Experiential marketing and event marketing are often used interchangeably by people inside and outside of the industry, but are they the same? The short answer? No, not quite. They may sound similar, but experiential and event marketing are two separate tactics that brands can use as part of a larger marketing plan. What exactly is the difference between the two? It has to do with engagement, experience, goals, and time.

Engagement

One of the most prominent differences between experiential and event marketing is how each of these tactics engages the audience. Event marketing uses one-way communication where the brand is speaking directly to the consumer, but the consumer does not have the opportunity to respond. Have you ever attended an event where you passed by multiple booths and were handed marketing brochures about a company? This is a form of one-way communication that is often used at events. The brand is passing along information to the attendee in the form of a promotional pamphlet, but the consumer is not an active participant in the conversation.

On the other hand, experiential marketing uses two-way communication. This allows a brand to interact with a customer to teach them more about the brand’s products and services, and then listen to what the customer has to say in response. Experiential marketers aim to create opportunities where the customer and the brand can come together to engage in conversation and form a strong relationship. For example, Sensodyne hosted an experiential marketing event that invited people with sensitive teeth to try new products, play games, and meet privately with a dentist. Each section of the event was staffed with knowledgeable professionals who were there to interact with guests on a personal level. Although Sensodyne did host an event, this is definitely an example of experiential marketing and not event marketing.

Experience

Guests also experience both event marketing and experiential marketing in different ways. Think of the last time you went to a concert. You and the thousands of other music fans that filled the arena simultaneously watched the same show and left after having the same experience. This is the typical experience people have when it comes to event marketing—all at once, all the same.

However, every guest at an experiential marketing event will walk away with a unique memory of the individual experience they had. To understand this concept, consider Delta’s experiential marketing event known as “Stillness in Motion.” To highlight how Delta promotes rest and relaxation for its travelers, Delta created a spa-like room where guests could come in and try to find stillness on their own. The room was equipped with various sensors that picked up the guest’s heartbeat and changed the surroundings based on its pace. As the heartbeat picked up, the room would flash different colors and create various noises, and as users finally found their stillness, the colors would begin to fade and gentle music would seep into the room. In this example, each user had a unique experience that was powered by his or her heartbeat. This is part of the magic of the experiential marketing.

Goals

Event marketing and experiential marketing are used to achieve different goals, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to understand the difference between the two. Marketers turn to event marketing when they want to announce a new product, sell products, or get press coverage for the brand. It’s best to think of event marketing as a way to generate buzz around something happening with the brand.

Of course, experiential marketing can also be used to launch new products, sell merchandise, and get in the press, but those aren’t typically the goals of these events. Instead, marketers use experiential marketing to create positive brand associations and grow relationships with their audience. An increase in sales and awareness of a new product can certainly occur as a result of a experiential marketing event, but the focus during the planning process is usually on how to connect with consumers. Going back to the Sensodyne example, inviting guests to meet privately with a dentist will not necessarily lead to an increase in sales. After all, the dentist was not secretly a sales representative who was pitching Sensodyne products. But, when guests left the event, they probably had a more favorable impression of Sensodyne for creating such a memorable experience for them. As a result of this positive association and the knowledge about sensitive teeth that the dentist provided, more customers probably did purchase Sensodyne toothpaste.

Time

Event marketing typically has a start and end time so guests know when to arrive and when the event is over. Once the end time has passed, the event is officially done. Press may cover the event while it is happening or immediately after it is over, but besides this, the buzz tends to die down when the event comes to an end.

Experiential marketing tends to live on much longer than event marketing. Because each guest has a unique experience at an experiential marketing event, guests often feel compelled to share their stories on social media and blogs. The buzz around an experiential marketing can continue to grow as more guests swap stories and discuss the details of the event. Do you remember Coca Cola’s famous “Share A Coke” campaign? Part of the marketing plan for this campaign was hosting experiential marketing events and inviting guests to attend so they could create their own custom bottle of Coca Cola. After making their own bottles, many guests shared pictures of them online, which drew more attention to the campaign and the brand as a whole. If you want to keep the focus on your brand and really make your efforts pay off, choose experiential marketing.

Now that you understand the difference between the two—and the many benefits of experiential marketing—contact us if you’re ready to plan your first event. We can help you target, engage, and build a relationship with your ideal audience using proven experiential marketing tactics. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!

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