For companies, reaching customers is easy. But earning attention and building connection with them isn’t. Creating that unity between brands and customers is a challenge. But experiential marketing changes this.
Because this type of marketing is about translating digital experiences into lived experiences.
It creates more personal interactions with your customers and brings you together through hands-on experiences, so your brand truly resonates with them.
And that’s how you build affinity between your customers and your business.
But to do this, you have to be willing to think outside the box. You have to take risks. Calculated risks, of course, but risks.
This is something The Participation Agency helps its clients do. And they’ve worked with businesses you may be familiar with. Like Airbnb, Amazon, Red Bull, Pandora and State Farm.
The agency is obviously focused on experience, so we were pleased to host one one of its founders, Ruthie Schulder, here on The Customer Experience Podcast to talk about new ways to unite customers with brands – experiential marketing, 360 marketing, placemaking, and more.
In addition to cofounding The Participation Agency, Ruthie also serves as CEO. She’s been named Inc.’s Millennial CEO Rising Star and one of Adweek’s Disruptors (among 39 women leading a “revolution in advertising, media and tech”).
The agency’s work has been called “whimsical,” “avante garde” and “outlandish.” And Ruthie says she prides herself in being unique and coming up with projects that haven’t been done before.
It’s the strategic, calculated risks that have really paid off for her and her business partner, Jessica Resler. This is what sets them apart from other experiential marketing companies.
She explains this further in the video below…
It’s about doing what hasn’t been done. You need to be bold to thrive.
“It challenges us as entrepreneurs to constantly be questioning the status quo and to constantly be taking very, very calculated risks and building strategies around them,” Ruthie explains.
Ruthie’s definition of customer experience is very nontraditional. And that’s because she’s viewing it from a different perspective.
She recalls other guests of The Customer Experience Podcast defining CX from a sales standpoint. Her view is different as an experiential marketer.
While the typical CX approach deals with existing customers who already know and like you, she approaches it with a broader brand awareness focus.
Ruthie elaborates on this in the following clip…
“So to me, customer experiences vary. Because you need to be talking about people at the different places of where they are in their knowledge of the brand, the product, or the service,” she explains.
Keep reading, watching, and listening below as Ruthie delves into experiential marketing, and how it builds brand awareness and customer relationships. We discuss:
• How to use experiential marketing successfully
• Why prioritizing brand awareness doesn’t require a tradeoff with metrics, measures, and ROI
• How placemaking works
• How she and her business partner landed their agency on the Inc. 5000
• What she’s doing to raise up more women in business
Uniting Customers and Brands Through Experiential Marketing
Every episode of The Customer Experience Podcast is available to listen to right here in our blog – with writeups and video clips.
But it’s still a podcast, so your main way to listen is in your preferred player …
Embedded below is our entire conversation with Ruthie on experiential marketing …
How to Adopt Experiential Marketing Successfully
The Participation Agency takes a 360 experiential marketing approach to campaign building. They do have a live experience element, but there’s a prominent digital strategy surrounding it.
Elaborate physical events should be more limited in quantity. They should be a point in which customers are drawn and welcomed in. You may layer in social by connecting with influencers and inviting them to your events.
From there, a digital activation layer allows people to move through the campaign and expands online.
“You’re creating an up and down relationship pipeline with customers so there’s always something for them to hold on to,” Ruthie says. “You want them to go through the journey with you where they understand who you are and what you’re offering is, and they see it showing up in different places.”
Prioritizing Brand Awareness While Still Thinking of ROI and Metrics
Cultivating brand awareness is a key component of experiential marketing, but it doesn’t have to come as a tradeoff with metrics, measures, and return on investment. You can have both simultaneously. But you have to design ROI in from the start.
Ruthie describes how they tackle this at The Participation Agency in the following video…
So, her client had aggressive metrics and goals to get a million downloads of their digital product. And The Participation Agency works with them to meet that, while still focusing on brand exposure strategy with multiple touch points.
