11 Psychology Secrets Behind Exceptional Experiential Marketing Activations


We’ve heard it argued that an experience with a brand has three phases. To start, a person has a first-hand experience with a brand. Second, they purchase an offering from that brand. And finally, the customer shares their experience with the product or service with others. Experiential marketing is powerful beyond other channels because it gives marketers an opportunity to affect buyers individually at their current stage of the brand experience or to guide someone through each phase all at once. Marketers are leveraging psychological principals to help guide customers through this process. So today, we’re exploring the principals in each of these phases and how they may be practically applied to help develop successful experiential marketing campaigns.  



Phase 1: First-hand Experience with a Brand. 


 The more they see you, the more they like you. But they just think they like you.  

 This phenomenon is called the propinquity effect. The idea is that physical proximity and our exposure to people, places, and objects impacts how much we like them. The more familiar we are with a brand the more intensely we feel connected to it. And this isn’t limited physical closeness. Social psychologists have also noted that people are more likely to experience positive emotions towards a stranger if they project belonging to a familiar group. So, brands that practice consistency in their experiential campaigns benefit from the resulting positive sentiment.  


New experiences call for a support system.  

 Psychologists have found that people who have a support network of friends and/or family are much more resilient against stress and negative life events. They’re also more likely to try new things, take risks, and believe that everything will generally work out for the best. It’s called the buffer effect and it shows that people are inevitably more receptive to your experience and message when they have someone trustworthy to help rationalize and make stressful situations more bearable. We recommend that you try programming that encourages group or paired activities. People are much more likely to try something new with a friend.  


 Control the context with immersive environments 

 Our surroundings help us better understand our situations. It helps us to determine if we’re in danger, if we’re safe among friends, or if we should remain alert to gather more information. We understand context in a top-down process which uses models, ideas, and expectations to interpret sensory information. This makes us more attuned to our surroundings and has a large impact on how we feel about an event. Using immersive environments to control the context means you have the power to inspire attendees’ imaginations, influence how they feel, and change or reinforce their perceptions.  


 Let them waste your time, and you may find it was time well spent. 

 Framing influences our perception of an event through context. This cognitive bias helps our brain to determine when to avoid risks and when risks are necessary for survival or situational improvement. When an event is framed as a loss, we are much more likely to take risks. While events that are framed as a gain encourage us to maintain the status quo. This should be understood as best practices for creating an interaction during an experiential event. Participants should view the event as an extraction of value rather than an even exchange. You want people walking away from an experiential activation feeling like they won 


 Keep commitments small. At first.  

 The idea behind foot-in-the-door theory is to slowly ease someone into making a large commitment by first providing opportunities for them to agree to smaller commitments. The commitments, especially if they’re offered during an experiential activation should be simple, easy and be logically linked to your larger offering (like a purchase). If wielded improperly, this psychological trick can easily become murky and manipulative. Instead of looking at a foot in the door like a short cut for making sales, think about ways to provide meaningful, relevant value to your customers that helps them decide if your brand aligns with their beliefs or if your offering is right for them.  



Phase 2: Purchase the Offering. 


Learning by doing fossilizes experiences. 

 The concept is called experiential learning and we’ve talked about it before. Put simply, experiential learning is the mental process of transforming something you’ve done or seen done into something you know how to do.  When your events give people experience in your brand (messaging) and products (test-drives) it solidifies the two concepts together in their minds. In our blog post, “How to Apply Experiential Learning in Event Marketing” we repackaged experiential learning concepts into practical applications for event marketing. 


 Be remembered for the good you did and the value you shared.  

 Mental accounting is how we process, code, categorize and ultimately determine an offering’s value based on our past experiences with that product or service. This can be boiled down further to say mental accounting describes how you remember the impact an event had on you. This mental map is closely tied to the value of money and helps us determine paths for future financial expenditures. When someone is purchasing your offering, they’ll be calling back memories of experiences with your brand. What was the quality of the encounter? Did the offering work for my needs? Did it appear to be a good value? These are all on the mental accounting checklists we’re subconsciously ticking off.  


 End new experiences on a high note and they’ll probably forget the rest.  

 When you combine duration neglect and peak-end rules, we can derive a better understanding of how people remember experiences and which pieces of an experience carry the most weight. Duration neglect describes how we do not judge how unpleasant or pleasurable an experience is based on how long the experience lasts. Rather, it is judged based on the intensity of the feeling at the peak of the new experience and informed by how quickly the feeling subsides. The time it takes to dwindle down will inform their biases over the whole experience. 



Phase 3: Sharing the Experience with Others.



They don’t know, but their friends do 

 In unfamiliar situations, people will rely on others’ experiences as a proxy for their own. It’s called social proof or informal social influence. When someone is experiencing something new, they’ll look to the people around them to determine how they should behave. This means that your experience extends beyond your immediate audience and into their networks of family, friends, and coworkers. When someone wants to know more about your brand, they’ll ask people with experience in your messaging and offerings. The call to action here is to create a brand presence that is strong, consistent, and easy to communicate. Help people evangelize your brand.  


They’re really cool. You’re the evidence.  

 As social creatures, we’ve developed a complex range of signals to communicate belonging. This nonverbal communication is how complete strangers can work together to achieve a common goal and why most people will react calmly, orderly, and work together to help others during a crisis. When a brand or product has aligned with a certain market (read: culture, in-group) people demonstrate belonging to that in-group by sharing their experience with peers. Sometimes this is word of mouth, sometimes it’s in reviews, and sometimes it’s a public endorsement through social media. However, they decide to share, showing off their relationship with your brand should be a point of pride. Ask yourself, “How can I ensure people are boasting about the brand?” 


They decide what you deserve.  

 Although it’s a social fixture and not a psychological phenomenon, reciprocity has an important place in the experiential marketer’s playbook. Often, reciprocity is the driving force that motivates people to share their brand experience, both good and bad. As a social construct, reciprocity essentially means, “You get what you give.” But be warned, this hammer swings both ways. When your experience has a positive effect on someone, this theory argues that they will want to return the action with an approximately equal effect. However, when your experience has a negative effect on someone, they are much more likely to escalate the negative impact during reciprocation.  

Psychology can give us a better understanding of why certain experiential actions have more impact than others. To leave a lasting impression, brands should practice consistency, develop programming with empathy in mind, and respect the power their customers wield. To learn more about experiential marketing, check out our blog posts:  


An Exhaustive Guide to Event Marketing with Shipping Containers 

How to Plan a Shipping Container Pop-Up 

8 Experiential Activation Examples We Love