Experiential Marketing: Interactive, Engaging, Memorable, Share-Worthy. Brand experiences cut through the clutter and involve a consumer to build more direct connections. We’ve always said that what we do is “meaningful,” …but is it always? To what extent? This article is going to challenge you to elevate your brand experiences to achieve deeper, more meaningful experiential marketing.

In the next evolution of your brand’s experiential marketing, make it mean something (…more, …better, …deeper).

Meaningful Experiential Marketing

We’re living in the experience economy. Consumers aren’t new to the idea of experiential marketing. They’ve experienced brand experiences. They crave these experiences…with brands they relate to…when brands get experience right. If you don’t provide value to them, though, beyond the entertainment factor, you’re going to impress a negative emotion on them. And that’s not good for anyone.

Experiential marketing, while not new, is still transforming marketing. Many of us marketers were never taught about experiential in school, and we’re still trying to apply experiential across events, media, retail and other touch points in new ways. We’ve started with more tactile engagements, such as sampling or at festivals. But we’re still shaping what experiential marketing means to us, too.

There needs to be something more for your audience in order for them to walk away understanding the brand and feeling that connection to the brand. You’re not in search of an ephemeral moment in time; you’re looking for long-term brand love.

You may concept, plan and build an amazing brand experience. But if there’s no “real” meaning for your audience, you won’t score the level of engagement required to make it worthwhile. Today’s consumers are attracted to brands who exist to make their communities stronger, happier, safer, more connected. (The word community here could be global, local or a community united for one passion point.)

Today’s consumers are more savvy than ever and care about the bigger picture. They’re more global. They’re more empowered. And they’re more aspirational. They don’t just crave experiences – they crave experiences that mean something to them, personally.

So what does it mean to be meaningful? Let’s first consider your audience. For who are you designing this brand experience? What does this audience care about? What passions does the audience share? Is there a lifestyle they aspire to? Is the experience centered around one shared interest or hobby? Do they support current cultural movements, or do they push for sustainability?

Remember, a brand experience isn’t a mass media tactic. It’s designed for one specific, niche audience. If it’s not, you’re kinda missing the point.

(Yes, yes, I know, I’ve written about amplifying reach digitally and replicating your brand experience to expand your audience. But each individual experience needs to be tailored to one specific audience. I stand by both arguments.)

Next, consider your brand. What’s your mission statement? What are your values? What do you stand for? Do you have a charity partnership? Do your products save the world in some way?

Find the crossroads between what your audience cares about and what your brand stands for. That’s a good starting point for concepting how you’ll add more meaning for your audience.

meaningful experiential marketing

If you’re brainstorming, use a Venn diagram to see where there is overlap.

I know a six-year-old who is into Connect the Dots activity books. When she connects the wrong two dots, the image doesn’t turn out right. In marketing, we’ve always gotta find relevant ways to connect the dots, or we’ll miss the mark. We need to connect the brand to the audience, the message to the activity, the pre-event to the post-event marketing, the audience to each other, etc. For experiential marketing design, that same rule applies. If we’re trying to connect authentically to an audience, we’ve gotta find ways to make the experience meaningful to them.

We can’t just try to draw a line over here to an esports activation, just because esports is hot right now, when the brand can’t authentically connect to an esports audience. (Replace the word “esports” with “virtual reality” or with “AI” or with whatever the fad is today.)

The dots must reveal an authentic brand image that resonates with the audience on a deeper level. If the picture we make doesn’t make sense, the experience will fail. It’s these relevant, humanistic points of connection that will generate the results you need to cultivate your community of brand loyalists. You’re moving from engaging your audience to uniting them.

The industry as a whole is evolving from throwing fun parties – live music, flashy events and celeb signings – to creating meaningful experiential marketing.

When we get to the root of what experiential marketing is, you’ll see that this meaningful piece is pretty vital. Experiential marketing is in-person, real-world, tangible interaction that showcases your brand’s authenticity. Meaningful experiential marketing strengthens your brand value. Your marketing messages may change, but your brand does not. When you emphasize what’s at your core, your experience participants discover more about who you are and what they can rely on you for. Lightbulb moments happen.

(That’s essentially the crux of experiential.)

Yes, deliver a unique experience that engages people. But add meaning to your brand experience. All while keeping your message simplified to your core.

Perhaps as marketers, we should shift from talking about amplifying reach to amplifying meaning.

To add more meaning to your brand experience doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about donating a share of proceeds to save (insert your audience’s favorite endangered species here). There are a number of ways to make an experience meaningful on a deeper level. Where’s the purpose in your messaging or in your brand’s True North? This meaningful piece could be a very outwardly obvious integration – or a more subtle, intrinsic value-add for your audience. It could be an active engagement or be more passive and thought-provoking.

“An alternative to hard-hitting selling tactics, experiential marketing is fuzzy and abstract — prioritizing delight, touch, wonder, play, and encounter.” // Anne Quito, Quartz

Some memorable brand experiences have included a quiet, reflective component. A way to encourage the audience to tap inside themselves. In that space, in the most personal of places, if they can find your brand internally…that means something.

It could be in the shape of an artistic installation that speaks some shared truth, or a hands-on activity that gets them involved with packing school breakfasts for children who face hunger. It could simply be special lighting that honors fallen heroes…or just a personal consultation that gives their own life more meaning. Big or small, a significant piece or just a sliver of the interaction. There’s no one answer, as every experience is unique – which of course, makes each one more meaningful in its own right.

If there’s a passion in that shared central ring of your Venn diagram, let’s create a conversation around that point. It could be humor. Lifestyle. Charity. Trees. Water. Health. Music. Sport. Family. Whatever that point is, design your brand experience around it. Make it profound. Make it matter.

But… be sure to stay authentic, simplify to your brand core and connect those dots in a relevant manner.

If you understand your audience and their values, and you can properly align culturally to connect with them, more value will be extracted from both sides.

When done well, meaningful experiential marketing makes the audience feel your brand differently. It also helps your audience feel themselves differently, too. That’s a wow moment you can’t achieve easily. Be thoughtful and artful about how you incorporate meaning into your brand experience. It could affect your audience in inspiring ways.

Now, that’s powerful marketing.

It’s from this place of shared meaning and human connections where relationships bloom and grow. Meaningful experiences give your brand more purpose.

Experiential Marketing: Relevant. Awe-Inspiring. Heart-Tugging. Soul-Changing. Purposeful. Meaningful.

Let’s explore a more meaningful experiential marketing campaign for your audience together.