Give it a go: a "hands-on" approach to marketing your product could be just the thing to win customers

Give it a go: a "hands-on" approach to marketing your product could be just the thing to win customersPERSONAL EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST teacher--at least that's the driving principle behind the new wave of "experiential marketing." Real-life experiences shape our opinions and buying preferences more profoundly than merely hearing about someone else's. Experiential marketing uses events to bring customers into one-on-one contact with a product or brand to create memorable experiences. This year, at least half of all U.S. marketing executives surveyed by marketing agency the Patrick Marketing Group plan to increase their spending on events. And new research finds that events may be more influential than TV or direct mail in affecting customers' purchasing decisions.

The "Experiential Marketing Survey" conducted by Sponsorship Research International (SRI) for Jack Morton Worldwide found that 43 percent of women said experiential marketing was most likely to cause them to purchase a product or service quickly, compared to traditional advertising channels (20 percent) and direct mail (37 percent). What's more, after participating in a live event marketing experience for a product or brand, almost 9 out of lo consumers agreed they would be more receptive to future advertising for that product. Even Generation Y respondents ages 18 to 23 rated experiential marketing their medium of choice for influencing purchases.

Are you looking for a terrific way to connect with your customers? Here are four important tips for creating memorable experiences:

1. Choose the best Location. Unlike traditional events held primarily for the sake of creating goodwill, experiential marketing requires giving your attendees hands-on experience with your product in a way that's interesting and memorable. Any number of venues will work, including malls, fairs, retail stores and restaurants, just so long as they support the theme of your event and foster interaction. If the optimal location doesn't exist, create one. For example, one entrepreneur who invented a small, new toy knew it would be overlooked in major retail stores, so he began taking booths at craft shows to allow children to play with it. That strategy worked so well he added additional experiential marketing venues, including Girl Scout meetings and other kid-friendly events across the country.

2. Attract the right crowd. Keep in mind that you can have a highly successful event yet produce an unsuccessful marketing experience. Imagine you're a budding fashion designer who has created a new line of accessories. You could pack a party with models sporting your accessories, along with a hundred happy revelers; but if the attendees are the wrong age, gender or economic group, you won't advance your marketing cause. Effective experiential marketing requires you to carefully craft your event to attract your best prospects and customers.

3. Make it fun. In SRI's survey, respondents in all demographics favored events that integrate entertainment with the opportunity to test a product. This is what separates experiential marketing from basic product sampling. Which would be more memorable: receiving a sample bar of soap in the mail, or attending an aromatherapy event where you could try scented soaps and other products along with your peers? Hands down, the event would be more enjoyable and most likely to entice you to make a purchase.

4. Avoid a crush. As a business owner, you're in an ideal position to use event marketing to get close to your prospects and customers. In fact, face-to-face dialogue and the ability to share the experience with others were the two top factors SRI's respondents said make an event most interesting to them. Just keep your event size manageable to maximize one-on-one interaction and keep the attendees happy, since smaller events in intimate settings are preferred over large events with too many people. Smaller events cost less, too, so that's good news that will show up on your bottom line.