Guest Blog By Ecommerce Expert, Rodney Laws

Marketing in the online era is complicated. There are two main reasons for this: the level of competition is brutal (stemming from low barriers to entry for startups), and prospective customers are pretty hard to impress. The internet, in general, tends to desensitize people. When you’ve seen thousands of ads, they can all start to blur together in your mind.

But with rich rewards on offer for those who get it right, there’s every reason to invest heavily in finding ways to make it work. After all, that difficulty partially works in your favor: the harder it is to do marketing well, the fewer brands will actually manage it. So how do you get it right?

Well, something that’s often cited as the future of promotion is experiential marketing. Fully embrace it, they said, and you’ll truly set yourself apart as deserving of attention and custom. Is this actually true, or is it merely the latest in a long line of gimmicks? Let’s take a closer look:

What is Experiential Marketing?

There’s a fundamental detachment to the methods of traditional marketing. Even when it’s at its most impactful (through a compelling video ad, or an emotive banner display), it can only do so much, because it feels abstract — and inconsequential as a result.

The point of experiential marketing is to overcome this detachment by making the promotion immersive in some sensory way. Consider the difference between hearing about a spectacular view and actually seeing it — the former might convince you, but the latter is vastly better.

Experiential marketing methods typically involve immersing people in physical environments (such as showrooms or events) or virtual environments (through VR, which is virtual reality, or AR, which is augmented reality). It can also rely on gamification, using interactive marketing tools and processes to allow people to form their own unique experiences.

How it Addresses the Shortcomings of Ecommerce

The ecommerce industry continues to bloom worldwide, generating astonishing amounts of revenue and consistently occupying consumer thoughts. Have you ever had the urge to buy something through your phone in the early hours of the morning? I certainly have. It all ties into the concept of micro-moments — whims that would otherwise be ignored, but can be indulged now we have 24/7 internet access.

But the online retail model isn’t flawless. One of its major issues is that it lacks the real-world data that’s typically powerful for earning shopper trust and convincing them of product quality — with the latter being especially important for marketing. Suppose you were looking to buy an expensive item: wouldn’t you rather buy it from a brick-and-mortar store, giving you the chance to see it up close and possibly have the chance to inspect or even test it?

Experiential marketing can’t fully address this absence, but it can go a long way to minimize its impact. Note that modern store platforms like Shopify Plus offer native support for AR content, allowing things like 360-degree product previews or even in-home visualizations (using your phone camera, you can see how that recliner you’ve been eyeing would fit in your home).

Now think about pop-up stores using electronic point of sale (POS) systems. An online retailer with no physical premises can build a campaign around a particular date and public location, hyping up a new product, then set up a stall there for that day — having people around will allow them to promote directly, and they can make some sales then and there.

And in the long run, VR might prove the most influential technology for experiential marketing. Imagine having a fully-rendered 3D store, allowing a shopper to browse products much more intuitively. You could even set up virtual promotional stalls inside that store, arranging it to best capture interest. The possibilities are extensive.

Implementing it on a Budget

So far, so good. The AR and real-world event tactics are already being used to great effect by companies like IKEA and Brandless, so we know they work — and though VR currently feels quite gimmicky, there’s no telling where the technology will go in the coming years. Should we reach a point of having lightweight high-res headsets, or even a system with sensory feedback of some kind, it will prove truly transformative.

The main problem with experiential marketing at the moment, though, is that it’s tough to do it well on a budget. Hosting a significant real-world event at the very least requires either a prominent location (which will cost you to use) or an impressive hype campaign (which will cost you time and/or money to create). There’s little use in trying such an event if you can’t get people to attend, so don’t even attempt it unless you’re a master of social media.

VR content is demanding, since it needs high-quality cameras to get the visuals, plus professional production to make it sufficiently slick. And that’s if you use standard footage. Building something in 3D gives you unlimited creative scope, but good 3D modeling is expensive to produce.

But what about AR and UGC (user-generated content)? The cost of developing an AR app continues to fall, plus you can use existing plugins and systems to create detailed product previews to help your marketing content. And UGC is the real secret weapon of any brand on a budget: come up with something that your followers would enjoy doing and would serve to promote your business, and you have a winning tactic that can be deployed at no cost.

A Worthy Addition to your Strategy

On balance, then, how does experiential marketing stack up? I have to give it an enthusiastic nod. Yes, it’s challenging to use, requiring a lot more thought (and investment) than other forms of marketing — but it’s worth it. Ensure that you track your results carefully to gauge the ROI, though. You don’t want to stray into the realm of speculation, because experiential marketing that people enjoy might not actually sell. It’s the financial return that matters. Remember it.

Rodney Laws is an ecommerce expert with over a decade of experience in building online businesses and has worked with the biggest platforms in the world. Check out his reviews on EcommercePlatforms.io and you’ll find practical tips that you can use to build the best online store for your business. Connect with him on Twitter @EcomPlatformsior.

Full disclosure: I get about 100 inquiries a month to guest blog for Robin’s Rainmakers. Rodney contacted me and his pitch was short and smart, and his material was well-written. When I asked about a cross-promotional opportunity, he was game. Guest blogging can be a win-win. Try it out.

Copyright 2019 - Robin Samora, Partner Promotions Inc. All rights reserved.