Roaming Hunger

Roaming Hunger Agency

Experiential Marketing for Brands: The Definitive Guide (2018)

Successful brands do one thing very well:

They connect with their customers better than other companies in their market.

As a marketer, these connections have deep implications on your bottom line because they require real time, effort, and understanding of who your customers are and how they interact with you.

One of the most effective ways to create and deepen your relationship with your current and potential customers is with Experiential Marketing. And after 10 years working with brands of all shapes and sizes, we took some time to analyze some of the best practices we’ve seen brands employ when using Experiential Marketing.

 Here are the things we will cover in this guide:

  • The key to succeeding at experiential marketing as a brand
  • How to avoid the #1 mistake when doing experiential marketing
  • When you should use experiential marketing
  • Determining what type of experiential campaign works best
  • How to measure success effectively
  • How to maximize the ROI of your experiential marketing
  • Layering digital into experiential

Let’s get started…

The Key to Successful Experiential Marketing

Here it is…

Experiential marketing needs to fit into your marketing mix, and should NOT be looked at as a one and done solo project.

Let’s unpack this…

What we’ve noticed after a decade in the industry is which brands have been successful and which have not. And at the end of the day it comes down to long-term thinking, experimenting, and learning. Just like any other marketing strategy, experiential is a tool that you can use to help your brand. 

This does not mean a one-time event is the wrong approach. In the right circumstances, such as an activation for a movie premier, it is a one-time event.  

But when the studio’s marketing team fits experiential into its marketing mix, it will understand how the activation ties into the movie’s digital marketing strategy (and other channels), and how to improve the next activation for the next movie.  

Unlike other strategies, the level of interaction that you have with your customer or core audience is much deeper and therefore much more nuanced. Because of this, even a one time event needs to be approached with a long-term view. 

The point is to establish a competency that you can build on in the future. 

Now let’s look at the one mistake you need to avoid when executing an experiential marketing campaign.

Avoid the #1 Mistake of Experiential Campaigns

The biggest mistake you can make as a brand is not defining success metrics for your campaign. Unclear goals and not measuring them effectively will only mean wasted time, effort, and dollars.

The rest of this guide will help you avoid this pitfall and set you up creating a long-term experiential strategy that will work for your brand for years to come. 

Let’s begin by exploring when you should consider using experiential marketing as a strategy for your brand. 

When Does Experiential Marketing Make Sense

Experiential marketing makes sense for a brand if TWO things are true:  

First, the brand wants to create a relationship with a specific group of people. Some of the reasons can be for a product launch, a brand building campaign, for PR purposes, or to educate your audience.  

Second, the basis of forming that relationship is best done in person. This means that a digital campaign by itself (or other forms of advertising) cannot be a substitute for the physical interaction. It does not mean that the activation should not have a digital component (more on this later). 

“Here’s the difference between digital marketing and experiential marketing: Digital Marketing is like swiping right and left… Experiential Marketing is like going on a date.”

If you’ve got these things covered, then this is the most important next step:

Establish who it’s for and what you want them to do. Most importantly, figure out what needs to happen in order to scale the program.

The who could be “college students at public universities” and you may want them to try avocados. (See the case study below) 

It’s crucial you do this because it sets you up for long-term success. Any brand or marketing team that is not clear on these two details is not ready to explore whether experiential marketing makes sense for their campaign. 

Once your core audience is established, it’s much easier to take your product or offering and figure out what type of experience you should create. From what we’ve seen speaking with brands, the job of an experiential marketing agency is to take your “who” and your “what” (product), convert it into an experiential promotion and figure out where to put it. 

It also helps you establish a clear “why” for your campaign. (Which is also crucial when communicating with your team or boss, or with a marketing agency.) 

Creating a Clear Why

Every brand that reaches out to us comes with some idea of what they want. At the very least a vision of what the result should “feel” like.  

What we’ve found is that brands that understand exactly why they’re creating an experiential marketing campaign have a much higher chance of success. This is because a clear why translates into clear goals. 

