Experiential vs event marketing: what’s the difference?

For most people, listening to their favourite artist on Spotify or watching their beloved sports team on TV pales in comparison to the experience of seeing them live. And though not sought out by consumers in the same way, brands utilise live marketing strategies for similar reasons: they’re simply more exciting and memorable for audiences.

The two main types of live marketing strategies are experiential and event marketing, with research showing that 29% of marketers use the former in their roles, while 31% claim hosting live events is the most effective marketing strategy.

However, although the two terms are often used interchangeably, experiential and event marketing are actually quite different from one another. Here we break down the main differences between them to explain what the two types of marketing actually involve.

One way vs two way engagement

As experiential marketing agency Pitch explains: “Event marketing is typically a one-way form of communication, while experiential marketing involves greater interaction between the brand and the audience. Rather than just advertising to people, brands engage with them through activities.”

So, during an events marketing campaign, brands might host conferences, lunch and learn events, and live product demonstrations. In these instances, brands provide information and market themselves to their audience, but attendees are not typically active participants. 

In contrast, experiential marketing examples include interactive activities like immersive virtual reality experiences, Q&A sessions, workshops and tours, like the Guinness Storehouse brewery experience, for example. In these scenarios, brands and attendees are very much engaging with one another.

The same vs unique experiences 

People tend to experience experiential and event marketing in different ways. Think about the last concert or sports game you went to, for example. You and thousands of others went to the same place simultaneously to watch the exact same show or game. This is precisely what happens with events marketing too.

When it comes to experiential marketing, however, people often experience them in more unique ways. Take Rick and Morty’s immersive ‘Wormageddon’ treasure hunt, which was used to promote the cartoon’s sixth season. Not only did it feature several different battle scenes across various countries, but each contestant could complete the treasure hunt using their own strategies. As such, they had entirely unique experiences. 

Generating a buzz vs creating positive brand associations

Finally, experiential and event marketing generally have different goals. Event marketing is more about generating a buzz around a brand by announcing new products, trying to sell them, or securing press coverage. And while experiential marketing certainly can and is used for these purposes too, it’s more about creating positive brand associations and improving relationships with customers. 

Take KitKat for example, which created outdoor WiFi-free zones in Amsterdam to enable people to get off their phones for five minutes and just sit down and talk with each other, or read a book. While the stunt wasn’t used to promote any particular products, it fitted perfectly into KitKat’s ethos and slogan of“Have a break, have a KitKat”, solidifying this association with the brand.