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Experiential Sales: How to Tap Into the Millennial Market

Jaime Lee

Head of Content Strategy @ AdRoll

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The generational tipping point has arrived. Today, millennials outnumber all other generations — with 76 million in the U.S. alone — and with great numbers comes great spending power. According to Accenture, in 2020, millennial spending power will reach $1.4 trillion (yes, that’s a T) and represent 30% of total retail sales. With that kind of economic influence, brands must make a concerted effort to cater to millennial preferences in order to succeed. 

Millennials as a generation share many unique characteristics. Some are positive, such as open-mindedness and a strong sense of individuality. Others are less flattering, like the controversial claim that millennials are addicted to smartphones and social media. However, the trait that most defines the millennial consumer is a strong preference for experiences over products. In a study by Harris Group, it was found that 78% of millennials prefer to pay for experiences over material things

When it comes to brand marketing, the millennial preference for experiences over products can and should be satisfied by the use of experiential sales. According to Hubspot, experiential sales, or experience marketing, refers to a “strategy that invites an audience to interact with a business in a real-world situation. Using participatory, hands-on, and tangible branding material, the business can show its customers not just what the company offers, but what it stands for.” 

Here are five ways that marketers can boost experiential sales in order to better tap into the lucrative millennial market. 

Create Fun, Shareable Experiences

Given their penchant for experiences and adventures, creating a branded event like a popup store or concert can be a great way to engage millennials. These types of events should take an integrated approach. For example, they should give consumers the opportunity to interact with the brand in a tangible, direct way. But they also need to include digital elements, like branded hashtags and Twitter handles, to reinforce the experience and create an online buzz surrounding it.

Skateboarding footwear brand Vans has a number of spaces in the U.S. and London where skating enthusiasts meet and enjoy events centered around their passion. On International Women’s Day in 2019, the brand launched the Vanguards campaign, hosting women’s skateboarding workshops in various locations. The campaign also included digital elements, such as this video spot celebrating women skaters all over the world

Just remember that the only thing worse than no experience is a bad experience. Millenials are well-known for their love of sharing everything, good or bad, and a poorly planned or executed event can go viral just as easily as a perfectly crafted meme. Events should be authentic, in touch with the conversation brands are having with their fans, and cognizant of the social context around the brand and their market. Missing the mark on any of these runs the risk of obscurity at best, and ridicule at worst. 

Instagrammable Life

Social media is a strong driver of consumer spending among millennials — 49% say they're most likely to spend money on experiences because of something they saw on social media.

And while Instagram isn’t the only social media platform that millennials use, it’s definitely the most important for experiential sales. Almost every consumer today has a camera in their pocket and a host of applications to enhance and manipulate their photos. This desire for experiences drives millennials to share their consumer moments on Instagram, posting meals at a restaurant, their latest fashion or makeup purchase, and even marriage proposals. 

Given the millennial penchant for social sharing, brands must create Instagrammable opportunities that consumers won’t be able to resist. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) luggage brand Away is a great example. Rather than creating same-old luggage ads, which tend to focus on product features, the brand’s Instagram account is full of posts illustrating aspirational and inspirational travel imagery. This type of content helps them connect with their customers over the things they really care about — the destination.

Seamless Transitioning Between Platforms 

For millennials, life is “phygital” — the digital and physical worlds are closely intertwined, with no clear delineation between the two. Therefore, millennial consumers are drawn to brands that offer a seamless omnichannel experience. A millennial may visit a brick-and-mortar store to try on an outfit, but there’s a good chance that he or she is on the phone in the dressing room reading reviews about the product or checking if they can get a better price elsewhere. 

Fashion brand Timberland has stepped up their omnichannel game by installing near-field communication tech in stores, enabling wireless transfer of data between a microchip and a mobile device. Timberland provides store visitors with a tablet, which they can “tap” against signage and products. The tablet instantly receives information about the product, its features, pricing, and special offers, enhancing the in-store customer experience with a mix of physical and digital elements.

Today's brands have to invest in creating ongoing and consistent conversations with millennial consumers, whether face to face in a physical store, on a customer service phone call, online via website, live chat or chatbot, as well as on the various social media platforms. This requires companies to integrate all their various channels in order to provide cross-platform transparency and to meet millennial expectations for experiential sales. Employees who interact with customers should also be trained to work in a multi-platform environment. 

It’s All About Authenticity

Millennials are digital natives, and as such, are adept at seeing through corporate viral campaigns. They have a natural disinclination for direct advertising. They suffer (or perhaps benefit) from banner blindness, which has led to the demise of the banner ad and display marketing in general. Instead, they look for authenticity and have a strong preference for real-life, user-generated content rather than the sleek materials traditionally produced by an ad agency. 

For example, who can forget the powerful Share a Coke campaign? The iconic brand printed labels for its soft drink bottles featuring hundreds of the most popular first names. Customers were encouraged to share photos on social media about their experience. The campaign, which launched back in 2014, was (and continues to be) a global hit that demonstrates pure genius in the way it engages customers and encourages them to create and share their own brand-related content.

The best way to get users to engage with brand content is by building an ongoing relationship with them. When done well, these relationships can develop into a brand community based on authentic interactions. Brand owners can even invite users to contribute to the creative process. For example, before launching a new product, brands can ask users to post suggestions for a product or vote on color options. The brand community will then feel invested in the new product and will be more likely to purchase it. Not only that, invested consumers often share their purchases on social media, widening exposure to the experiential marketing campaign. 

Emotions and Values

Posting aesthetic images on social media is not enough — millennials are looking for content that speaks to their emotions and values. They prefer brands that demonstrate social responsibility and like to buy products that reflect their personality and lifestyle. A classic example of how a brand can use value-based content to drive experiential sales is the Lean Cuisine #weighthis campaign

In a series of video clips, women were shown a scale, but instead of being judged by their weight, participants of all ages and body types were told to “weigh in” on the things that matter most to them and represent their biggest accomplishments. The company also set up physical scales where women could share the ways that they wanted to be “weighed” by society. This type of experiential sales campaign gives consumers an emotion-based interaction that drives a strong connection with the brand. In the case of Lean Cuisine, the experiential campaign succeeded in reversing a years-long decline in sales.

Millennials are savvy consumers, and creating the experiential sales that they crave takes creativity and ingenuity. Yet, as the millennial generation becomes the world’s biggest spenders and most influential consumers, brands must step up to the plate and serve them the experiences they are looking for. 

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