You don’t need a detailed plan in place at first, but you do need to have a goal defined. You should be able to thoughtfully answer questions like this:

  • Why is this group of people the right core audience?
  • Why will our product connect with this audience?
  • What type of relationship are we trying to form?

Case Study: Avocados from Mexico

Type of Activation: National College Tour

The Goal: Avocados from Mexico wanted to create a brand building campaign on the East Coast to drive awareness of avocados. The target locations were universities where college students and faculty could enjoy various avocado breakfast treats.

The Results: Avocados partnered with Tabasco and Dannon to create a menu that spoke to their target audience and expand on the program’s reach. The tour hit 17 locations on the East Coast, and was so successful it was expanded to the West Coast.

Now that you’ve got a clear who, what, and why established, we can talk about the next step…

Determining What Type of Experiential Campaign Works Best

The who, what and why is the foundation you need to build a clear, goal based experiential marketing campaign. It makes the following two things easier to answer:

  1. Where: How do you achieve your goal via the Location?
  2. What’s Happening: How do you achieve your goal via the Experience?

Establishing the Where

How you get in front of people is a crucial detail and needs careful planning. For example, a question we often ask ourselves is “Should this be a branded food truck promotion or should it be a party?” In other words, we can build something that goes to your audience or build something that your audience comes to. 

If you know the best location for you is a giant music festival, then the question is already answered. But we often find that once the brand knows they have the flexibility to take the experience to the audience, it opens up a multitude of options.

For example, the music festival you plan to attend might be full of other activations, all vying for people’s attention. Being able to travel to a location where you are the best thing in town may be a better option for your audience and/or your brand.

Case Study: NatureSweet Tomatoes

Type of Activation: Pop Up Marketing Tour for Product Launch

Goal: NatureSweet Tomatoes wanted to reach middle-class mothers in a major American city and have them try out its new types of tomatoes.

Results: Roaming Hunger researched cities across the U.S. and produced a comprehensive demographic study. We landed on specific retail stops in St. Louis because of favorable local restrictions, city demographics, and time and season constraints.

We then surprised grocery store shoppers in St. Louis, Missouri with a branded food truck, pop up shipping container bistro, and alfresco cafe-style seating to showcase NatureSweet’s “Sweet for the Slicing” Jubilee varietal tomato, served up in handcrafted gourmet sandwiches and salads.

We also built in a promotion for the tomatoes, and a digital and social media strategy to capture customer sentiment and spread the word. At each activation site the grocery store sold out of NatureSweet tomatoes and both NatureSweet and its customers drove away happy.

Planning the Experience

Creating the experience is usually where marketers start dreaming big. It’s definitely the most creative and often the most fun part of the process.  

We do, however, want to make one thing very clear when it comes to experiential activations… 

There are no good or bad activations. There are only successful or unsuccessful activations.

For some brands a PR stunt will meet all the brand’s goals. For other brands giving out a cup of coffee will far exceed the results of any PR stunt it can think of. Every company should do what is right for its brand, not necessarily what works for other brands.

We encourage brands to be as creative as possible while staying within the limits of their goals and what they want the end result to be. Sometimes that means thinking small and still being creative.

Going back to our festival example, it may be necessary to create a “big” experience that really stands out and gets attention. And if your goal is aligned with the time and effort required to construct a big one time activation, you will have positive results.

If your goal, however, is to get in front of working moms and dads who are out grocery shopping, your creative energy will be filtered through a different perspective.

One key question to ask is “Are you trying to create a one time activation or something that can be replicated over and over again?” This is very important because it changes how you approach your entire experiential strategy.  

If you want to educate your customers, for example, then setting up a tour that goes to multiple locations and activates the same experience may be best for your brand.  

Case Study: Motorola

Type of Activation: Mobile Learning Lab (North America Marketing Tour)

Goal: Motorola created their mobile learning lab in 2013 to educate and train sales associates at major wireless and electronic stores. Their goal was to increase sales of Motorola products by educating salespeople about the features and benefits of their phones.

