By Ray Sheehan, Founder — Old City Media
Many businesses have begun to realize how low the return on investment is on traditional forms of marketing, such as advertising. These days, one of the best ways to connect with customers is through experiential marketing: creating an experience for customers that allows them to interact with the brand in a unique, hands-on way.
However, one of the biggest misconceptions about experiential marketing is that it can be costly. In reality, small businesses can succeed with experiential marketing, even if they have a shoestring budget.
Figuring out what experiential marketing strategy works best for you
Small business owners must realize that experiential marketing is a broad umbrella that comprises everything from hosting a table at a local farmers market to extravagant pop-ups costing thousands of dollars. Small businesses that think their experiential marketing needs to fall into the latter category are sorely mistaken, and likely not taking advantage of the power that simple but effective experiential marketing campaigns can have on their brand’s profile.
The most successful experiential marketing events provide value to the consumer. For businesses with larger budgets, this value can take the form of a once-in-a-lifetime experience or nice, expensive branded swag, but this doesn’t mean a small business with a limited budget can’t make a valuable experience. Remember, currency comes in different forms. Free samples and even education are great ways for businesses on a shoestring budget to maximize their experiential marketing return on investment.
An excellent strategy for small businesses developing an experiential marketing plan is to be highly targeted by finding smaller, more niche community events like farmers’ markets or local festivals. These events are not only less expensive but also often more powerful. With smaller events, you know precisely what audience is attending and can cater your message to their unique needs and interests.
The importance of professionalism in experiential marketing
Of course, the most cost-efficient way to staff an event is with employees who already work for your company. However, sometimes, your workload will not allow you to spare these extra hands for the event. In this case, it’s advisable to use a staffing agency to find brand ambassadors rather than hiring someone full-time. Staffing agencies provide 1099 employees you can pay hourly based on your needs while avoiding the additional costs — such as benefits — of hiring an in-house, full-time employee.
Above everything else, though, your experiential marketing activation must be professional. Ensure that your brand ambassadors — whether in-house or from a staffing agency — are knowledgeable and outgoing. Often, people working these events tend to look uninterested, but being friendly and engaging doesn’t cost you anything more; it’s just a matter of finding the right people to represent your brand.
Similarly, it’s essential to ensure that your physical presence looks professional. Having your brand ambassadors wear a clean, neat uniform can go a long way in creating a polished, professional brand identity. And a professional look does not necessarily mean extravagance. It can be as simple as a six-foot table with a table skirt, a retractable banner, and some marketing materials.
Tailor your presence to the audience you are serving. Simple but elegant is perfect for a farmers’ market, but may not cut it for a party targeting influencers at a massive event.
Maximizing your experiential marketing budget and cutting costs
Business leaders hoping to cut costs in their experiential marketing activations may be surprised to learn that leveraging technology may be the easiest way. We live in an increasingly connected world — nearly every one of us always carries a device in our pockets — and understanding this is a great way to minimize unnecessary costs.
For example, printing catalogs, booklets, and pamphlets can be expensive. Instead, create a QR code that attendees can scan to go directly to the website or point of purchase. This cuts down on printing costs while also creating a more convenient experience for the customer.
Finally, one of the best things small businesses can do to maximize their experiential marketing budget is to take pictures and use them on social media. Sharing the event on social media is a great way to expand its longevity and ensure it has influence long into the future. You can also reach audiences beyond those you served with the in-person event with the content you create.
Another great strategy is to encourage attendees to share their own photos of the event. Hold a contest for customers where they can win a prize if they share content on their social media and tag your company’s page to help expand the reach of your event even further.
Experiential marketing is a powerful tool for brands to connect with their audiences in ways beyond what traditional methods of marketing could offer. Better yet, small businesses need not spend an exuberant amount of money on their marketing budget to succeed. With a targeted, deliberate plan for the activation, small businesses can put on an experiential marketing activation that will resonate with attendees as well as those who aren’t physically present.
— Ray Sheehan is the Founder of Old City Media, a North American event production and experiential marketing agency. He has a background in strategic planning, marketing, event management, and advertising and has helped the company expand from one city in the United States to an international agency. Before this role, Ray partnered with UpcomingEvents.com, a production company in Philadelphia, and worked for 20th Century FOX. He oversaw all aspects of the business and produced a nationally syndicated television show for FOX. In 2020, he launched the G.I.F.T Program as part of Old City Media. Ray is recognized as a leader in the special events industry and an innovative thinker in the Philadelphia community and beyond. Sheehan has been featured in Grit Daily, The Next Scoop, Site Pro News, and more.
Image source: Ray Sheehan