More and more brands are reaching out to customers and potential customers via live events.

According to EventTrack 2018, the seventh annual report from Event Marketer Magazine and Mosaic, a stunning 84 percent of brands have made experiential marketing a part of their marketing campaigns.

But experiential marketing isn't just about conferences and trade shows. It's about creating in-person, memorable interactions, like when Airbnb floated a house down the River Thames. The goal is to help customers build positive memories and associations with your brand.

According to the same report, such marketing strategies can pay off big time. A total of 41 percent of consumers say that events and experiences are the best way for them to understand the benefits of a product, compared to 26 percent who said that online advertising or social media ads were the best method.

And brands are responding, with 49 percent planning to increase their participation in events in 2018 and budgets increasing by an average of 5.6 percent.

So how can business owners and marketers optimize their experiential marketing strategy for maximum engagement and returns? Here are a few strategies that are sure to help you with both in-person and virtual engagements.

1. Create social media campaigns that drive visual sharing.

Consumers rely heavily on user-generated content (UGC) when it comes to making purchasing decisions. The Content Marketing Institute reports that 93 percent of consumers "find UGC helpful when making purchasing decisions and 86 percent of millennials consider UGC to be a key indicator in the quality of a brand."

Younger generations are particularly likely to engage with UGC. Research firm Wildness reports that 80 percent consider self-expression important, while 25 percent are posting new, original videos every week.

That's probably why the Zappos #ImNotABox campaign was such a success. It challenged its customers to make one-of-a-kind creations out of shoe boxes and share them on social networks. The campaign offered participants a chance to show off their creativity while interacting with the brand.

What can we learn from all this? Experiential marketing campaigns on social media are most effective when they combine visual content, which automatically increases engagement, with the type of testimonial that consumers find trustworthy.

Consider encouraging video reviews, re-gramming customer content around your campaign on Instagram, launching photo and video contests, and urging event attendees to post live, visual updates.

2. Come up with a visually curated event experience.

Whether you're setting up a booth at a conference or trade show or hosting your very own event, you want all of the visual assets you create to work together to create a coherent, united experience.

I can't tell you how many booths I've seen that were seemingly cobbled together from disconnected parts: posters from last year's client presentation, brochures with outdated branding, banners with off-brand color palettes. This is, apparently, not unique: 70 percent of trade show exhibitors don't set specific objectives or outline their strategies ahead of time.

Don't be one of those exhibitors. Plan your booth or exhibit from top to bottom to have consistent branding and to achieve a specific set of goals. For instance, if you're trying to attract video game-loving Generation Z, offer interactive games or competitions, and set up tablets or TVs showing your latest product motion graphic.

If you're reaching out to content marketers, display striking data visualizations about the results your company delivers. A united look and feel will make your display stand out from the pack.

3. Produce striking handouts, takeaways, and print collateral.

At any event, you want to offer up ways for customers to remember who you are.

This means making sure that your print collateral -- from brochures to business cards -- has a look and feel that's consistent with your booth. What's more, it needs to be something that your audience would feel confident handing to a friend -- or to their boss.

When it comes to swag, opt for a combination of visually striking and actually useful. If you've got a great motion graphic or product video to share, UviaUs offers stunning, customizable video players that people can actually take home. And remember, what they take home can also be digital: set up your product demonstrations in a photo booth optimized for Snapchat Stories, or do what LinkedIn did at SXSW 2018 and help people take premium profile photos.

These three visual strategies will help you kick-start your experiential marketing strategy -- or optimize it for a visual world.

Published on: Dec 3, 2018