Many of us have felt the modern struggle. The strong pull of wanting to attend exciting events combined with the just-as-strong push to find ways to do so that are as safe and responsible as possible in a post-COVID world.

But event managers may be more cognizant of this push and pull than anyone. It’s a time to get creative like never before to keep attendees safe while still keeping attendance high when it comes to marketing events.

If your event marketing program has been in a COVID-induced slump, this guide will help you kick it back into high gear with several modern event marketing examples that’ll prove you can pull off experiences that are both safe and fun. In addition, we’ll include a couple of fresh tips you can use to make sure your next experiential event feels both modern and memorable.

Defining experiential event marketing

Event marketing is the practice of hosting events — physically, virtually, or using a hybrid combo of both approaches — for the purposes of promoting a new brand or line, a product or service, or an entire business. Event management professionals craft events with the goal of creating engagements between attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and the host company. These engagements help event sponsors and hosts achieve ROI and meet goals such as growing brand awareness, quickly generating a high volume of warm leads, and more.

Experiential event marketing is a subset of event marketing that is less about structured events and more focused on immersing a consumer in a unique, memorable branded interaction. Experiential event marketing interactions can take place virtually, pop up a random street corner for a few hours, or live in a permanent location such as a retail shop. The same fluid features that make experiential event marketing hard to define are what make it exciting — and also beneficial — to pursue.

Keep exploring the ins and outs of event marketing with our guide “Event Marketing: Strategy, Tactics, Tools, and Examples for 2021 and Beyond.”

The benefits of building a modern event marketing strategy

A modern event marketing strategy — one that expands to include experiences when the timing is right — has plenty of benefits for the event management pros and companies that are willing to spend a little time and money building it.

Establish the emotional connections today’s consumers crave

Over half of consumers feel an emotional connection to the business they purchase from the most often, according to Salesforce’s 2020 State of the Connected Customer report. Consumers desire to feel an emotional bond with your business. They crave authentic stories with which they can connect. And not only do they crave these interactions, but they also reward them by spending money with the brands that provide them. Treat your potential consumers to an authentic, story-driven experience that appeals to their emotions to not only inspire their first purchase but to keep them around as loyal customers long after.      

Skyrocket buzz and awareness around your brand or offering

Well-planned events and experiences have the power to attract plenty of attention. This is what makes them instrumental in helping new brands spread the news about their company — and established brands spread the word about new offerings.

Value-adding, cutting-edge events especially are more sharable and more likely to garner wide media coverage. And to build even more buzz, you may even want to partner up with big-name sponsors that boast big-time brand recognition (just check out our blog for lots of tips on building sponsor partnerships).

With thoughtful execution, events can be pivotal in escalating brand awareness, building business credibility, and generating interest in your next event or release.

Enable consumers to experience your offerings, first-hand

A leading reason consumers attend events or interact with branded experiences in the first place? To see products and services in action. Use events to help your target audience see and experience how your offerings perform so they can understand how you’ll help solve challenges in their professional or personal lives.

6 Recent experiential event marketing examples

Now that you know the benefits, it’s time to take a look at successful experiential event marketing in action so you can start coming up with ideas for your own campaigns.

1. Masked participants donned headsets to hunt zombies in traveling marketing event

Virtual reality, zombies, and tacos? Oh my!

In a move that’s been fairly compared to “bringing a theme park ride straight to the people,” Netflix and partners banded together to create a unique virtual reality (VR)-powered experiential marketing event called “Viva Las Vengeance” to promote their original movie Army of the Dead.

The traveling experience lives in a custom-built, armored taco truck in which participants (masked and spaced out as needed per COVID regulations) don virtual reality headsets and dive into the virtual world of hunting zombies in Las Vegas. After a quick game, attendees are invited to strike a pose in a branded photo booth, purchase branded merchandise, and enjoy concessions that are even branded to align with the world of the movie — such as Zombie Mulitas and Viva Burritos.

