Beyond Social Media: Why Experiential Marketing Must Be a Priority for D2C Brands

As a business, you’ve found the Holy Grail when you can engage with your customers in an emotional and meaningful way. But sadly, not many brands are able to achieve this, and D2C brands are no exception. Even when brands do garner some engagement, it can be hard to sustain. This why experiential marketing for D2C brands is important, which we’ll talk about in this article.

More and more, brands are moving to direct-to-customer (D2C) selling. They’re looking past social media and focusing on out-of-the-box experiential marketing techniques like custom QR codes with logos and guerrilla marketing. This makes the focus on engagement and a quality experience all the more important.

So, how can D2C brands think past social media and leverage high-quality experiential marketing? Let’s find out.

The rise of D2C retail: Why are brands ditching third parties?

Direct-to-customer selling is a retail model where manufacturers sell directly to the customer instead of relying on retail stores, wholesalers and other third-party vendors. Consumer electronics is a great example of D2C selling.

Back in the day, most electronics brands, such as Dell, HP, Acer, etc., sold their products exclusively through retail stores or online marketplaces like Amazon. But lately, they’ve started selling directly to their customers both online and through brick-and-mortar stores.

So, why are brands ditching these third-party marketplaces? Well, first it’s important to understand why brands relied on third-party vendors in the first place.

Back in the day before social media marketing, creating an online presence wasn’t easy; brands didn’t have a lot of ways to reach their customers. At this time, eCommerce wasn’t yet off the ground and brick-and-mortar retail stores had a substantial local influence. Manufacturers had no choice but to partner with these middlemen to gain awareness with consumers and sell their products.

For a long time, this model worked as a mutually beneficial partnership between retailers and wholesalers. But then we entered the era of customer experience. The entire business landscape shifted from the focus being on the product to being on the customer.

Before, companies developed products that they thought were good and then found the right customer base for them. Now, brands are listening to and interacting with their customers through digital channels (social media, email, live chat, etc.), assessing their needs and creating products to meet those needs.  In this new era, brands that understand their customers better are more likely to succeed.

This has led to the rise of direct-to-customer (D2C) retail. A Statista report shows that D2C eCommerce sales in the U.S. are projected to reach $21.25 billion in 2021, up from $17.75 billion in 2020. And it’s not a one-sided story. Customers love D2C brands too. More than 50 percent of customers prefer to buy directly from brands instead of a multi-brand retailer.

Statistic: Direct-to-consumer (D2C) e-commerce sales in the United States from 2017 to 2021 (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Today, brands are investing heavily in D2C marketing to sell directly to their customers.

Is social media for D2C retail still viable?

The concept of D2C became popular when brands suddenly had the power of social media at their disposal. Now, having a social media presence is essential for nearly every kind of business.

The past five to seven years have witnessed a large-scale migration of brands to social media. From big brands like Nike and Louis Vuitton to local salons and restaurants, most businesses are working hard to have a healthy social media presence at the core of their marketing to directly interact with customers.

But this has also led to social media channels becoming saturated with brand content. Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook creator, shared that more than 50 million small businesses used social media, and that was in 2015.

The downside is that with such a large number of brands all vying for the attention of the consumer, the competition can be rough. Furthermore, social media companies are constantly changing up their algorithms. Facebook has plunged organic reach for brands—forcing them to spend money on ads. For customers, this often means an overwhelming amount of brand content to filter and choose from.

But what about experiential marketing?

Why experiential marketing is critical for D2C retail

Experiential marketing refers to delivering immersive brand and product experiences to a customer. The aim of experiential marketing is to engage consumers better and longer than traditional advertisements (print, digital ads, etc.). Take Volkswagen for example. The German-based automotive company came up with the concept of “fun theory.”

They created piano stairs beside the escalator in a subway stop in Germany. People could take the stairs, step on the piano steps and make their own tunes. As a result, 66 percent more people took the stairs than usual.

Now, why did Volkswagen do this? After all, being a car company, installing piano stairs doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. The core purpose of the whole affair was to engage people by providing them with a fun experience to try out.

