A New Era for Marketing: Experience is King

2015 February Whitepaper

Although it’s one of those buzzwords that’s tossed around in marketing meetings and planning sessions, experiential marketing isn’t anything new. In fact, the concept has its roots in the days of traveling salesmen. And in its most basic form, experiential marketing simply involved letting people sample your products as you took them door-to-door. This allowed potential customers to truly experience your brand, and in the long term, become a loyal customer of your company.

But in our current age of digital pioneering, experiential marketing has started to take new and exciting forms. There’s an increased emphasis on design, technology and giving the customer an all-inclusive experience, and signage is one of the most important components. It’s the digital sign that shows concert highlights at the festival, the branded banners with the event hashtag and the flyers with QR codes that attendees interact with for special giveaways. It’s LAX’s Bradley Terminal, and it’s Coke’s personalized name bottles. The great thing about experiential signage and experiential marketing campaigns is that the sky is the limit. This is the age of the consumer’s voice, and it will be heard.

What is experiential design?

Experiential signage is a subsection or consequence of experiential marketing, and is alternatively referred to as experiential design. The crux of experiential design is the intermingling of seemingly disparate elements such as psychology, linguistics, environmental and information design, brand strategy, storytelling, architecture and much more.

At one time, customers were happy just to see a product from all sides and in all available colors. But with advances in digital technology and communications, we are living in a virtual world. These days, consumers want a legitimate 360-degree product experience. According to Laura Davis-Taylor, senior VP, managing director of BBDO/Proximity ShopWork, “Experiences are two-ways, and the tools we have are all over the place. Samples, the trade shows, and that pop-up stuff are still important. It is the price of entry but ignores the fact that people today are living in a world of virtuality. It’s not only about touching something but touching something digitally, virtually.” And this is where experiential marketing, design and signage intersect.

Encompassing everything from wayfinding systems, architectural graphics, signage programs, exhibit design, retail design and themed or branded spaces, experiential design has set the standard for immersive environments. Designers are shaping experiences that orient, inform, educate and delight users at retail locations, entertainment and hospitality destinations, schools, sports venues and more. These branded environments and experiences employ tools and storytelling elements to create more engaging and meaningful interactions with customers.

Signage, separated from other elements of experiential design, is capable of providing customers with a wealth of experience. At Hard Rock Café locations globally, there are multi-touch digital screens that allow guests to view and interact with an extensive collection of music memorabilia. On a larger scale, Mini created interactive billboards that signaled Mini drivers’ key fob chips and displayed personalized messages that included the driver’s name as they passed the designated signs. Another inventive example of signage that created an experience was a Nikon campaign in Seoul, complete with signage that would light up as people passed, mimicking paparazzi flashes and making regular people feel like celebrities. To take it one step further, Nikon completed their marketing tactic with a red carpet that led directly to Nikon purchase opportunities in the attached shopping mall.

More often however, signage accompanies and complements other visual and sensory elements. Giants such as Adidas accomplished this with their Stan Smith pop-up store, which featured interactive, guest-controlled 3D graphic flooring and guest-created promotional items using 3D printers. Coca-Cola, often discussed as trailblazers in their marketing schemes, added signage and replaced fluorescent lights with heat lamps in bus shelters in Sweden to raise awareness and provide warmth for homeless citizens. Even online retailer Zappos got in on the trend and made travelers’ hectic pre-Thanksgiving journeys better with an airport game. By adding branded signage to the luggage carousels, they created a Wheel of Fortune style game that awarded weary tourists with prizes when their luggage landed.

Experiential design is really only limited by a company’s creative vision. Many businesses are using it to forge stronger bonds with their clients and seguing those relationships into increased brand awareness and commerce. But before jumping in and testing the experiential waters, there are some things to consider.

Advantages & Challenges

Experiential design presents many of the same advantages and disadvantages as traditional signage. The biggest consideration when implementing an experiential campaign is cost. Depending on the scale of your marketing campaign, the scope of your installation or the impact you’re attempting to make, experiential signage can require a significant investment.