Greg Lombardo, head of experiences at Netflix, said about the experience: “We are always seeking new ways to immerse our fans in the stories they love. VR is certainly one way to do that.” We’d have to agree.

2. Retailers got game with inserts into “new” social networks

With their ability to connect people all over the world virtually and instantly, gaming platforms have become the new wave of social networks.

And some smart brands have figured out how to host natural-feeling interactions on these networks that add to the experiences rather than feeling forced and disingenuous.

For example, Nike’s 2019 Fortnite collection put branded “skins,” which are kind of like outfits, in front of the game’s 250 million users. Players could purchase and place these skins on their characters for just $20 — a much lower price point than most of their real-life products.

Similarly, Louis Vuitton, one of the first luxury brands to get in the game with video gaming, partnered up with League of Legends. Through this partnership, virtual clothing was designed by Louis Vuitton’s womenswear creative director Nicolas Ghesquière within the game. Alongside this virtual collection, the brand also released physical clothing featuring League of Legends characters and coloring.

Retailers got game with inserts into “new” social networks

3. Netflix took NYC back in time to generate buzz for new release

Obviously no stranger to innovative experiential event marketing, in 2019 Netflix took to the streets of Little Italy in Manhattan to transport their target audience back to the ‘70s and tease their original production The Irishman.

The widespread immersive interactions happened over several days across local businesses, newsstands, and even the streets with period-accurate vehicles. Restaurants offered free food for customers who knew the password “Jimmy sent me” — which was shared via social media and faux newspapers scattered throughout the neighborhood. To deepen the experience further, “wanted” posters featuring leading characters went up on buildings, faux phone boots played film teasers, and actors posing as paperboys and even construction workers drummed up excitement and intrigue around the new release.

4. Rejuv grew revenue in pivot from in-person to virtual marketing event

Rejuv is a medical aesthetics clinic for which events have long been a major profit center. At these events, hundreds of attendees learn about new procedures, purchase products, and make future appointments. So when COVID-19 hit the U.S. hard as they were planning their spring 2020 in-person conference, the priority of the staff at Rejuv became figuring out how to keep their events profitable while keeping attendees at home.

Rejuv decided to take their entire spring marketing event virtual using Webex Events’ all-in-one mobile event app. By using the app’s customizable branding, streaming service, agenda builder, virtual vendor booths, social wall, and gamification features; the company was able to build a remote experience that felt close to the “real thing” — and actually performed even better.

Rejuv’s first virtual marketing event had more attendees than their typically in-person conferences do. They achieved a 100% adoption rate of their event app, booked 122 new patients, and most excitingly grew revenue by 10% more than their last event! This new virtual format for marketing events was such a smash hit that Rejuv plans to continue with virtual and hybrid marketing experiences going forward.

Rejuv grew revenue in pivot from in-person to virtual marketing event

5. BBC’s “burning” billboard made impressions in real life and on social media 

Out-of-home (OOH) media, also known as outdoor media, is a broad term for media that consumers take in when they’re outside their homes. OOH media can live in hundreds of formats and locations and includes virtual displays, art on the exterior of buildings, videos, signs on public transport, and, as we’ll explore now, creative use of billboards.

In early 2021, using a mix of vapor and lighting, the BBC “burned” a billboard in Manchester to promote A Perfect Planet, their program exploring the impact of humanity on the climate and environment.

Between impacting passersby as well as people who consume it virtually, out-of-home (OOH) media is especially relevant today as it offers a powerful way to reach a large audience without requiring a lot of people to cram together in a small space. 

6. White Castle channeled the ‘50s to drive COVID-safe restaurant visits

White Castle’s Valentine’s Day tradition (Yes, it’s a real thing!) couldn’t and wouldn’t be stopped by COVID-19. The burger joint continued to differentiate itself from competitors in the fast food market when, in 2020, it harkened back to the 1950s. This wholly unique experiential marketing event was based on the classic drive-in experience and featured reserved parking spaces, car-side service from carhops, and a Spotify playlist aptly named “Slider Lover’s Luv Channel” that included romantic songs alongside shoutouts just like the radio stations of old.

