We’ve said in several recent blog posts that experiential marketing is not new. But when did it start? How has it changed over time, and how is it likely to continue changing into the future?

We did some research on the history of experiential marketing and came up with some interesting facts.

Experiential marketing: The beginning

If experiential marketing is “a form of marketing which focuses on helping consumers experience a brand” (at least that’s how we define it), then people have been doing experiential marketing for a long time. Banks, beverage companies and other businesses have long attended festivals and other special events to engage with customers one-on-one and hand out samples of their products.

World Fairs (such as those that took place in Chicago in 1893 and Paris in 1900) were opportunities for companies creating new technological innovations to showcase them in front of large groups of people eager for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Car shows in the 1920s became a popular way to market automobiles to consumers. They did more than just showcase cars in a museum-like atmosphere; they created showy events that motivated people to buy and cherish their cars.

Miller Beer (now MillerCoos) was one of the first brands to employ engagement or event marketing as we know them today. Beginning in the late 1970s it used popular programs like MGD Blind Date and the Miller Lite Taste Challenge to reach people from different demographics in memorable ways.

A presentation put together by LeapFrog Interactive says Jay Conrad Levinson’s book Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business, was the beginning of the movement. The book came out in 1984 and put a new twist on what it meant to do experiential marketing.

Experiential marketing takes off

A 1998 book titled The Experience Economy helps explain the growth of the experiential marketing movement that began around the turn of the century, says a terrific blog post on CK Writes. The book explains that people were willing to pay a premium for products and services that offered an experience along with whatever they purchased.

“The value proposition was kind of earth-shattering: businesses would form to orchestrate memorable events and the individual’s memory of their experience would be the deliverable,” says blogger Christopher Korody.

Marketing was evolving around that time anyway because of technology. The Internet gave marketers a new and less expensive way to advertise. Tivo and other DVR systems were just coming on the market, which meant people could skip commercials. Marketers needed to find a new, better way to reach people.

What really made experiential marketing take off was the rise of social media. Suddenly marketers weren’t just reaching the person who attended their event. They were reaching all their friends and colleagues. All those people were invited to participate in the event, even if it was in a very small way.

Korody with CK Writes shares a quote by Jonathan Edwards, the Strategy Director at UK experiential marketing Sledge: “Advertising tries to persuade me – but a good experience also gives me a reason to persuade other people.” That’s true of everything, but it especially applies to the way social media allows individuals to reach out to their network and market to them.

Experiential marketing has grown drastically in the past few years. The Event Marketing Institute reports that businesses increased the number of events they did and their event budgets by 3.6% in 2011, 5% in 2012 and almost 8% in 2013. Eighty-four percent of respondents to a 2013 survey said they felt experiential marketing was important, very important or critically important to their business.

Surveys conducted by Experiential Marketing News show that 65% of consumers said they prefer experiential marketing over every other type of marketing. Forty-eight percent say they’re more likely to buy a new product if they have a chance to try it first. All these numbers point to one thing: experiential marketing is here to stay.

The future of experiential marketing

So what’s in store for the future of experiential marketing?

As our world and our country become more diverse, multicultural marketing will be increasingly important. Marketers putting together events and other experiences for consumers must be culturally sensitive, willing to overcome language barriers, include diverse people on their event staff and otherwise think through how to make people from many backgrounds and ethnicities feel comfortable.

Factory 360 also predicts that wearable technology will become more important to experiential marketing events. As we discussed in a July blog post, expect to see more brand ambassadors including wearable technology in their wardrobes. Items like the Apple Watch and Google Glass are still new enough that they provide a certain “wow” factor to people attending events. Wearables can also have practical benefits like making it easier for ambassadors to share and gather information.

Event magazine, published in the United Kingdom, predicts that cross-brand collaborations will play big in the future of experiential marketing. The contributor who wrote a recent article on this topic says it’s happening mostly in the fashion world, but the trend is starting to pop up elsewhere as well. McDonald’s recently had an opportunity to do a cross-brand experiential collaboration with Burger King that didn’t work out so well for them.

BizBash points out that nostalgia is big for marketers of all types, including experiential marketers. People are loving things like a Pacman-themed event put on by Bud Light and a lawn Jenga game organized by SVEDKA Vodka.

Do you need help jazzing up an annual experiential marketing campaign that seems outdated? Would your company benefit from some advice about putting together a very modern event? Or are you ready to start planning a future experiential marketing campaign that will wow current and new customers? Contact Factory 360 today!

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