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- Interactivity: One of the primary goals of experiential design is to capture clients’ undivided attention. You can capitalize on this by developing signage accordingly. Integrating QR codes into printed materials, utilizing text-to-win contests, and incorporating social media cues perform dual functions. As you capture client information and facilitate purchase interactions, you also provide customers with an avenue for experiencing your message. This heightened interaction can allow you to gather data in real time, as well as offer on-site incentives and activities for diverse and seamless interactions. Most importantly, it’s possible to create an emotional connection when customers can see, taste, touch and/or feel a brand, and those emotional connections will translate into long-lasting business.

- Return on investment: Experience marketing budgets increased by over 5 percent in 2014. More precisely, 75 percent of companies with marketing budgets between $50 and $100 million said that they expected a return on their investment of more than five to one for experiential initiatives. Even companies with smaller budgets anticipate three-to-one returns. Additionally, when companies deploy experiential design initiatives, they drive purchases.

- Immersive content: EventTrack conducted a survey that showed that 74 percent of customers have a more positive opinion of a brand, company or service after an experiential encounter. One method for accomplishing this is through free samples or giveaways that are tied to experiential enterprises. This can be very important in a person’s motivation to participate. Brand ambassadors that embody the brand image and communicate the message effectively are also effective in extending the scope of your experiential marketing. By connecting with clients and encouraging further action, you extend the marketing long after the primary contact.

- Valuable engagement data: Experiential design that clients interact with can help determine what your audience responds to. Are small, intimate events more effective for your brand or do large spectacles attract more buzz? Should lead generation be tied to a contests and giveaways? Do attendees respond to promotional items to drive purchasing or does a digital coupon gain more traction? If an experiential campaign has been conducted successfully, you should garner sales and actionable leads. In addition, when it comes to new products, experiential marketing can be the perfect test before bringing your new product or service to the masses.

- Visionary solutions: Perhaps the most exciting thing about experiential signage and marketing is the availability of so many unique solutions. Each company’s campaigns will look diverse, as different types of consumers respond to different things. Most importantly, businesses must ascertain what their audiences respond to and create those opportunities. Digital signage, interactive touchscreens, user-created content, traditional signage applications—the only limit is imagination. 


Challenges in deploying and capitalizing upon experiential signage are, in the grand scheme, tied to the success of the entire campaign. As experiential marketing has many elements, many that are dependent upon the working of others, it can also be hard to gauge your signage’s effectiveness. With that in mind, there are some specific challenges that you will want to consider when developing a signage package to accompany your marketing plans.

-  Planning: Demographics should be the principal consideration when developing a signage plan. Even though the majority of experiential campaigns are directed at Millennials, the “young at heart” are the true target demographic for experience marketing. Experiential design can be equally effective, if not more so, with more conservative businesses, but the signage and method of deployment must be appropriate to the chosen demographic’s goals and desires.

-  Execution: At your business location or during an event is when you have clients’ complete attention, so it’s vital to execute things effectively. Have as many chances as possible for attendees to interact with your brand; these methods can be costly, so take advantage of available customer data while it’s accessible.

-  Scaling up: A significant challenge with experiential signage plans is extending beyond the initial experience into as many channels as possible. Without successive interactions after the initial one, you have lost the client. Your brand needs to remain in the front of their mind for as long as possible after the actual interaction.

-  Post contact: Just as a significant return on your investment is possible, it’s equally difficult to measure. This requires clearly defined metrics. Another important consideration, as many experiential marketing plans involve digital signage and interactive content, is the expense and the ongoing management of the material.

Planning for success

To get the most out of your experiential design campaign, consider the following suggestions. As mentioned, no two experiential campaigns are alike, so adapt these recommendations to fit your signage and campaign needs.

- Build a network: The most memorable experiences are shared. Focus on either drawing a crowd or creating an experience that is better when shared with others. Additionally, by connecting your clients and creating a culture, the likelihood that they will continue their connection and conversation about your brand increases.

- Integrate products: Whether it’s through the use of the product itself or an explicit tie-in with the brand, any experience targeting prospective customers needs to integrate sales tactics. It’s not enough to simply entertain your customers. They also need to be motivated in some way to investigate and purchase your products and services.

- Creativity is paramount: As we see with so many experiential examples, elements that capture people’s imagination are a key ingredient to a successful design campaign. Companies have spent millions on failed tests simply because they thought money would bring attention to a boring, unoriginal angle.

