The Rise of Experiential Marketing

Experiential Marketing-web

May 2018—

Meeting Millennials where they are in their lives is one of the many topics to be explored at Insights 2018


WHAT: Insights 2018
WHERE: Minneapolis
WHEN: Sept. 14-15

8 Learning Labs – 11 Topics – 5 Networking Opportunities – 17 Events


Millennials spend their weekends binging on commercial-free Netflix. Baby Boomers drive their children around town listening to commercial-free satellite radio. And good luck trying to get any generation to allow pop-up ads on their computers. In an era when many consumers are actively trying to avoid advertising, retailers—be they in furniture, fashion or anything in between—are increasingly searching for other ways to reach them.

Some are blurring the line between advertising and content, hoping to pass through the filter of what consumers actually see and read.

Others are diving deeper into big data and location targeting (see last month’s RetailerNOW) on the theory that consumers will embrace ads they find relevant. Others are hoping to meet shoppers where they are in their daily lives with active, meaningful experiences that, oh by the way, position their brand in front of consumers.

That last strategy is known as experiential marketing, and it’s one of the many topics that will be explored at Insights, the Home Furnishings Association’s 2018 conference in Minneapolis later this year. Maggie Ellison of Event Marketing Strategies (EMS), says the growing difficulty furniture retailers face in reaching consumers through traditional advertising is why many are turning to experiential marketing and social media to attract Millennials.

Ellison admits it’s a sweeping generalization, but Millennials are known for their love of experiences. They attend festivals, concerts, trade shows, exhibits and sporting events with regularity. They want to experience the latest thing. In fact, a study from the Harris Group reported that 72 percent of Millennials would rather choose an experience over a material item.

Ellison says retailers who are highlighted at these events are not only exposing Millennials to what they sell, but also sharing their brand in a context they enjoy.

By integrating their brand into the Millennials’ environment, Ellison says retailers are ensuring their brands will be on their radar.

Ellison says there’s been a fundamental shift in marketing in the past decade. Marketing used to be about creating a story and telling it. “Today,” she says, “it’s about putting your real brand out there and sharing it.”

For example, when furniture retailer, Z Gallerie, last year opened a new store in Columbus, Ohio, the company put together an experiential campaign to energize the city and make it aware of the new brand.

To build excitement in the weeks leading up to the store opening, Ellison’s company created a contest supported by social media to promote a $1,500 room makeover giveaway.

Giant eight-foot tall, three-dimensional Zs filled with thousands of gold Z heart C stress balls were placed in two high-traffic areas within Columbus to serve as the event scenes. Passersby were asked to guess the number of stress balls in the Z.

Both venues boasted a full Z Gallerie furniture and décor display alongside the Z. EMS brand ambassadors prompted guests to take a selfie with the Z and post their photo to social media channels with hashtag #WhatTheZ along with their guess of the number of gold balls inside the Z. Participants who registered to win were rewarded with a custom branded Z heart C vintage tee.

The results?

Z Gallerie reached its projected first-day sales in the first two hours of the debut. “The people that campaign reached were people the store would probably never reach through traditional advertising and that’s what experiential marketing does,” says Ellison. “It provides brands like furniture stores with the opportunity to connect one-on-one in a way no other marketing program can do.”

Experiential marketing has been around in some form or another since the late 1970s. By the early 2000s, small and large retailers, as well as major consumer brands, picked up on the idea of popping into popular gathering places as a method of engaging consumers where they are in their lives.

Ellison recalled an experiential marketing program in 2014 where IKEA promoted the opening of a store in France by building an apartment floor furnished in IKEA furniture into a vertical rock-climbing wall.

Today, Ellison says retailers are melding their brand experience in complementary settings, inviting consumers to engage with their products in different, welcoming environments. One example: Home furnishings chain West Elm will enter the hospitality business, with five West Elm hotels. Again, the concept is meeting consumers where they are in their lives rather than trying to engage them in traditional advertising. In West Elm’s case, the store is comforting shoppers with its brand during a vacation or business trip.

“With experiential marketing,” says Ellison, “consumers are now experiencing the brand rather than the advertisement. Sometimes what takes weeks or months to accomplish, experiential marketing can do on a Saturday afternoon.”

Ellison is one of several speakers who will help retailers improve the customer experience in their stores at Insights in Minneapolis, Sept. 14-15.

Insights 2018 is throwing out the old way retailers gathered for conference. Gone are the days where retailers spent three or four days away from their stores sitting on uncomfortable chairs for 90-minute lectures. Insights speakers such as Ellison, some of the brightest and most innovative experts on customer experience in the furniture retail industry, will create a hands-on, experiential learning environment. Retailers will break up into small groups throughout each day to discuss needs and collaborate on solutions specific to their stores.

Every day will feature Insights’ exclusive Learning Labs, experiential, interactive breakout sessions designed to personalize strategies and help retailers better understand the customer experience for their stores.

The Solution Room will allow retailers to take a deeper dive into the day’s topics. Retailers can simply choose a topic from the day’s events and join friends and peers to come up with solutions catered to their store.

“You’re not just learning from our panel of experts,” says Sharron Bradley, CEO of the Home Furnishings Association, “you’re going to be learning from your peers. There’s no better group of experts than the members of our association.”

Best of all, says Bradley, Insights attendees will take in all this learning and sharing over a weekend. “Retailers will want to be back in their stores first thing Monday to start implementing what they learn,” says Bradley.

Insights 2018 isn’t just for learning—it’s for celebrating, too. The HFA will be honoring its 2018 Retailers of the Year as well as its Emerging Star and Trailblazer award recipients.

Insights 2018 will be held at the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown in the heart of the city and within easy walking distance of theaters, restaurants, Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I’m excited about the changes we’ve made to our usual conference,” says Bradley. “Insights is going to be invaluable for retailers who are serious about growing their business.”

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.

About the Author

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is Content Editor for the Home Furnishings Association. Email or call him with any news about your store, including expansion, personnel, successful initiatives—anything of interest to HFA members. He can be reached at or 916-757-1169.