We all know by now that experiential marketing is a powerful way to engage your customers. Regardless of your industry, customer personas, or product type, experiential allows your brand to connect with your customers in a visceral, memorable way.

If that's the case, then, why isn't every brand hopping on the experiential band wagon?

One reason is that brands often seem to think that experiential marketing has to be a big, splashy, stand-alone experience. They think of the epic experiential events at SXSW, for example, or the VR and AR experiences favored by major brands like Marriott, Tom's, and Lowe's.

However, you don't need to quadruple your budget in order to start your first experiential campaign. You can actually incorporate this strategy into more traditional marketing initiatives that you're already pursuing - like your next conference.

Conferences, whether you're hosting or attending, can be optimal opportunities for experiential campaigns. Here's why.

Why is experiential a good fit for conferences?

For whatever reason, at conferences, many organizations seem to be happy just going with the status quo.

If you're hosting, that likely means offering a series of keynotes, panels, and roundtable discussions, while brands have the opportunity to show themselves off in the exhibition hall.  

If you're attending, that may mean staffing a booth and speaking on a panel or two.

This makes sense. After all, the status quo is easy, and it usually works for brands - but only to a certain degree.

If you want to make your conference uniquely impactful, however, an experiential marketing campaign can take you leagues beyond your competition.

Not only that, but experiential marketing activation at a conference may actually be more effective, in terms of single-event ROI, than doing one somewhere else.

  • You've got a captive audience. First of all, at a conference, you already know that people will be there. You're not relying on the number of walk-ins, or time of day, or the weather. People are at this conference for one reason: to be at the conference. You've already got their attention.

  • You'll stand out. There is no shortage of conferences that brands can attend, and more often than not - unless they're the massive international ones like SXSW or CES - they start blending together.

If you can incorporate experiential into your conference, you'll greatly improve the chance that attending groups remember your conference, and therefore, your brand.

And if you're an attendee, adding an experiential element to your presence will give your brand a chance to truly stand out.

In the same way that an experiential brand activation can cut through the rest of the advertising noise in, say, an outdoor shopping mall, an experiential brand activation at a conference will cut through the visual clutter of rows upon rows of similar-looking booths.

  • You don't need to spend as much time and effort on promotion. You'll need to spread the word about your event to attendees, but this can likely be done effectively through social media (using the conference hashtag), and word-of-mouth. You can then turn those resources that might otherwise have gone toward promotion toward making your experiential event more engaging.

One thing that experiential events do require is live, ongoing updates to keep your offline audience engaged when they go online. Make sure you have at least one staff person who will own your event's social media presence, and will post pictures and updates frequently.

How do you develop an effective experiential event for your conference?

The most important thing to consider when developing an experiential brand activation for your next conference is: Who is your audience?

The reason this is so important is that your audience at a conference could very well be quite different from the customers you serve on a day-to-day basis.

If you're a B2C company that sells shoes, an experiential marketing campaign for your customers might involve a pop-up shoe store. If you're that same company at a fashion industry conference, however, you'll probably need to dig a bit deeper.

When Zen Media partnered with Chase on the Chase for Business conference, we knew we wanted to develop something memorable for attendees.

We wanted something that would bolster engagement and offer value on a one-to-one basis. The audience here was small businesses - a segment that we usually don't target during our regular client outreach.

However, we realized that talking to this new audience presented us with a real opportunity to offer guidance and support to small business owners who might still be handling all their digital marketing by themselves. We collaborated with Chase to create an Apple-inspired "Social Media Genius Bar," where conference attendees could sign up for 15-20 minutes slots with one of Zen's own "social media geniuses." Attendees could then ask any questions they had about how best to market their business online, about specific social media platforms, and more.

This experiential event was so popular that we're doing it again at every Chase for Business conference in 2018.

Another crucial element of an effective experiential campaign? Strong follow-through. Ensure that you're capturing email addresses from the people who participate in your experience throughout the conference. That way, you can follow up with them later on, cementing the connection you initiated through your experiential campaign.

When you're planning your next conference, take some time to think about how you could incorporate an experiential marketing element.  
For more on being bold and taking new approaches to your marketing, read my post "Reaching the Connected Consumer Requires a Bold Shift in Thinking."