Over the last decade or so, as millennials have come of age, the received wisdom is that experiences have become more important. Whether or not this is truly a generational issue, or simply a recognition that we all like to ‘try before we buy’—and also be treated well—is a moot point. However, there is no question that customer experience has become more important in recent years. There is also no question that this experience is considered to start with a prospective customer’s first contact with the company.

The basis of experiential marketing

Experiential marketing is seen as a way to build relationships with customers at very early stages in the buying decision cycle. For example, phone carrier brand Visible uses it as a way to make the brand seem more human, which is particularly important for a brand with no physical retail outlets. This may be a B2C example, but it has very clear echoes in the B2B world. 

There are other echoes between B2C and B2B, not least that buying decisions are very seldom entirely rational. People are emotional, and decisions have to feel right, even those at work. Building relationships with brands, even B2B brands, is an important part of the buying cycle. 

Case study: Mercedes Benz

Mercedes Benz may be a B2C brand, but B2B brands could learn a lot from it. For example, the company isn’t interested in ‘satisfied’ customers, only ‘delighted’ ones.

Recent company efforts have concentrated on employees, recognising that their employees are genuinely their best possible advocates. Employees have been given the opportunity to drive a Mercedes, because a survey found that a massive 70% had never had that experience.

How many of your sales staff use your products on a daily basis?

Changing experiences with new technology

Experiential marketing has been around for many, many years in B2C. From samples of toiletries attached to magazines to the opportunity to try a perfume or use a tester in a shop, or to test-drive a car, there are numerous examples. The beauty industry has long been at the forefront and continues to lead the way now, with the use of technology in new and innovative ways. 

These include pop-up shops that marry physical and digital experiences and build an engaging story for customers. Brands are also using artificial intelligence-driven technology to test consumers’ reactions to products, allow customers to test products virtually, and even to recommend products based on skin colour from a selfie. As retail has changed over time—and you can read more about this process over the last ten years in our article here—so too has experiential marketing.

In B2B, however, especially tech B2B, the concept of experiential marketing has been slower to take off. Perhaps the closest that anyone got was product demonstrations on customer premises, although you could probably argue that a conference was a form of experiential marketing. 

Now, however, there are new and creative ideas emerging all over the place, often drawing on ideas from the tech B2C world. 

Recent examples include:

  • Escape room’ games at tech conferences, showcasing advanced analytics and artificial intelligence models. Participants use analytical models to find clues to enable them to solve a puzzle and ‘escape’; 
  • Online ‘on demand’ demos, where customers can use their own data to try out different tools, and get more contextual experience of their use; and
  • Webinars that show customers and prospective customers how to use a particular technology, or provide useful information in an interactive way.

Experiential marketing in action: getting webinars right

Webinars are an extremely cost-effective way to make contact with customers. The opportunity to save and share them later also means that they can ‘go on giving’ long after the event. But you do have to get them right. One survey suggests that the content is only one part of the story. Participants care about:

  • The ease of joining the webinar
  • The quality of the presenter’s speaking voice or delivery
  • The clarity of the message and/or the call to action; and
  • An invitation or joining page that accurately described the webinar

Interactive advertising is also a form of experiential marketing, in that it requires customers to take some action. It is, perhaps, rather less subtle than many of the other options discussed here, but it also has its place. In particular, there is plenty of potential for links to content marketing and thought leadership more generally.

Expert opinion: Anna Bager

Anna Bager is President and CEO of Out of Home Advertising Association of America, and Executive Vice President of Industry Initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). In an interview, she told us:

B2B marketing is very much about building relationships… Whether or not content marketing works for your business really depends on what you’re marketing. It’s always worked best for things like fashion and beauty. But there’s plenty of potential for B2B too, where helping customers to solve problems is key now.

Impulse decisions in a B2B world

We may not equate ‘impulse buying’ with B2B purchases, but there are a number of ways in which impulse decisions can help along the way. These include:

  • Finding trusted sources of information: when you find someone who can articulate your problem, often even before you have consciously done so, they immediately become a trusted source. It’s not rational, but it is normal.

Expert opinion: Mette Vesterager

Mette Vesterager is a Management Consultant, Coach and Founder of Novalead. She believes that both reason and emotion are important in decision-making in B2B, but the emotion will generally trump reason. Thought leadership may offer a way to help.

In order to beat price competition, you need to offer something more to your client besides a product or information. Beyond your initial offer, you need to share with your client your knowledge about the market, future trends and implementation and organisational drivers. Your client needs to know and trust that they can depend on you as a source of knowledge, and that is why thought leadership is a key driver in business today.

  • Deciding on a shortlist: your potential buyers have to feel ‘right’ with you. Published information, including blogs and social media posts, create a ‘feeling’ and an ‘experience’ about the company.
  • Approaching a vendor: your potential buyers need to feel comfortable that you will understand that they may only want information. From what you have shown them, will they think that will be OK?

For more about how to build ‘impulses’ in B2B buying, read our article here.

Experiential marketing may even lend itself rather more to B2B than B2C. Why? Because the number of people who can be part of the experience is much larger compared to the overall market. In other words, your expensive experience can reach a much bigger proportion of your target market in B2B. 

What to consider when moving into experiential marketing

As with any form of marketing, there are a number of things that you need to consider before launching into experiential marketing. These include:

  • How will this add value for your customer? Experiential marketing is expensive. You need to be sure that it is genuinely adding value for your customer—and that means more than just providing some amusement. The latest tech may be fun, but does it really help your customers to understand how to solve their problems, or are you just using it as a gimmick?
  • What do you hope to achieve? In other words, what is the point of doing this? You need to know what you are expecting to get out of it. Of course, this applies to any marketing, but perhaps even more so with more expensive options.
  • How will your message be amplified? One of the main reasons for using experiential marketing is to give people something to talk about—in a good way, of course. Consider how your message will be amplified on social media channels.
  • How will you measure the impact of your marketing? It is always important to assess your return on investment.

For more about what you need to know about experiential marketing in B2B, you can read our article on this subject here.

A final word: the whole picture

Experiential marketing can give your prospective customers a taste of what it would be like to use your products or services. As a final thought, therefore, we leave you with the idea that it is vital to consider the overall design of your experience and the message that it gives out. It is, for example, not very good for your environmental credentials if your attendees start to tweet about your unsustainable use of single-use plastics, rather than the amazing-ness of your tech demo.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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