Digital and email marketing are among the most popular forms of connecting to customers, but another important tool that stands to turn consumers into raving fanatics of our brands — experiential marketing — often takes a back seat.

     Why is that? Why do so many marketers overlook the single best way to connect — really connect — with the people they want to forge relationships with? Likely it’s because they think it requires more effort than automating an email. In fact, it does, because it requires a rare commodity these days — human interaction — but the payoff is much longer lasting and effective.

     Here’s why you need to incorporate experiential marketing into your strategy: by creating an interactive and immersive experience that a consumer can participate in, you forge strong bonds with a potential customer.

In The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, authors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore liken experiences to a theatrical performance:

     “But when [the consumer] buys an experience, he pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages — as in a theatrical play — to engage him in a personal way.”

     In the case of experiential marketing, the consumer doesn’t even have to pay for the privilege of having an amazing experience; it’s your job as the marketer to deliver it in an effort to better brand your business, and therefore build relationships.

Who Needs Experiential Marketing?

     While most brands can benefit from experiential marketing, it’s those that sell high-end products or services who need to leverage it. The high-end customer isn’t going to just hand over her money after seeing your Tweet. She wants more. By creating an experience that she can touch, taste, or interact with firsthand, you’re proving to her that yours is a brand that gets her. Trust me: she’ll clamor for more.

Experiences Beat Things

     Recent studies show that people value — and derive more happiness from — experiences more than items. Because we are the sum of our experiences, not our tangible goods, experiential marketing plays into that fact by creating memorable, buzz-worthy events that consumers will recollect much longer than they will that pen with your logo on it.

     But before you think you need a multi-million dollar fireworks display, caged tigers, and flashy costumes, realize: it’s not about how much money you spend on an encounter. It’s about creating an authentic, can't-be-bought experience that turns a prospect into a client, and a client into an evangelist.

Experiential Marketing Spurs Word-of-Mouth

     Few consumers will chat with their friends about the latest banner ad for a brand, but 59% of consumers who experience event marketing tell others about that live experience within 48 hours. This is a major boon for your brand, because nothing beats word-of-mouth marketing. When consumers become advocates of your company, that’s where the magic happens.

     Journalists, too, play a role in spreading the word. Strategically including reporters who cover your industry could get you free media play, helping you reach thousands or even millions of people through their articles about your brand.

The Role of Emotions

     The goal of any marketing should be to evoke positive emotions in your audience. That’s difficult to do with, say, email marketing, but much easier to do with experiences. Imagine the roomful of tears at the keynote delivered by a man who lost an arm as he struggled to survive in the wilderness. Or the delighted giggles of the students who received a balloon animal instead of a Coke with Coke’s Happiness Machine.

     When you can spur emotions, you automatically connect in meaningful ways to your potential customers. All things being equal between your brand and another, who do you think a customer will buy from: the company that made them laugh or cry, or the one whose Facebook page they follow?

What Makes a Stellar Experience?

     When brainstorming for your own experiential marketing, keep the concepts of surprise and delight at the forefront of your mind. You don’t have to go overboard in your planning; simply do something that helps your brand get noticed. This can be as simple as a handwritten note, which, in the past, used to be the norm, but is now a rare occurrence. Just think of the elation your customer will have when receiving a heavy, linen paper envelope with a friendly note in the snail mail!

     Your memorable experience can be a special dinner, an exclusive showroom event, or an ultimate hot dog tour. People like getting first access and behind-the-scenes looks at your company. It makes them feel special.

     You can also use the experience to make your clients smarter. Set up a corporate wine tasting event that not only educates them on the nuances of wine, but also entertains and engages them. It builds trust and loyalty.

     Experiential marketing isn’t forcing a marketing message down people’s throats. It’s not a one-way conversation. It’s building relationships and trust by delivering a customized experience people will never forget.