Lavish parties. Huge music festivals. Bungee jumping from space. Those aren’t the only types of brand experiences.

The definition of experiential marketing is to engage an audience through interactive experiences. It’s about immersing the consumer in a way that creates stronger understanding of the brand. Experiential marketing is about the experience, not the budget. So you don’t need millions of dollars, or even six figures, to activate a memorable brand experience. You could start small with a few thousand dollars and see where that goes.

Experiential marketing for small business can offer an effective way to raise awareness, reinforce positioning and increase brand advocacy.

Experiential Marketing for Small Business

There are many, many benefits of experiential marketing for small business which include:

  • Ability to move someone from awareness through purchase with one campaign activation
  • Generates new leads
  • Directly impacts bottom line
  • Increases customer lifetime value and loyalty
  • Improves brand perception
  • Generates content (both brand and user-generated content)
  • Generates earned media across social media and PR channels
  • Builds reputation and credibility
  • Provides face time with audience for relationship-building or market research opportunities
  • Offers a point of sale or point of data collection through value exchange
  • Creates memorable experiences that are meaningful moments for your audience

If you’re a small business marketer, here are some ideas for your first dance with experiential marketing.


1. Transform your physical space.
Think about your real estate and how people experience that space. What design elements can you integrate to encourage more hands-on activity? This is less about running a campaign and more about long-term transformation.

For B2C companies, the answer is retailtainment. Turn your store, restaurant or waiting area into a real destination. How can you improve the experience visitors have when they are within your space? Think about the attractions you frequent. What elements keep you going back?

This could be as simple as having a personal shopping consultant on site to assist those browsing your products. Or as easy as offering free coffee and cookies. A product demonstration area or a DIY station with a bit of friendly guidance are also small investments to implement.

If you’ve got a larger budget, you can think larger scale. For instance, you enter a Cabela’s store and you’re entering a world of outdoor wonderment. They have aquariums, demonstrations, museum-like installations. There’s even a cafe on site to encourage you to visit longer.

In B2B marketing, your physical space might be a manufacturing facility or showroom. Can you give public tours? Host after-hours cocktail parties for your VIPs? Invite the local chamber or an industry association to host their next event in your space?

For digital or DTC brands, consider in-office meet-and-greet opportunities. Bring your top customers to you or offer pop-in specials.


2. Enliven your trade show presence.
We have a treasure trove of trade show marketing tips. But the most important one is to focus on the experience, not the fancy display.

Yes, I said it. Banners are forgettable. Why are you spending so much on the exhibit space if you’re not going to invest in creating a memorable experience for booth visitors?

Get creative! Give your booth visitors an activity to do. Inspire them. Make them laugh! Or make them think. But don’t stop at the elaborate design; really hook them with an interactive experience.

Gemalto’s in-booth experience motivated attendees to complete three analog missions in order to break into a box to secure a prize. It wasn’t very expensive to put on, yet it was overwhelmingly well received and very memorable. It helped to break the ice, so the sales team could meet more people and generate more leads.

Sure, your trade show has to look great. But the experience needs to back up that display. The experience will drive the ROI.


3. Reconsider your product packaging.
What happens after the sale? Do you want buyers to stay engaged with your brand? Experiential packaging is an innovative way to continue the conversation.

One idea is to use an augmented reality trigger graphic on the packaging. When a user interacts with that graphic using their own smartphone or tablet, they can experience augmented reality. The view through their phone alters their environment in a creative way.

Additional mobile tags could be used, too. A Snap Lens, for example, could also allow the user to add a branded filter to their selfie. A QR code could unlock interactive content, videos or community forums.

Another idea is to leverage NFC (near field communications). Imagine the product embed directs a user to a dynamic and always updating online experience. NFC has been deployed on ski jackets, so skiers can check slope conditions or find nearby resorts. It’s been deployed on jerseys, so sports fans can check sports updates in real-time and unlock exclusive player content. NFC can help CPG users make quick refill requests to be delivered direct-to-door.

Thinking through the post-purchase experience is important for small businesses. It can help them churn loyalty and achieve a clear competitive advantage.


4. Revamp your digital marketing to be more interactive.
Digital marketing and experiential marketing are most effective when they work together.

Personalizing your online experience based on the user’s preferences is a must in today’s digital landscape. Providing an interactive experience is another.

Consider these elements for your website:

  • Personalized video content
  • Polls or surveys
  • Share buttons
  • Invitation to upload user-generated content
  • Gamification or games
  • Augmented reality
  • Live chat
  • Bot chat
  • Drag-and-drop custom builders
  • Artificial intelligence tools
  • Virtual dressing rooms

Your brand’s experience needs to be fluid between the online and offline. From your customer’s perspective, you’re one brand. You’re not a digital brand and a physical brand; you’re one brand that demands a cohesive presence across channels.


experiential marketing for small business

5. Host live events.
Events are a great way to try on experiential marketing for small businesses.

Coffee shops can host live music or poetry readings. Clothing boutiques can host fashion shows, or bring together shoppers for a book club, tea party or cocktail hour. Any small business can celebrate with their community during an anniversary or ribbon cutting. Charity events are also usually a big hit for both attendance and media attention. B2B brands might find hosting VIP parties for their key accounts and prospects to be extremely effective in nurturing relationships.