6. White Castle channeled the ‘50s to drive COVID-safe restaurant visits

A few tips for creating modern experiential marketing campaigns

Finally, let’s cover a few high-level tips to guide your event marketing planning sessions and make sure any experiences you create aren’t just fun but modern and thoughtful, as well.

Host event marketing experiences that are true to you

We mentioned earlier how Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report found that consumers crave emotional connections with their favorite brands. The same report found that the majority of consumers are also starting to pay more attention to company values, have switched to purchasing from companies that align with their own personal values, and care whether or not companies take action on social issues such as environmental protection, racial injustice, employee mistreatment, and much more.

Simply put, consumers want to know what brands stand for so that they can make educated decisions about which brands they want to give their money to. Events and experiences are a highly-visible and highly-sharable way to let your authentic values be known. Part of the interactions you host can even be devoted to raising awareness about, collecting donations for, or taking action on the issues that are important to your business. You’d also be wise to choose sponsors, vendors, exhibitors, and other partners that align with and promote your brand values.

Ben & Jerry’s is one brand that’s become known for taking a stand and taking action on social issues. For example, in 2019, they unveiled the ”Art for Justice” exhibit at their Vermont factory. Visitors could interact with this exhibit to learn more about criminal just reform, a cause the company has a clear stance on.

Inject virtual and mobile components that deepen the experience

Virtual reality is one of today’s fastest-growing media segments. And it’s a perfect fit for experiential marketing events that prioritize flexibility, immersion, and social distancing. Partner with a VR agency to provide the tech and help customize the experience you want to provide. 

But you don’t have to go all the way to the far end of the tech spectrum to include the virtual elements that today’s consumers seek. You can still outpace competitors just by building out a mobile-ready side of your experience. Think about how your audience could engage more deeply during an event or experience, how they could continue the experience at home, and how they would be able to better share it with others if it was accessible or could be interacted with via a mobile site or even an app. Could QR codes throughout your experiences lead attendees to branded mobile pages that give hints which enable them to dive deeper into the interaction? Could experience-goers download a lightweight mobile app that applies artificial reality which moves them through the experience? 

And just like with VR, you don’t necessarily need to create a whole mobile experience from scratch. Webex Events is an example of a customizable app-based platform with all the features you need to quickly spin up and host robust in-person, virtual, and hybrid events and experiences.

mobile event app

Mobile is swiftly becoming less an extra and more of a necessary channel when you consider that social media is accessed more from mobile devices than it is from desktop computers and more website page views, website traffic, and video views came from mobile devices than from desktop computers in 2020.

Don’t gloss over how you’ll protect attendees in the new reality

The truth is that COVID-19 is still impacting the world, which means it’s likely going to have an impact of some kind on your audience and events. In fact, over 70% of event marketing pros say that attendee safety and wellness are key issues they’ll be thinking about well into the future. We recommend that you try to provide some extra space for social distancing, clearly share any vaccination and/or mask-wearing requirements, and overall make whatever safety measures you’re taking abundantly clear.

It’s time to make experiential event marketing your own

If you’re ready to rise out of your COVID-induced marketing slump, outpace your competition, and find new ways to add value for your partners and audience — there’s no denying it’s time to try out an experiential marketing event. Webex Events is here to support you every step of the way, no matter how customized or cutting-edge those experiences get. We’re all about making your business and its events a smashing success. See the platform that enables us to deliver on that promise by signing up for a free demo right now

Nolan Ether
Nolan Ether

Nolan is a Content Marketing leader at Webex Events (formerly Socio). He’s passionate about helping brands connect with their customers through engaging storytelling and immersive experiences.