Experiential marketing widens the scope of creativity for brands.

Here’s another example: Let’s say you’re a travel company offering tour packages to Mauritius. You could create a custom QR code with your logo and link it to an engaging explainer video of your happy customers having fun on their trip. This is another way to engage through experiential marketing.

Here are some top reasons why your D2C brand should implement experiential marketing strategies:

  • Generates more brand awareness: Experiential marketing enables D2C brands to develop authentic relationships with customers—leading to an increase in brand awareness.
  • It’s non-intrusive: Unlike most advertising strategies, experiential marketing is playful and non-intrusive. It’s both convenient and just plain fun for customers.
  • Promotes a positive brand image: Experiential marketing enables D2C retailers to make a good first impression on consumers, which helps cultivate a positive brand image.
  • No middlemen: Experiential marketing facilitates better brand-to-consumer engagement—eliminating the need for a middle party and making way for better D2C selling.
  • Drives word of mouth: More than 70 percent of consumers agree that word of mouth is an influential buying factor for them. Experiential marketing helps you drive word of mouth and turn your customers into brand advocates.
  • Ensures Authenticity: Experiential marketing makes your brand look more authentic and it can set you apart from the pack because you’re doing something that’s unique to consumers.
  • Emotional Engagement: Experiential marketing is meant to engage the senses of the customer, which results in a memorable experience.

How can D2C brands leverage experiential marketing?

We just discussed the many benefits of experiential marketing and why D2C brands should implement it. Now, let’s delve into a quick step-by-step process to developing an effective experiential marketing strategy.

1. Align your goals

Your experiential marketing campaign shouldn’t be a wild goose chase. Understand that it’s a significant investment, so doing it just for the sake of doing it may not be the best idea.

Before testing out an experiential marketing campaign, come up with a solid strategy that aligns with your business goals. Then, work to understand your customers well and deliver the experiences that are in line with their interests.

2. Integrate both online and offline elements

Good experiential marketing is a blend of both online and offline experiences. Therefore, it’s critical for D2C brands to integrate their online and offline elements.

Guerrilla marketing is a common experiential marketing tactic and also one that combines both these elements. For example, brands can leverage out-of-house (OOH) advertising. Numerous brands may put up QR codes on their OOH ads to leverage the benefits of QR code tracking.

3. Get creative with experiences

The whole point of this type of marketing is to get super creative with it. Brainstorm with your team some surprising and unconventional ways to grab people’s attention. Try to think of the five senses and how to engage people through that experience.

Nike is a large brand that now uses traditional advertising strategies far less than they used to. They have shifted to focus on providing experiences to their audience. To promote the launch of one of their new running shoes, they came up with an immersive video game experience. Customers could try on the new pair of shoes, get their photo taken and then be transported into a video game. How’s that for a cool experience?

4. Don’t have sales be the main focus

As discussed, experiential marketing shouldn’t always be about your product or making sales. The core purpose should be to engage your customers while at the same time trying to reflect your brand values. The focus here should be to create a fun experience for people while improving your brand reputation. If that means sales follow suit, then great!

5. Encourage people to share their experiences

Your experiential marketing campaign will go much further when you encourage people to document and share the experience online. If people are doing something unique and cool, they naturally want to share those experiences with others on their social media channels. Incentivize people to tag your brand or come up with a fun event hashtag so people create user-generated content (UGC) around the experience you’ve provided. Then, you can aggregate all of that fun content with the right tool and put it right back into your marketing campaigns!

This also spreads the word about the fun things your brand is doing and can help propel that positive brand awareness and reputation you’re working for even further.

Wrapping up

Experiential marketing has been a big topic of discussion among brands and marketers in recent years. As the marketing focus shifts from products to customers, D2C brands must be smarter and more creative when dreaming up new experiential marketing and customer engagement efforts.

Akshay Deogiri

Akshay Deogiri is an SEO Outreach Specialist at Beaconstac, enabling businesses to bridge their gap between the digital and offline worlds through custom QR codes

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