Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Anytime I hear anyone talk a new marketing trend, I must consciously remind myself not to roll my eyes. Marketing trends tend to be nonsense created by agencies hoping to generate buzz.

So, when I first learned about a trend called experiential marketing a few years ago at a conference, I listened politely, and filed it away in the back of my mind, along with my skepticism about whether this truly existed.

It’s clear to me now that experiential marketing isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a legit marketing option for libraries everywhere. And it could be the trend that permanently cements the bond between your library and the community it serves.

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing is sometimes also called event marketing. It can be a pop-up library or program. It can take the form of a special day long library event, an immersion experience, a conference, a workshop—there are limitless possibilities.

But this isn’t just an ordinary event. An experiential marketing event is a program that includes a way to create an experience, to engage the attendee’s senses, and to create a personal and memorable interaction with your library.

It’s about sparking positive emotions in the people who attend. Those emotions become imprinted in the minds of the attendees. They associate that positive emotion with your library.

See why it sounded a little hokey to me the first time I heard it?

But here’s the thing. While most marketing interrupts and forces itself on the community, the experiential experience is voluntary. Your community or cardholders are choosing to interact with your library. Those experiences create beautiful memories. Those beautiful memories become a part of the overall library experience for your community. A loyalty is formed.

Libraries tend to think about their programs and events in simple terms. The program is a way to offer something to the community that is in line with the library’s overall strategic plan. It may also help to fill a community need like literacy or workforce development. These reasons are all valid and valuable.

But there is a clear marketing value in expanding our understanding of what a program or experience can be for our community–and what it can do for our libraries.

And we need to do so because our younger cardholders are at stake. Experiential marketing appeals to younger people. A study by Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials would rather pay for an experience than for material objects.

This can be a differentiating factor for libraries. We should jump at the chance.

Why experiential marketing is so appealing

It all comes down to the fear of missing out, or FOMO. We see our friends and family posting on social media as they engage in exciting events. We feel anxious because we are missing out on these amazing experiences. And we feel compelled to resolve that anxiety by attending.

Think FOMO isn’t real? Check out the Twitter feed anytime the ALA or PLA conference is in full swing. The number of librarians who lament about missing the conference is pretty astounding.

What are the benefits of creating library experiences?

Experiential marketing forges a personal connection with your library. As younger generations increasingly value experience over tangible items, they’ll patronize and visit libraries that have taken the time to get to know them and offer them experiences that they can learn and grow from in a deep and meaningful way.

  • 85% of consumers say they were likely to purchase after participating in events or experiences.
  • 91% of consumers say they had more positive feelings about brands after attending events or experiences.

Examples of experiential library marketing programs

Challenge yourself to go beyond the normal crafting groups, story times, and passive programs. Instead, push your library to nurture the relationship between the library brand and your community.

You can create all kinds of innovative programs that foster a love and joy of reading. Try a TED talk style book talk. Invite readers to give a compelling talk under a time limit,  say 60 seconds, to convince people to read one of their favorite books. Or schedule book dates, where readers talk one-on-one with under a limited time deadline about their favorite books.

At the Edge 2020 conference in Edinburgh last week, the head of Library and Information Services at East Renfrewshire Libraries in Scotland talked about programs they hold called “Come Complete Your Bucket List at the Library.” Visitors use virtual reality sets to visit places and have experiences they’ve only dreamed about. That is an amazing example of experiential library marketing.

Other great experiences for library customers include:

  • Escape rooms
  • Interactive STEM programs for adults and kids
  • Interactive activities between patrons and in-residence programs featuring authors, entrepreneurs, makers, and artists
  • Interactive programs in your MakerSpace
  • A conference connecting readers and authors interacting in sessions, workshops, and one-on-one experiences
  • Interactive and immersive library exhibits
  • Interactive activities at outreach events
  • Library sleepovers

Experiential experiences are any kind of program that creates a lasting, emotional experience that will bond your community to your library. This is not a one-off kind of event. This is something memorable.

You’ll notice the word “interactive” is used frequently to describe these events. Experiential marketing events require that attendees to do more than sit, listen, and absorb. If they are playing a part in the activities, they’ll remember them.

Experiential marketing is not a quiet kind of marketing. It’s often noisy, literally and figuratively. It might be messy. It might take more planning. These events are not what people think of when they think about what libraries look like.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

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