Experiential marketing is widely perceived to be a new phenomenon, especially in B2B circles. However, B2C brands have been implementing experiential activations for years.
Wrigley's and Pabst (debuted products using experiential tactics during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and seasonal events such as conventions, music festivals, and the Super Bowl) have provided brands with ideal customer engagement settings for decades.
People love novelty, which is one reason popup shops, mobile tours, and similar tactics were so successful before COVID-19. Now, people crave that connection, and virtual events provide attendees with an opportunity to “leave” their houses, so to speak.
B2B buyers are consumers, too, and the same experiential-activation techniques that work for retail brands can also drive B2B sales: eye-catching design elements, experiences that engage people's physical senses, and authentic interactions.
Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has largely halted big brand activations, experiential marketing will bounce back when the world is safe. In the meantime, B2B companies that seek new ways to reach and convert buyers should study B2C brand activations to learn successful engagement tactics.
The following three tactics allow buyers to experience brands tangibly, even when it may be impossible to engage physically.
1. Invoke brand storytelling
Modern buyers want to know about the companies they do business with. That trend is perhaps even more salient in the B2B world, where customers often view vendors as partners (and vice versa). B2B companies should therefore use events such as tradeshows and sales meetings to talk about more than just product specs and case studies. They should share company heritage and origin stories, or discuss core values such as sustainability or innovation, to build a stronger emotional connection with buyers.
A compelling brand story doesn't have to be about the brand itself. It can be any story that points to a larger sense of purpose and demonstrates the company's values. Skittles provided a great example of brand storytelling when it celebrated Pride Month in partnership with GLAAD. The candymaker, known for its rainbow-colored sugar shells, removed all colors from its packaging for the month to draw attention to “the only rainbow that matters in June.” As LGBTQIA+ nonprofits struggled to generate donations amid the pandemic, Skittles pledged to donate $1 to GLAAD for every one of the colorless Pride Packs sold.
2. Make events interactive
The isolating impact of the coronavirus pandemic has made it even more important to facilitate connection and engagement through interactive content.
Great activations allow consumers to get their hands on what brands are selling—whether those products are physically present, or available digitally—in virtual reality or augmented reality.
For example, the pharmaceutical firm Argenx (a client of my company) hosted a two-hour virtual event in June to celebrate the launch of MG United, a platform the company created that connects people who suffer from the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis. Attendees could learn about a new education platform developed to help MG patients, attend an interactive Q&A with creators of a soon-to-be-released film about people with the disease, and participate in a virtual art therapy session.
For B2B companies selling software or products that might not be as “exciting” or accessible to the average person, implementing an activation that is exciting and accessible can help a business stand out in the minds of prospective buyers who may be considering competitors' products.
Companies can provide hands-on remote training opportunities, or offer virtual tours of their manufacturing facilities or office spaces. That demonstrates innovative thinking and technological capabilities that B2B buyers will associate with the company's product—even if it's not advanced technology.
3. Generate authentic engagement
Modern consumers, especially younger ones, crave authenticity from brands. The same is true of B2B buyers, and experiential activations provide the perfect setting for authentic interactions with prospects.
But what does authentic engagement look like?
Unlike traditional product demos or sales meetings, which are often driven by formal Q&A sessions and tend to focus on moving toward a predetermined outcome, experiential events allow for spontaneous interaction that isn't always directly linked to an outcome.
In other words, effective experiential events aren't crammed with incentives enticing participants to make a purchase. Instead, they help achieve attitudinal alignment between buyer and seller. That's because customers who identify with a brand in terms of values, perspectives, and expectations won't need the same incentivizing as those who don't.
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Activations can achieve a wide range of goals for B2B organizations, especially at a time when many companies aren't focused on experiential marketing. Right now, opportunities abound for companies that have refined their capabilities for remote work and virtual sales.
Experiential activations easily transfer to a digital landscape, so businesses should use the tactics in this article to create online experiences that further their marketing efforts.