Experiential Marketing, sometimes called “XM”, is a trendy term used in the business press to describe a category of marketing activities that requires a direct encounter with a customer. This direct encounter is different from the majority of marketing activities which are mostly passive in nature.

For example, advertising is a very passive medium that bombards the customer with messages that need to be listened to or read. Print advertising requests the reader to stop and read the message; in most cases, we skim over the ad or just ignore it. In fact, most ads never get noticed. Luckily, modern day Homo Sapiens have developed an “internal TiVo” that automatically deletes most advertisements (this is a basic survival characteristic for the species).

Experiential marketing describes an encounter with a customer that makes them feel something. Walking through a department store recently, an attractive woman salesperson sprayed me with perfume as I walked by the cosmetics counter. It was an aggressive act, but it was a powerful encounter. I will never go to that store again.

You encounter XM almost everyday. At a fine restaurant, the waiter brings a sampling of desserts to your table which looks and smells great. This approach is far more stimulating to your senses than the traditional question, “Saved room for dessert?”

Another common example is a Sunday morning newspaper advertisement for a new brand of shampoo that includes a sample for you to use. The personal contact with the brand is very powerful, albeit an expensive advertising technique. This is how I get most of my toiletries.

During the holidays, you are approached by the Salvation Army bell-ringers who look you in the eye while ringing that clanging bell. Somehow the whole experience reminds you of Christmas or Hanukkah past. It tugs at your heart, so you toss a quarter in the bucket (yes, I am kind of cheap).

A trendy XM tactic is the use of street teams that perform skits on street corners in urban areas; they sing and dance and cavort while delivering a message about an event or offering. You feel compelled to stop and watch these idiots prance around. Secretly, you guess that the performers all must have graduate degrees in dance or philosophy. You give a big sigh of relief that you changed your major to business from Theater Arts, or less this would be you dancing for minimum wage.

Thus, experiential marketing elicits a feeling.

John Bradley Jackson
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  1. This made me think of online experiences. Could they be considered experiential marketing or is it viral marketing? If so do you have any examples of this or any ideas of how you could create this?

    Thanks for the insight,

  2. Katie,

    When I researched the term “Experiential Marketing” I came across many interpretations of what XM means. I was hoping to make it clear in my own mind, if not my readers.

    My first reaction is that most online experiences are rather passive activities: we read or watch them. So I think that these experiences don’t have the personal contact that I feel is a critical element for XM.

    But when an online experience becomes interactive, I guess it certainly could be considered experiential. This could be ad in a video game (also known as “advergaming”). Ask any gamer and they will tell it is real.

    Also, I would suppose that some people might argue that the written word or film can make you feel, so they might say that this is XM, too. Heck, I cried when watching “Old Yeller” as a kid, but I digress.

    At best, XM is a vague term…


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