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Recession Marketing All About Connections Experiential marketing helps you connect with customers on an emotional level--for less than you think.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This spring, acquiring new customers presents a whole different set of challenges. We've entered an era of relationship marketing thanks to the recession, and customers are putting their limited dollars behind the products and services they know, trust and believe in. There's a renewed emphasis on interpersonal selling skills and one-to-one experiential tactics that help you build face time--and credibility--with new customers.

Experiential marketing describes a host of marketing tactics that bring prospective customers or clients into direct contact with what you sell in a way that's positive and memorable. In other words, it helps you connect with customers on an emotional level. And the great news is that experiential marketing doesn't have to cost a fortune.

Everyone knows we believe most in what we see and experience ourselves. A positive or negative experience can color our relationship to what's being tried. Even a kid who's thrilled to take his first bike ride may come away with an unfavorable attitude toward bicycles if he falls and breaks his arm. As a business owner, it's up to you to engineer positive interactions between your prospects and your products or services to ensure nothing--particularly the customer relationship--gets broken.

Take to the Streets
Public places offer opportunities to encounter large cross sections of the population, so it's not uncommon to see some forms of experiential marketing in action on busy urban street corners. One Southern city, for example, sent teams to Northeastern business districts to give out sunglasses with a campaign that urged workers to move to its sunny, high-tech hub. In a similar vein, many consumer product marketers use experiential marketing in areas with a high percentage of pedestrians that fit their target audience profile.

As an entrepreneur on a budget, you could pick a location and obtain permits to distribute several hundred product samples to business people outside an office building--that is, if working men and women comprise your target market. This could take the place of pricier sample mailings and provides a more memorable experience for prospects. Plus, by asking a few simple questions as you hand out the samples, you can obtain invaluable data with no additional cost. Just be sure to add an element of special interest or fun to give members of your target audience an enjoyable experience with your new product.

Put on a Show
Many consumer and trade shows provide seemingly perfect experiential marketing environments where companies can share new products with hundreds or even thousands of potential customers. Often, however, these events are less than ideal because they're too crowded and noisy, which can detract from an otherwise positive experience. That's why many businesses create their own experiential marketing events and control the venue, audience size and make-up, as well as the way their products or services are showcased. For example, an audio and video equipment reseller in Tulsa, Okla. puts on private shows for its business customers three times a year, paid entirely with co-op dollars from the major manufacturers it represents. And one young entrepreneur who designs and manufactures a collection of hair ornaments borrowed a friend's downtown salon for the evening to put on a fashion show featuring his products. This gave guests an opportunity to see his products and share in an exciting, memorable experience, which is the cornerstone of what makes this form of marketing so successful.

With some imagination, you can create your own low-cost, high-impact events. Experiential marketing is all about creating a positive one-on-one connection with customers they won't soon forget.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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