Are you looking for the best way to increase sales for your product? There's a great marketing tactic that's proven to profoundly influence customers' buying decisions. It's called "experiential marketing"--using events to bring customers into contact with your product to create memorable experiences--and it's increasingly popular with entrepreneurs looking for a high return on investment.

After all, which would be more likely to influence your intention to buy something--reading about it in an ad or trying it out first hand? If you're like most people, personal experience shapes your opinions and buying preferences more strongly than information you get through advertising or even via word of mouth from friends or colleagues. In a 2005 Experiential Marketing Survey by Jack Morton Worldwide, nearly three-quarters of consumers said that participating in a live marketing experience would increase their "purchase consideration," and close to 60 percent said it would result in a quicker purchase.

For certain target audiences, experiential marketing exerts an even greater influence on sales. Nearly 80 percent of teens surveyed by Jack Morton said experiential marketing would increase their consideration of a purchase, and 60 percent of women said it would be more likely to lead them to actually purchase a product than would TV or the internet. What's more, 80 percent of Latino women indicated that participating in a live marketing event would make them more receptive to future advertising.

Any number of venues will work for your experiential marketing events, including malls, fairs, retail stores, restaurants and urban street corners. The key is to choose a venue that supports the theme of your event and fosters interaction.

Here are four smart reasons to make experiential marketing part of your annual program:

1. Make Immediate Sales
Events that integrate entertainment with the chance to try a product are very popular. For example, home parties can be used to give customers the opportunity to experience the benefits of a product they can't buy in stores. In the Jack Morton survey, nearly 85 percent of women said they would bring family or friends to a live marketing experience, and three-quarters said they'd tell others about it. It's the event itself that separates experiential marketing from traditional sampling (such as mailing a trial-size product to customers along with a coupon) because the fun and excitement of participating entices customers to buy.

2. Launch a New Product
Product launches can cost millions, but for small-business owners on more modest budgets, putting your product in front of just the right people can be a low-cost way to attain lift off. You can hold a party in a store or restaurant, for example, and invite your best prospects. And don't overlook the opportunity to include press, because for members of the media--just like other consumers--seeing is believing. If a launch party doesn't fit your needs, you can stage an urban street event or participate in a community fair that attracts your target audience group. Just be certain the attendees are the right age, gender and economic group to be great prospects for you.

3. Stand out in a Competitive Field
Some products just need to be experienced first-hand. For example, one toy inventor was delighted to get his product placed in stores, but then it just sat on the shelves, lost among thousands of other products. It wasn't until he began experiential marketing--exhibiting at craft shows and taking his new toy to kid-friendly events--that the product took off. That's because children got to see it and play with it without other toys competing for attention. Products that are new and quite different can also benefit from experiential marketing at consumer or trade shows where customers can actually see them in action. It's easier to understand the benefits of a new technological product improvement, for example, when it's experienced rather than read about.

4. Get People Talking
Like ripples in a stream, a positive product experience is sure to make waves with ensuing recommendations and endorsements. While your experiential marketing event may directly touch only a relatively small number of people, it has the added impact of building word-of-mouth. The Jack Morton survey revealed that eight out of 10 people who'd actually participated in experiential marketing in the past said they had told others about their experience. So not only will you have an effective interaction with customers and create a memorable experience with your product, you'll have the added bonus of positive word-of-mouth and an unofficial workforce of salespeople spreading the good word.