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THE art of storytelling through experiential marketing

When I was asked to speak at my first conference on experiential marketing, my response was, “great, I would love to, but what’s experiential marketing?” Back in the day when I worked in the events industry, we had a much less fancy name for experiential marketing. We called it, “event planning.” The event marketing industry has come a long way since then. I worked in luxury hotels at the start of my career, and it wasn’t uncommon for A-list celebrities to fax over to me (yes, I said fax) their BEO’s (banquet event order) with all the details nice and neat on one page, including, lighting, AV, entertainment, and decor. I am completely serious. So, imagine my surprise twenty years later as a professional speaker in the events industry.

For starters, digital was not a thing, and the way we communicated was very different than it is today. We used this old fashioned, but neat technique called talking. We would open our mouths and words would come out, and often, our client was standing next to us engaging in the same style of communicating. It was a long time ago, so no worries if memory evades you. Oh no she didn’t! Things are quite different today as you know, except for one very important thing…the significance of relationships in business. In fact, it’s more important today than ever. No matter how much technology makes our lives better, relationship is still the core of every successful business, so the question is, how does the experiential marketing industry build long-term relationship? The answer is brand storytelling. There’s a lot of chatter these days about experiential marketing and storytelling, and it’s not easy to navigate through all the necessary steps, but one thing holds strong, emotionally driven content is the vehicle that drives consumers to your brand. Based on my experience as a brand storyteller and speaker, here’s what I’ve identified as the key pillars of success in experiential marketing.

What exactly is experiential marketing? Experiential marketing is marketing a product or service through a memorable experience that engages the customer on an emotional level. Experiential productions can be large interactive events infusing storytelling elements such as culture, art, and technology, or smaller activations like an art installation for conversation. When done right, these experiences are created for people to share with their friends, both in-person and online. Why is storytelling so important to event marketers? The folks at Harvard wanted to answer this exact question, so they did some research, which revealed that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious. Think about that for a minute. If 95% of our purchasing decisions are subconscious, that means they are based on something much deeper, on our emotions. See where I’m going with this? If stories make us feel, and our purchasing habit is based on emotion, then storytelling is pretty dang important to experiential marketers. Agreed?


Experiential marketing is best utilized when launching a new initiative, product, or campaign. According to a recent study, experiential marketing is the best way to create lasting connections with your consumers. As of now, millennials are America’s largest living generation. Whoa! Harvard Business Review reports that millennials command an estimated $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending. More importantly, the study reveals that millennials are focused on living a “meaningful, happy life where they can create, share and capture memories through experiences.” This is where a strong experiential marketing campaign comes in. When your audience feels a deep connection to your brand and sees it as a reflection of themselves, that is the beginning of loyalty and emotional attachment. The folks at Harvard proved that emotional continuity is precisely what leads to long-term devotion, and more specifically, long-term sales. What does this mean for your marketing strategy? By integrating your brand into a specific demographic’s environment and engaging them in experience, this ensures a spot on their radar (and all who follow them) indefinitely. How does that sound for a productive marketing strategy?

Persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity. Customers must be convinced to buy your company’s brand or services, and remember, they don’t buy into a brand, they buy into the story behind the brand. But despite the critical importance of persuasion, most sales folk struggle to communicate, let along inspire. Too often, they get lost in accoutrements of companyspeak and technical jargon that leaves their audience dazed and confused. Even the most carefully researched and considered efforts are routinely greeted with cynicism, lassitude, or outright dismissal. Ouch. The way to persuade people, according to researchers, is to unite an idea with an emotion. In the experiential marketing community, creating experience illuminates powerful emotion. By creating an authentic experience for your consumers, they become your ambassadors by sharing this powerful experience online and offline, through storytelling, which ultimately contributes to your overall brand awareness.

Experiences create communities of consumers who identify with your brand’s values.

Storytelling without experience is a novel. Experiential without story is a cocktail party. Storytelling should be simple, emotional, truthful and real. But brand stories need to be backed by unique, shareable and actionable experiences. The shift we are seeing is from storytelling to storydoing. Experiential marketing has the power to generate brand awareness, engage, inform, encourage, promote interest, and incite purchase, moving a consumer the entire way through the sales funnel. Plus, experiences are much more likely to be shared when compared to any other form of marketing. No wonder experiential marketing is on fire. Brands that embrace experience are forming meaningful relationships with their audiences. They’re learning more about their brand fans, personalizing their journeys of interaction and staying connected to them. They’re finding value in designing experiences rather than broadcasting them.

It’s no longer about telling your story, but about putting the consumer into your story.

Quite frankly, storytelling allows consumers to experience a brand beyond being told about it, giving them a role to play. It enables exposure to a brand’s ethos and ecosystem in ways that cannot be replicated using traditional media. In other words, seeing the brand story as something to live, rather than to tell, offers a framework on which to construct a “living narrative” that is played out through consumer interactions at every touchpoint. It’s working. Audiences are responding and the experiential industry is thriving. Brand experiences are now seen as the expectation and have become the basis of entire campaigns, instead of the creative sidekick. The meaningful and memorable activations the audience experiences are living on long after an experience is over. Whoa!