Don’t be ordinary in your event planning. Incorporating entertainment isn’t enough. Find ways to get the attendees actively involved. Or, create an environment that provokes thought, stirs emotion and moves people intrinsically.

When you host a live event, keep in mind that there is value in uniting like-minded individuals. Bringing people together who share interests is a wonderful opportunity for brands to reinforce positioning.

Events can be used to generate new business or to grow your existing accounts. For small businesses, events are a cost-effective way to get face-time with your contacts. When done well, they are also a wonderful way to generate buzz and social media sharing.


6. Or, host online events.
What if it’s not feasible to actually bring everyone together in one place? Welcome, internet. You can leverage live feeds, web conference tools or even hashtag parties.

To make the online event more interactive, be sure to allow real-time questions and comments among attendees. Give them networking tools to meet the other attendees. And share interactive content that keeps them engaged with the event.

Make them feel even more special by sending them a box of physical goodies beforehand. Favors by snail mail? Sure, why not? You could send printed presentation material, swag or relevant hands-on activity collateral to keep the online event experiential, too.


tourism marketing

7. Try on guerrilla marketing for size.
Crawl, walk, run into experiential marketing by starting small. A four-person brand ambassador team, for example, can interact with your audience at street level. By heading to high pedestrian traffic areas, events, malls or transit stations, a brand ambassador team can intercept folks during their days and connect human-to-human. Branded Segways, JetPacks or sampling bikes can give the campaign more branded real estate. Brand ambassadors can be trained for product demonstrations or product sampling.

Guerrilla marketing saves on permitting costs. Large events require venue space and security. But a guerrilla marketing initiative can be very effective without the added costs.

An experiential marketing agency can staff the team, supply all campaign assets and create a strategic route. Teams are trained to source high traffic areas with a density of the target audience. They may move from point to point within a market to cover the most ground.

Experience Olympia & Beyond created a mobile barista station to promote their coffee trail. The 3-day campaign sent a team with both cold brews and warm brewed coffee to activate near key events happening in their key market.

Some larger mobile tours may also incorporate guerrilla marketing into their tour. For example, one pharmaceutical brand activated a 3-month tour with many pre-planned, permitted tour stops. But in between those larger stops, the experiential team found other locations to stop and interact with the community. This saved money on permitting for such a long activation period.


8. Leverage your partnerships or community.
Consider your brand partners, what events you attend and what community organizations you belong to. There are likely hidden opportunities to tap.

Could you create an interactive station at a community event? Could you launch a new event by sharing costs with a brand partner? Is there an industry association that would tailor a sponsorship to allow you to give members a valuable experience?

Leveraging your existing relationships to provide a platform or an audience for your brand experience could be fruitful. Partnering up may save you money than going it alone.


9. Join a movement or celebrate a cause.
We’re seeing a rise of Woke Brands. These are brands who are not only staying aware of current affairs – but declaring their involvement. Corporate social responsibility has always been an important business decision. But in today’s social media landscape and the public’s calls for corporate support, the need for brands to ‘wake up’ to causes or movements has been intensified.

Charity missions are also driving many brands’ successes. Whether it’s a feel good initiative or a hashtag-fueled social cause, consider carefully how your brand wants to respond to or lead the charge.

But beware… People are bullshit detectors. (You know that.) So a brand who makes one ad campaign in support of movement looks like they’re just trying to capitalize on the moment in time rather than make it part of their DNA. It’s gotta be authentic.

Skip the ad campaign and focus on the experience. Join together with like-minded people who are all supporting the same cause or movement. It’s in these shared moments with the audience where a brand could shift positioning or create a deeper layer of do-good in their brand persona. Whether it’s a brand-owned experience or if the brand finds way to join a larger cultural group, these experiences can make a big difference for a brand.


small business marketing

10. Hit the road, mobile tour style.
Mobile tours can be large and expensive. Or not. Small businesses can craft the mobile tour in their own way. No need for a large RV to drive cross-country. Maybe it’s as simple as setting up a series of trainings or conferences at your client locations. Or maybe it’s popping in with carolers and hot chocolate (like in the image above). Maybe it’s taking your same trade show booth materials to smaller community events throughout your region.

Going to market to meet your audience where they are has big benefits. Be sure to give them value while you’re also finding ways to make them feel emotionally connected to your brand.


The bottom line is, experiential marketing for small business is an effective marketing strategy. No matter how much you have – or don’t have – to invest. With a little creativity and a meaningful engagement, a brand experience can put your small business on the map. And also right into the hearts of consumers.


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