Results: The program started in one market with one truck. After a year the program was expanded, eventually running with three trucks for over four years. Motorola was able to verify the success of the program by measuring an increase in sales at the specific stores the trucks stopped at.

Types of Experiential Marketing Campaigns

Below are some of the different type of experiential marketing campaigns that brands have executed:

Pop Up Marketing

Pop ups come in many shapes and forms, but the intention is to surprise and delight consumers with an unexpected event.

Activations might feature a pop-up marketing event at a store or restaurant, a custom-wrapped promotional vehicle, or an attention-grabbing stunt. But no matter what, all of these experiential marketing tactics are designed to provide consumers with a moment worth sharing on social channels.

Specifics like location (and necessary permits), demographics, optimal event times, and type of interaction with the brand will greatly shape how a successful event looks, sounds, tastes, and feels.

Case Study: Quaker Oats’ Pop Up Bistro

Quaker Oats used a full lounge buildout featuring tables, chairs, hedges, and a custom shade structure where guests could enjoy their customized bowls of oatmeal and vote for their favorite flavor once they were done.

Mobile Marketing Tours

Tours are a great way to take your experiential marketing campaign on the road. A mobile marketing tour allows brands to engage with their audience in whatever locations they decide to hit.

The locations, however, are usually the most important aspect of a tour. If going to college campuses, for example, you will need proper permits, deep knowledge about the best places to park, and what time of day are best to operate.

Case Study: Nissin Chow Mein

Nissin Chow Mein visited 13 states in a four month tour of their noodles. When diners were invited to “meet the chef” in the kitchen of the truck, they were surprised to find a row of microwaves. As the tour progressed, Roaming Hunger built out a social component in order to decide which specific locations to activate in.

 Tastings and Samplings

With a tasting and sampling experience, customers are able to enjoy the taste, feel, and smell of your product in a controlled or semi-controlled environment. This again makes the location of the activation very important.

Not only will you have the opportunity to delight your audience and increase your brand affinity, but you can also gather feedback, create content, or acquire digital assets you can use in other marketing campaigns.

Case Study: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor

Lay’s decided to let people vote for four new flavors of chips, and decided to go to LA Live with a food truck for each of the four choices. Fans from all over Los Angeles flocked to the downtown location to voice, and eat, their favorite flavor.

Influencer Based Activations

 Although an influencer can be paired with any type of experiential marketing campaign, it is worth noting that it can be a powerful strategy for the right brand.

When a brand partners with an influential figure and gets them to back their product or connect with customers on-site, influencer based experiences can be a powerful form of experiential marketing.

Case Study: Zaluvida

Zaluvida wanted to highlight their climate smart beef and hired their first ever American ambassador, celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio. Chef Michael, working closely with Roaming Hunger and Zaluvida, created a special taco just for this activation. Known for his delicious dishes, Michael Voltaggio was able to draw in crowds and his tacos ran out at each stop on the tour. 

How to Measure Success Effectively

The ability to measure success effectively is a goal in itself when it comes to experiential marketing. You need to set up the activation so that you’re able to measure your results (and see if your goals were reached).

Without the ability to clearly determine whether you’ve been successful or not, you can’t prove if the money you’ve spent was worth it. One of the reasons brands don’t do experiential marketing is because the perceived cost of the audience interaction is very high. Often experiential is compared to promoting on a billboard or doing a tv ad because it falls under the umbrella of brand marketing.

But brands that follow the practices outlined in this article understand the different layers of value that are created, and take steps to measure them.

There are many ways to measure how your activation went, and it will depend on what your goal is. For example, if you’re launching a new product and create an activation at a busy shopping center, you might want to measure the following things:

  1. Customer/audience sentiment for your product.
  2. Customer/audience feedback about your brand or your competitors.
  3. Key details about your audience to determine if they are indeed your ideal customer.
  4. Impressions of how many people saw your brand and/or product during the activation.

