Can Small Businesses & Retailers Benefit from Experiential Marketing?

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone to Connect Deeper with Your Consumers

When considering experiential for your marketing strategy, a quick Google search will overwhelm you with a mass of super cool experiences from huge name brands like Pepsi and Bud Light, Zappos and Ikea. While their investments are impressive and results substantial, tapping into experiential as a small business can be discouraging and daunting. So do small businesses and retailers even stand a chance? The short answer: yes!

Experiential marketing as a discipline is growing rapidly. As more companies experiment in this space with their goods and services and gain the unique benefits this strategy offers, you too will want to consider it for your future marketing plan. Experiential marketing has the potential for tangible and intangible ROI too good to overlook.

What can small businesses or retailers gain from experiential?

Stephanie Maupin
Stephanie Maupin

For one, it’s the fastest way to cut through the clutter. In a sea of marketing noise, experiential can engage all five senses – offering the opportunity to try your products or services before committing to buying them. And perhaps, more importantly, experiential marketing provides the unrivaled benefit of face-to-face conversations. What other form of marketing allows for a dialogue lasting more than a few seconds?

If you’re still thinking you can’t compete because of costs – think again. Experiential marketing works for small-and medium-sized companies, too. To avoid wasted dollars, look closely at the programs and campaigns performed by the big players to glean key insights as to what made them successful. Tailor those learnings to work specifically for you on a smaller scale.

Besides, success doesn’t always equate to the most dollars spent. In fact, the most important aspects of creating a successful experience are two-fold:

  • The idea – how creative, cohesive and on-brand are the elements that play into the big idea
  • The execution – how it is brought to life and implemented

When this is achieved, both aspects combined innately make sense, so much so that it resonates at the core of consumers leaving a deeply memorable impression that inspires the consumer to act – to make the purchase, to spread the word, and to share with friends.

Sure, but my business is unique, will it even work for my business?

The types of experiences small businesses or retailers can deliver are vast depending on the goals and product or services offered. From home improvement, arts and crafts, grocery, and sporting goods stores, to agencies, insurance companies, and government organizations providing services, all can benefit from experiential marketing.

Sampling is a strong experiential tactic for small restaurants and product retailers. For example, PIADA, a local fast-casual Italian restaurant founded in Columbus, takes advantage of promoting its seasonal samples outside of its stores at new store grand openings and at local events they sponsor. It may not be that original or glamorous, but it’s effective at giving your consumers a taste – just the right amount of incentive to get them back into the restaurant for more.

For the most creative of brands, the tactic of guerrilla marketing has the potential to gain reach beyond imagination. This is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to implement experiential, particularly when your experience draws the attention of onlookers with smart phones, and even the local news. Flash mobs, impromptu concerts, street performances and pop-up shops are all strategies that cause a viral-worthy splash for big publicity without breaking the bank. Just be sure not to break any rules!


Have valuable information or something your consumer is wanting to learn?

Try hosting a free event, class or product demonstration. Lowe’s, for example, offers its local communities DIY courses to showcase its products used in seasonal home improvement projects. Consumers who find value in your offering will not only remember their experience, but they will gain trust in your brand and look to you for future information and purchases.

Other low-cost ways to test out experiential marketing may require a bit of creative problem solving. For instance, create a colorful and immediately alluring experience with a prize wheel or PLINKO game that includes a register-to-win component with your product or service as the prize. Make use of your most valuable assets by staffing the experience with your most engaged and outgoing sales people who can speak intelligently about your company, brand or message. Execute that fun experience during key sales times like holidays, or at events. Extend reach by utilizing social media and photo opportunities. Consider trade deals with existing events as your event fee – provide services or merchandise instead of cash so you can have real estate at the event. Similarly, look for opportunities to partner with your vendor brands as a co-op deal, enlisting them to pitch in for event access fees for brand awareness and in-store product placement in return.

Whether you’re still learning about experiential marketing or hesitating to test the waters, we hope that this article will plant the seeds to get you thinking about the possibilities of what you can do differently. Experiential is possible for companies of all sizes and budgets and will help you stand out from competitors and stick in the minds of your consumers. Sometimes, the hardest part is just getting started.

EMS300-2— Event Marketing Strategies (EMS) is an experiential engagement agency helping companies to create unique and memorable connections with their audience. If you’re looking for unique ways to differentiate your product or service at an event, EMS can help you access your consumers face-to-face so you can build brand equity, gain product and service exposure, and most importantly, drive results. To learn more about our services and capabilities, visit —