The Jolt! – Defining The Differences Between Event Marketing and Experiential Marketing

Saddened to hear of the passing of one of our authentic voices, Maya Angelou. Here is a nice collection of quotes.

This is one of the first posts I wrote last August. It remains the most discussed on both Linkedin and Twitter.

I am bringing it back since many of you subscribed after it was published…


Shot at the 1983 Apple Sales Meeting when the sales team previewed the Macintosh.

Shot at the 1983 Apple Sales Meeting when the sales team previewed the Macintosh.

One of the challenges that our industry faces is explaining the nuances of the wonderful tactics that we can deploy for our clients.

I recently read a post on LinkedIn lamenting the fact that the poster’s prospects didn’t seem to grasp what Experiential Marketing was. From the 60+ responses, it was pretty clear that it is a poorly understood tactic.

So I thought I would add my two cents to the confusion, and perhaps stir up some discussion, by offering up a working definition of Experiential Marketing that we can use going forward.

As it is always easier to position against something, let me start with my definition of Event Marketing because it comes with a good story.

The Back Story

I first heard the term “event marketing” used by John Sculley to describe an event we created to launch the Apple //c at Moscone Center in April, 1984.

It’s easy to forget that at the time, the Apple // product line was paying the bills… but because of the Mac hoopla it wasn’t getting much respect. This event was in part intended to restore the balance. (The political infighting is well documented by the books covering the era.)

The audience consisted of the entire Apple Computer US dealer network – some two thousand people –  a large contingent of press, a handful of analysts and hundreds of enthusiastic Apple employees who got the day off to drive up from Cupertino for the biggest event in Apple’s history.

copyright SoftTalk Magazine

500+ employees simultaneously revealed the Apple //c.

At the time, it was the most amazing event in the history of the personal computer. It was one of those magic days that makes this business so fun.

  • Softalk described it as ”part revival meeting, part sermon, part roundtable discussion, part pagan rite, and part county fair.
  • To paraphrase Time, “the show had all the flash and trash of a Detroit automobile dealer meeting.”

What is Event Marketing?

Apple // Forever is prototypical event marketing because the event was designed to provide a focal point for a wide range of sales and marketing activities that extended beyond the venue.

In this case Apple // Forever:

  • Energized the dealer body – every dealer received a beautifully boxed Apple //c that they carried home through just about every airport in America.
  • Engaged the press – garnering coverage for both the Macintosh and the Apple // family.
  • Galvanized the company – the vast majority of who worked on the Apple // and had been alienated by the incessant focus on the Mac.
  • Bumped the stock price – the analysts loved the idea that John Sculley had magically brought the two product lines together.

If you fast forward to recent Apple Worldwide Developer Conferences, you can see how this strategy has evolved. Today social media journos tweet and blog live alongside representatives from the traditional press and analyst communities.

Where did Experiential Marketing come from?

An attention getting gag meets many people’s definition of an experience. For those folks, Apple // Forever could be defined as experiential marketing.

The confusion comes because Apple // Forever is clearly event marketing. So is one always the other? Are they synonymous?


book cover

Pine and Gilmore defined the concept behind Experiential Marketing.

The Experience Economy is the book which is credited for providing the intellectual underpinnings for experiential marketing.

What Pine and Gilmore posited in 1998 is that consumers would pay for a new class of “product” that offered an evolutionary step forward from goods, no matter how unique; or services no matter how personal. They called it “an experience”.

The value proposition was kind of earth-shattering: businesses would form to orchestrate memorable events and the individual’s memory of their experience would be the deliverable.

Paying to remember is the essence of selling air, and the race to leap on the bandwagon was underway…

What Is Experiential Marketing and Where Does It Fit?

Experiential marketing has always relied on creating or leveraging an event to attract the individuals to whom the experience will be offered. A  sporting event, a concert, a charity event or an exclusive invitation-only shindig all fulfill the same function as a corporate event. They provide the bodies for the experience makers.

Note that the agendas of the event sponsor and the experience agency are not necessarily aligned – sponsorship being a prime example of an experience agency leveraging an otherwise unrelated event for their own purposes.

I am going to offer up the following definition – I’d love to hear from you on how you would amend it…

  • Experiential marketing creates a unique, real-time individual experience of a good or service.
  • The experience is designed to be compelling, memorable and positive.
  • The participant’s memory of the experience should result in them being more favorably inclined towards the sponsor.
  • The favorable impression can manifest as a preference, a purchase or another behavior that the sponsor has decided will provide a return on their investment.

Social media has advanced experiential marketing in important ways:

  • The individual can share their memory in an immediate, highly personal way.
  • The assumption is that more often than not an individual will share with people who are psychographically and demographically like them – i.e. people who are also likely to be interested in what the sponsor is offering.
  • This highly targeted reach is more efficient than traditional media, more credible and less expensive.
  • Measuring social media activity provides more precise metrics then were historically available.
  • To date this depends on measuring success in terms like likes and tweets, but inevitably this will expand to capture more of the dimensions that the sponsor hopes to influence.


Event marketing is a one-to-many experience.

  • The audience is invited because they have common elements in their profile. 
  • They experience the event as a group, simultaneously.
  • The event, which is much more about the content then the gag, continues to influence over time.
  • Typically an important component of the event is press coverage which provides reach.
  • Increasingly individual audience members share their experiences with peers, partners and prospects further extending the reach of the event.

Experiential marketing is a one-to-one experience.

  • Each person has an individual experience.
  • Because the experience only exists in the moment, it must be continuously recreated.
  • The memory of the experience is amplified by sharing with like-minded individuals.

If this sounds a bit like sampling, test drives and tastings, I think that may be because it often is. The desire to be all things complicates defining experiential marketing and often makes it more difficult to present a clear value proposition to a prospect.

I’ll leave the final word to Jonathan Edwards, the Strategy Director at Sledge, a UK experiential marketing agency.

“Advertising tries to persuade me – but a good experience also gives me a reason to persuade other people.”

An answer like that would no doubt delight a lot of prospects!

I’ll see you next week.

Please let me know what you think. What did I miss? What did I leave out? What do you agree or more likely disagree with? How can we tighten this up?

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