There have been a lot of discussions lately about what experiential marketing is -- meetings, and forums, and summits going on all over the place with people discussing what it is or isn't, and so forth. Some examples: A group met last week in New York at an event called the Experience Summit, at which most of the participants were architects and entertainment designers (lighting, special effects, story development, technology, etc.). The Promotion Marketing Association has an experiential group called the Event Marketing Council, of which all its leaders are in the promotions business. There are other groups that focus on customer experience management, and still others that believe it's simply street marketing. Jack Morton did a survey on experiential marketing in which they defined the discipline solely as live events, whereas Bernd Schmitt says in his books that experiential marketing doesn't have to be a live event.
This can all lead to confusion. Who does it? What is it? I'd like to think that we can all come together and create a definition that is broad enough to include a variety of experiential methods, but narrow enough to be very clear.
As I wrote back in February, I think experiential marketing is about creating fresh connections between brands and consumers out in the world where things happen. Following are my criteria for what makes something an experiential marketing activation:
Connected Relevance -- The experience makes sense for both the brand (its personality, its attributes, etc.) and the person experiencing it (their mindset, their needs and interests). In other words, if I happen by some live street event, watch it for a few minutes and walk away because it had no meaning to me, I haven't experienced "experiential marketing." Just throwing something clever out there doesn't count, which is why sponsoring live events doesn't always measure up as experiential marketing. A good example of connected relevance would be Charmin's Pottypalooza.
Meaning -- The execution should have a lasting impact and be memorable or in some other way meaningful to the consumer. Perhaps they find something they've been looking for, have an experience they've always wanted to have, or are allowed to share something special with someone else (e.g. parents and children together at Legoland). Branded interactive kiosks that end up being a place for people to park their butts or simply amuse themselves for a while and nothing more is not meaningful. Engagement comes into play here in terms of holding, not simply getting, someone's attention.
Interaction -- The consumer should have some degree of control or interaction (they participate, they can ask questions or comment, they can make choices, etc.) For me, being experiential has a lot to do with showing consumers enough respect to allow them to be part of the process (for example, Ebay and Build-A-Bear Workshop). That's why it is much more than simple entertainment.
In terms of who does this in the marketing world, it could be anyone. What do you think of these criteria? Do you have additional examples that bear them out? What are your own criteria? I'd love to hear from you.