Next we’ll dive even further into the question of measurement and how you can think about getting the most bang for your buck.

Case Study: [yellow tail] Wine

Type of Activation: Pop Up Brand Marketing Tour for Launch of Super Bowl Commercial

Goal: [yellow tail] wanted a brand building tour to reach NFL fans in multiple US cities, with the conclusion in Minneapolis.

Results: Roaming Hunger worked closely with [yellow tail] to come up with multi-pronged strategy that included 32 locations in 9 US cities, a charitable component, and a culinary experience (since giving out wine was not possible).

We developed a comprehensive training program for event staff and brand ambassadors which involved creating, distributing, and executing run of shows and daily route schedules, and program procedures and talking points.

It was also important to measure key metrics during the campaign. To prove the success, we put together a comprehensive recap report that calculated the travel impressions of the tour. The report also included the total number of event impressions, engagement data, consumer comments and feedback, and key learnings for any future activations [yellow tail] wanted to execute.

How to Maximize the ROI of Your Experiential Marketing

One of the first questions we usually get asked by prospective clients is “How much is this going to cost us?” We understand that what they’re really asking is “How do we get the most out of the money we’re spending?”

The answer to that question goes hand-in-hand with being able to measure your results.

As we saw in the Motorola example, setting up a successful campaign the first time resulted in a model that was replicated over three years. This does not mean they achieved a positive ROI from day one. It just means they measured the results effectively from the get-go, which in turn lead to a strategy that produced a positive ROI in the long run.

For other brands, maximizing return on investment means creating value in other forms. Here are just a few that we’ve seen clients utilize: 

  • Getting positive PR online and in print
  • Capturing Visual Content
  • Capturing User Generated Content
  • Capturing Reach and Impressions

Quality vs Quantity

The decisions you make about how to maximize ROI are determined by your initial strategy. This is because your strategy determines the quality of the interaction you have with your audience, and their reaction to that interaction.

Going back to Motorola, the quality of their interactions was very important and needed to be deep and educational. But it was not going to produce any PR articles.

On the other hand, a PR stunt may not need to be deep at all, just have a big impact or “wow” factor on the audience. In fact even the quality of the interaction may not need to be considered if all the cameras are pointed at the event rather than the reaction of the audience. 

B2B vs B2C

Another thing to keep in mind when measuring ROI is whether your product or brand is focused on consumers or business.

We usually find that a B2B brand needs to create a deeper relationship and therefore a more significant interaction with their audience. 

A B2C brand can often be more transactional, like handing out samples or creating an entertaining experience.

Layering Digital Into Experiential

When you pair digital interactions with a physical activation, it becomes much easier to put numbers behind the reaction you get from your audience.

Let’s think about handing out coffee on a street corner. You can go out and measure the number of cups of coffee you gave out and conclude that you’ve reached 100 people.

If you layer a digital component into your coffee giveaway… say you ask for a social post with a hashtag, then you’ve created a much more nuanced reaction. You can measure multiple things from each hashtag you get, including who that person is, their age, how they felt about the coffee, and much more.

These details are crucial to determining whether you want to hand out coffee again, if you should do it on the same street corner, and how much coffee to give out.


In conclusion, if experiential marketing is right for you brand, start by making sure it’s a long term strategy that you fit into your overall marketing mix.  

Next define your audience, what you want them to do, and be clear with why an experiential marketing campaign is the best strategy. After this it’s possible to start planning where the event will take place and what the experience will be.

As you work on your plan you will start to define clear goals and ways to measure success. Usually binary goals with a clear “yes” or “no” answer are the best in the long-run, but some goals can be qualitative rather than quantitative.

The measurement process will lead to creating ROI maximizing opportunities for your experiential campaign. This can take the form of digital asset creation, getting customer feedback, selling products, etc.

What you want to end up with is an experiential marketing strategy that works for your brand. If it makes sense for your product, this will be a model that you can recreate successfully again and again.