with startups.

If your startup can’t afford to attend a major event like the Coachella Music Festival, try this: See if you can host an activation outside a major event. Is there an out-of-the-way hotel where guests may be staying? An airport or hotel that many attendees will be passing through? A downtown area where the majority of event participants will go to eat and drink? Set up a booth there instead of inside the main event’s gates. It will be far less expensive.

Is your startup interested in more ways to make experiential marketing work for you? Contact us at Factory 360. We’ve new enough on the scene to understand what it means to be a lean, mean marketing machine. But we’re also experienced enough to help you plan a highly effective experiential campaign. Reach out to us today for a free consultation.

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