This is a campaign that consists of huge brand awareness moments, like ones for people quickly passing through Times Square to get an idea of who you are and what you do.
But they’re also made up of moments with captive audiences. So, they’re not only downloading your product, but also truly understand what it is.
“We’re talking to people at these different points of attention, but the metric is very clear,” Ruthie says. “You’re using them all together to create the sum of the parts of your marketing campaign.”
Placemaking as an Experiential Marketing Strategy
A unique approach that Ruthie and her team apply to special places is called placemaking. This means going out and finding areas of the country that are on the rise and creating and enhancing their brand.
The Participation Agency is one of the only agencies proactively going into tertiary markets to do activations or program launches. Ruthie explains why in the clip below…
“We’re really big on this idea that emerging cities and towns have some of the most incredible energy across the U.S.,” Ruthie says. “We’re connecting with developers, governments, and places that we love and know want to have a little bit more shine on the map.”
They do this because these cities are going to evolve, no matter what.
“When a group of people come together and put some intention behind that, you can create something really magical,” Ruthie says.
And the opportunities to reach these areas are limited.
“Once a city has an identity, it’s hard to go in and reframe that,” she says.
So, it’s about bringing in their marketing expertise and attention-grabbing projects to these locations
Growing an Experiential Marketing Company
Like BombBomb, The Participation Agency hit the Inc. 5000 list. And they made it all the way up to the 300s. Ruthie details how they accomplished this in the video below…
The agency’s growth journey spans nearly a decade.
When they launched the agency in 2011, it was just the two of them working at a single table in a tiny room. It was a third of the size of their shared office today.
For the first few years, they grew slowly – with just seven employees in year four.
Then they landed one of their biggest clients who helped them become fearless in growing the team. “In terms of revenue growth, we hustled,” Ruthie recalls. “We taught ourselves how to be really, really good sales people. We got new clients and we also kept clients.”
It was a two-pronged approach. They did great work, and they built an enjoyable experience for their client partners — so they would all enjoy working together.
“We’re service-oriented. We’re thought partners. We have conversations about vision and mission,” she says.
Now they have almost 30 full-time employees.
“The growth has been really awesome,” Ruthie says.
One key to their success was being able to tap into New York culture: musicians, chefs, artists, and even tech startups.
“We were able to really bring in the right people that were in our network,” she says. “We executed really well on being able to meld our creative side and our strategic side.”
Though Ruthie had a brief qualm about not launching a product like a lot of her peers, she’s so relieved now that this wasn’t her path.
A peer who went the tech company route gave her a compliment she treasures: “You didn’t skip any of the steps. You built it brick by brick, and then you keep adding more.”
And the agency’s success is a testament to that. Ruthie and Jessica don’t take on projects they’re not passionate about. They do the work they care about.
Their main goal is making their clients’ lives easier, and it shows.
Raising Up More Women in Business
Ruthie saw a need to have a more balanced professional environment. So, she and Jessica started Let’s Work, a professional open network of women. It’s based in New York and Los Angeles.
But there were two major impediments to achieving their goal. She discusses them in the video below …
1. Unlearning popular, cultural misconceptions — “All of us who grew up reading Teen and Cosmopolitan have a lot of retraining of our brains to do,” Ruthie says.
The story that previous generations fed young women about their abilities caused extensive harm in women’s self-belief.
“It’s on all of us to uplift each other out of these are really toxic patterns,” she adds.
2.Increasing female decision makers — Ruthie believes there are still too many middle-aged white men making hiring decisions.
“I’m hopeful because I see a lot of younger women in their twenties and thirties understanding that we have to be aggressive in starting to make change,” she says.
She hopes to overcome these hurdles and make major strides for women in business in the years to come.
“Obstacles that women are coming up against every single day are all still very, very, very real,” Ruthie says. “We all just have to constantly uplift each other to get out of this inch by an inch.”
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