Even if you’ve jumped on the experiential marketing bandwagon for B2C (and if you haven’t, you should), you still might be skeptical about experiential’s place in the B2B space.
After all, the B2B purchasing journey is highly different from B2C.
B2C purchases are often emotional; B2B, much less so (although it’s true to say that every purchase has some element of emotion involved).
B2C purchases usually involve a single individual choosing to buy, while B2B often involves multiple people or committees weighing the decision to purchase over several weeks or months.
Finally, the B2C market generally offers more opportunities to connect in person with customers—at shopping malls, on the street, in airports, etc.
B2B connections happen mainly at places like trade shows, conferences, or exhibitions, which means that any experiential campaign you’re developing has to fit within that context.
Related reading: How to Market to Connected Consumers
Yet, despite these differences, experiential marketing truly does have a place in B2B marketing. In our post-pandemic world, B2B consumers want to connect more, virtually and in-person, with the companies they are partnering with. To do this, the B2C market must think outside the box to engage the customer and make the shopping experience much more immersive and meaningful than clicking the “Add To Cart” button.
Here’s why that’s true and what B2B experiential marketing should look like in 2023.
Why B2B experiential marketing works
Experiential marketing, done right, works for many reasons.
The first is that it creates a memorable, lasting relationship with your audience. Customers that connect with your brand during an experiential activation are much more likely to remember your brand and try your product than those who don’t.
According to HubSpot, 65% of brands that use experiential marketing see a boost in sales. Additionally, Big Eye Agency noted that 85% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business after participating in an event or experience, with 70% becoming repeat customers.
Experiential marketing campaigns also create excellent opportunities for your customers to create and promote your brand through their own content.
A whopping 98% of consumers create digital or social content at events and experiences, and of those, 100% report sharing it. That’s called user-generated content (UGC), and consumers find it 9.8x more impactful than influencer content. (More on that later.)
That’s an immediate and powerful boost to your brand’s social media presence—and what’s more, it’s content that your content team doesn’t have to create. Instead, your team can focus on amplifying and repurposing that content instead.
Related reading: Here’s Why Your Brand Needs a Virtual Marketing Partner
How to make experiential marketing work for B2B
So how do you translate the benefits of experiential for B2C to the B2B space?
Step 1: Know your audience.
If your company has created brand personas for the B2B buyers you serve, pull those out and study them again.
What are their pain points?
How do they consume content?
What information is most important to them when making a purchase?
You’ll also need to know where you’re most likely to come in contact with these customers—at a trade show, at events hosted by your brand, at a conference, etc.
You can then use these answers to guide your experiential marketing and start crafting your experience.
Step 2: Identify the opportunity and the goal.
Now, you’ll need to identify the specific opportunity and the parameters you’ll be working within.
Will your experience take place at a conference or trade show? Then consider how large your exhibitor space is, what limitations the schedule or conference atmosphere will create, and how long you can expect to keep customers’ attention (answer to that: not long).
Related reading: How to Market a Conference: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Event a Success
Are you creating an experiential campaign for an event you’re sponsoring or sponsoring in partnership with another brand?
Or are you creating a stand-alone experience owned by your brand?
In all three of these cases, you’ll have to determine how much control you have over the event, how much space you have, how much time, and, of course, what your budget is.
You’ll also need to know specifically what your goal is. The goal of any activation is to increase awareness and strengthen your customers’ relationship with your brand—so with that as a given, what do you want this experience or activation to accomplish?
Here are a few examples to get you thinking.
- Jumpstart sales or pre-orders for a new product or service.
- Help reestablish your reputation and brand image after a crisis.
- Reach a new B2B segment or niche.
- Invest in your brand’s relationship with long-term customers.
- Give customers a new or more in-depth view of your company.
Ways to accomplish these goals include:
- Product demos
- Invitation-only parties or receptions for long-time customers
- Facility tours
- Pop-up giveaways—renting an ice cream or food truck and providing food free of charge at an office or workspace, for example
- Charity drives or fundraisers
- Community service events
One of Zen Media’s most successful experiential campaigns to date was created in partnership with Chase for Business: the Chase Bizmobile.