- Gather and listen to feedback: What good would experiential marketing be if businesses didn’t listen to customer feedback? Even information-based campaigns can get customers talking about products in ways that you might not expect, and if nothing else, you can learn what does and does not resonate with your audience in terms of keeping their interest.

Traditional and effective

Although much of experiential marketing and design relies heavily on digital technology and social media, it is equally important to employ non-digital mediums when creating a user experience. While planning an experiential campaign, consider using traditional signage to complement your digital efforts, as there are countless applications and an experience can be created on any budget. Interactive and digital examples abound and have been used to great success, but many businesses are opting for awe-inspiring experiences with banners, POP displays, interior and exterior wraps and unique promotional items.

For many brand experiences, static or non-digital signage will accompany and complement the digital sign applications. With traditional signage, because of the many options, it’s possible to fill the gap between digital uses. In fact, many planners continue to rely on traditional, static signs because they create 24-hour coverage and a continuous message that drives impressions. Static signage has additional benefits, such as:

  • Strong generalized branding
  • Constant presence
  • Budget friendly
  • Fewer power constraints
  • Often requires less permitting
  • Draws attention to the digital experience
  • Provide additional information to support digital efforts
  • Provides additional design flexibility

To really complement the digital experience, traditional signs can be used to construct a “surround” or “frame,” creating larger displays than budgets allow. This also generates adjacent branding opportunities that allow for more messaging and less on-screen clutter. In addition to using signage to complement digital efforts, there are many unique and lucrative installations such as stair prints, pillar wraps and ceiling graphics to capture attention and create an unforgettable experience.

A final concern when attempting to create a user experience would be the appropriateness of the application for the given environment. There are situations in which a digital sign may be too disruptive of a presence to accomplish the intended goal. This is especially of concern in wayfinding applications. Visitors need to determine where they need to be quickly and without hassle, and digital signage may confuse or hinder that process. Static signage is also popular in schools, as it can be used to supplement and bolster the educational experience. Again, in cases such as schools, digital signage applications are sometimes avoided due to the distraction they can create for students whose attention needs to be elsewhere.

Experiential marketing’s sweet spot

The target demographic for many of today’s experiential campaigns are Generation Y consumers. Also referred to as Millennials, this segment comprises almost one-third of the U.S. population and has more than $170 billion dollars in spending power. And with this demographic comes a unique set of opportunities for anyone developing a signage plan for an event. Because of their fragmented viewing habits, skepticism toward the “hard sell” and advanced technology that allows them to block unwanted communications, they are difficult to reach with traditional marketing activities.

The optimal method for reaching these consumers is with nontraditional marketing. They respond especially well to live marketing events, those with face-to-face interactions. They want what’s trendy and cool right now; think lifestyle activities that are interwoven with products and brands. Savvy marketers must play to their attitudes and lifestyles in order to be effective.

- According to a survey conducted by Jack Morton Worldwide, an American brand experience agency:

- 70 percent of 13- to 23-year olds surveyed say experiential marketing is extremely or very influential on their opinion of a product or brand.

- 65 percent of 13- to 23-year olds surveyed say that participating in an event would cause them to act more quickly to purchase a product.

- Proving that events add value to other marketing investments, 76 percent of this demographic say that participating in an event would make them more receptive to the brand or products advertising.

- Demonstrating that events can inspire value-added buzz marketing, 74 percent of 13- to 23-year olds say participating in a live marketing experience is something they would tell others about.

An unforgettable experience

While entire static lineups can be boring and complete digital ones overwhelming, there is a happy medium between traditional and innovative signage applications in creating an experience for clients.

When attempting to develop an experiential signage plan, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a signage/marketing expert. Soliciting the assistance of someone that has experience with this type of signage campaign can eliminate much of the guesswork and ensure that your event is effective and memorable.

Signage experts can help to design a comprehensive plan for the event, design and create the perfect signage and content for the occasion, and they can even run point on permitting and sign installation. Although experiential signage is constantly evolving to include new elements, its future is in your hands. Experience is king, so make sure your brand is sitting atop the throne.  

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