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Why Experiential Marketing works

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

The age of experiential marketing is now. Wait, what? 

That’s right, there is a new age in marketing happening right now, and it’s experiential marketing. What is experiential marketing? It’s a call back to our core senses as humans. It’s a real, physical, tangible connection with your customers. It takes place in the real world, and it is becoming one of the most effective tools for a company to reach its customers. Is it going to displace digital marketing or AR? Nope. Do we no longer need print campaigns? Of course, we do. It’s not that kind of revolution, but it will be here to stay, and it is more of a complimentary force than a competing threat to existing marketing tools.



For the past couple of decades, there has been an arms race to capture more and more of customer’s attention from screens. Starting earlier with TVs, but later with adds placed on (or sometimes in front of) web pages, and then more recently on mobile devices. While there is certainly good data to support these types of approaches, it’s pretty obvious that we are all getting fairly numb to this type of outreach. Can you name a pop-up add or banner from the news you read online today? I can’t. My brain has become accustomed to automatically tuning this type of marketing out. It’s true that they are getting more sophisticated, and by making advertisements look like posts in your social media feeds, they can get me to read them, but the annoyance is still there as soon as I realize that I’ve been pulled in. 

Along this same time period trade show attendance has largely been falling. Once, it was the primary was to stay up to date with new products and advances in your industry. With the proliferation of the internet, most people would rather just search online to find out about a company’s offerings. A striking trade show booth used to be a necessity in order to grab the attention of potential customers at a large show. Today, with attendance waning, many companies are finding that the ROI on a booth no longer makes sense. So, with more business being moved online, but with online customers becoming numb to online marketing, how do you engage your customers?

Just as little as five years ago, rarely was the term experiential marketing being used. There have always been campaigns that would qualify today as experiential, but they were largely under the umbrella of events marketing. Festivals, conventions, and other events that had a central theme that would draw people in (i.e. music, wine, comics, etc.), turned out to be a great place to install a marketing activation. Naturally, with a captive audience, and if your activation offered something to draw in visitors such as water or shade, this became a very direct way to reach customers. That physical interaction became a powerful method of outreach.

Taking this a step further and separating for the need of a specific event (although still a great place to deploy), came experiential marketing. Experiential marketing creates that event and creates that draw on its own. I feel that, especially in today’s world, people are looking for a reason to step away from their screens, they are looking for something tangible and physical that they can interact with. Our brains have gotten so good at tuning out two-dimensional content, but it’s much harder for us to ignore something three-dimensional -like a life sized great white shark coming out of the pier. Real things still grab people attention. People don’t want to stand in line to see a video commercial, but they will stand in line for an experience. People want to jump into a huge pit of foam money for a chance to win a give-away. They want to walk into a room and be taken into the Twilight Zone. They want to ride a double-decker bus and get taken to exciting and new places to run around the city. This is what people want. It’s a real experience. It’s fun. It’s something that can’t happen on demand. You have to be there, at that moment to experience. It’s something they can put on their social feeds because it’s cool and unique. That is experiential marketing. Create something that’s fun to interact with for your customers, and they will show up, have fun, talk about it to their friends, and post online.

The data supports that this approach works. On a recent three-day activation that we built and installed in LA last month, there were over 5000 people that waited in line for the experience. From this came a very large number of social media post, with direct reference to the project hashtags. These taken, further out to the number of views of those post, equaled and extremely effective outreach from a three-day activation. On top of that, most studies show that seeing content posted from your network has a far better impact than seeing content directly from a company. So experiential marketing leads to very impactful impressions of the campaign.

Is now the age of experiential marketing? I believe that it is. Why am I writing about this? Because I am very excited about being part of this change. My company, Nest Experiential, was founded by a guy named Tim Bina. About three years ago he was telling me about experiential marketing, and how he wanted to focus his company on that segment of the market. I joined a short time later, and in the last few years we have had a singular focus to become the best experiential design and build company, to support marketing agencies, that has ever been. When I started, Nest was only doing about 10% experiential work, with the rest being trade show and retail. After three years of recruiting the best talent and the most experienced craftsmen and builders, we finally have the company that can achieve our goal. Today, we are larger, and over 80% of our business is in the design and building of experiential marketing activations for agencies. Again, why is this so important? Two reasons. One, the creativity, design chops, and the experience that comes from pulling off the impossible isn’t a commodity. There may be a build shop that is great at trade show walls, but that may not be the same skills needed to build the largest working zoetrope in North America. Second, it’s just fun. Seriously, I get up everyday and get to come in and work with a bunch of talented and motivated people building some of the most creative stuff around.  It’s the age of experiential marketing, and I’m glad I’m not a dinosaur.

Casey Pettit, COO Nest Experiential

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