Chase partnered with us because they wanted to position themselves as the “wingman” for small business owners (SBOs), and they knew that one thing these SBOs needed was easy access to expert, personalized advice for growing their business.
We devised the idea for the Bizmobile: a mobile, high-tech trailer that traveled across the country for Chase for Business conferences, festivals, co-working spaces, and more.
At each stop, it served as a space where small business owners could come and sit down with our Zen marketing experts for one-on-one advice tailored to their specific needs.
At the same time, they could learn about Chase for Business’s product offerings and services independently through a tablet, or with the help of a Chase representative.
So far, the Bizmobile has made more than 50 stops across the country, serving hundreds of SBOs and spreading Chase’s message of partnership with small businesses everywhere.
Step 3: Don’t underestimate the power of virtually fueled experiences.
Yes, live events have continued growing in popularity since the world came out of shutdown. But there is still great value in creating a virtual or hybrid experiential marketing campaign!
Both B2B and B2C marketers claim that increased attendance and reach have been the most positive results of turning to virtual experiences. Additionally, the same study reports that more marketers planned to implement AR/VR, facial recognition, and event apps into their 2022 events.
Don’t underestimate the power of virtual technologies to help your B2B company stand out from competitors. Whether this means incorporating digital tools like polls and Q&As into your live event or building an utterly gamified experience from the ground up, it is crucial to try new technologies that can boost engagement.
GitHub took this idea to a new level with their 2019 GitHub Universe campaign. Describing their event as an “unconference” where “Burning Man meets TED,” the IT service company took their attendees through a new world where technology and reality collide. From the moment they walked through an LED-lit entry tunnel, GitHub immersed their audience in hyper-personalized games and fun prompts to spark conversation. As a result, it was named the Gold Winner of the 2020 Ex Awards for “Best B2B Conference or Event Environment.”
Step 4: Try pop-ups, challenges, and brand partnerships.
Just like in the B2C space, it is essential to take risks every once in a while. We expect to see pop-up experiences and partnerships trending in 2023.
A pop-up experience is typically a themed brand event set in a temporary location for a limited time. You may have seen holiday-themed pop-up bars in select cities during Christmastime. B2B businesses can try this same concept but apply it to their products and services. Are you an LMS platform based out of Chicago? Theme your exhibitor booth or pop-up location after your iconic city and offer special discounts to those from the area. Or, partner with another brand and theme your event after your favorite movie. Keep it fun and memorable.
Additionally, digital challenges are a great way to invite your audience to participate in your experiences. At your event, ask them to film themselves doing a dance, a skateboarding stunt, or even just answering a prompt that aligns with your brand’s values. Then, have them post it with a relevant hashtag. This is a great way to get the general public invested in your products and build the foundation for a B2B influencer marketing campaign.
Related reading: The Future of Brand Partnerships
Step 5: Take advantage of the data experiential offers.
One major advantage of B2B experiential marketing is that it lets you get data directly from your customers in real time.
For example, since 98% of event attendees create content about the event, you can have your social staff track those mentions as they occur and amplify them.
This is an excellent opportunity to implement influencer marketing strategies, which can boost your online presence tenfold. You can even take this UGC and create advertising campaigns that will increase conversions before and after your experiential marketing campaign. Plus, 31% of consumers say that ads featuring UGC are more memorable than traditional ads, so keep this in mind during your brainstorming sessions.
Events and activations also present an excellent opportunity to gather customer information. By offering perks like VIP treatment or early access to a demo in exchange for an email address, you’ll be able to gather leads throughout the experience.
In addition, if you’re demoing a product or service, you’ll be able to get feedback from attendees immediately. Whether it’s informal, anecdotal evidence gathered simply through listening to the chatter and taking notes or formal, structured data collected through a post-event digital survey, the information you’ll get can be invaluable as you move forward in promoting your new offering.
And, of course, as with any event, you’ll want to follow up with attendees post-event to move that relationship along and make B2B purchasing more likely.
Experiential marketing for B2B has some real differences from experiential in the B2C space, but by making certain adjustments, B2B brands can still reap the many, lasting benefits of this strategy. Want to figure out what may work best for your brand? Reach out.