I recently took a trip to one of my dream destinations: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For you muggles (non-magic folk) who aren’t familiar: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort allows you to step inside the magical universe created by J.K. Rowling.
Even though I was away from the office, work was still on my mind. You see, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually a master class in marketing. Experiential marketing, to be specific.
Experiential marketing — also known as engagement marketing — is a relatively new concept and has been constantly evolving throughout the years. To put it simply, it’s more than a corporate sponsorship of a sporting event or branded trinkets handed out at a trade show. Experiential marketing can take many forms, but it always comes down to one core idea: giving the customer a memorable experience.
So what was it about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter that got me thinking about successful experiential marketing? After all, most marketing teams aren’t going to build a theme park to reach their target audiences. But they can take a leaf out of Harry Potter’s book and use these three best practices of experiential marketing.
1. Make it immersive
The immersive element of this wizarding world was clear as soon as I crossed under the iconic “Hogsmeade” sign. I was instantly transported from Orlando, Florida, to a magical village where Hogwarts castle loomed on the horizon; people roamed the streets wearing black wizard cloaks; and children and adults alike peered eagerly into storefronts filled with magical potions, books, and artifacts.
According to an interview with AdWeek and Bryan Icenhower, president of experiential agency IMG Live, “[experiential marketing] engages all five senses, sparking emotions that form lasting memories which have been shown to drive brand loyalty.” Beyond the themed buildings, props, and décor, the park engaged all the other senses. There was the taste and smell of refreshments (butterbeer, anyone?) There were sounds of magical creatures, like a life-size dragon that blew fire. And there was the feeling of an interactive wand in your hand that allowed you to cast spells like a witch or wizard yourself.
But you don’t need magic spells to immerse your customers in your brand experience. The real magic behind The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is technology. Think about how your company can use interactive technology to create lasting memories and develop stronger brand loyalty in your customers.
2. Speak directly to your target audience
Knowing your target audience is nothing new to us marketing professionals. But experiential marketing requires a deeper, more intimate knowledge. To give your audience a remarkable experience, you need to understand their interests, preferences, and affinities. Creating customer personas can help you collect research on these data points.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was riding the Hogwarts Express, the train that young witches and wizards take between King’s Cross Station and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It would have been straightforward enough to just stage a big red steam locomotive at the park and call it good. But the creators knew that ultimate Harry Potter fans long to feel the childlike nervous excitement of boarding the train to go to Hogwarts. So they integrated this experience into a customer’s visit, and I would argue it’s one of the most impressive aspects of the entire theme park.
Ask yourself, what is the ultimate experience or feeling your customers would want? Then you can use marketing to bring that to life.
3. Capture the essence of your brand
Capturing the essence of something as abstract as a brand means we must think beyond the five senses. It’s about the bigger picture: emotional engagement. To paraphrase a famous quote, people won’t remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. The same applies to marketing. How do you want your brand to make customers feel? What emotions are you trying to evoke?
As Harry Potter fans know, one of the most significant plotlines in the series is the symbolism of Harry’s wand and its direct ties to his enemy, Voldemort. During our trip, my travel partner and I were chosen to participate in a wand selection ceremony at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, just like Harry and all other young witches and wizards. When I retold the story to my friends, of course, I couldn’t remember the exact words the wand shopkeeper said to us during the performance. But I do recall the excitement I felt when we were selected from the audience, because we were getting a unique opportunity to re-enact a scene from the first Harry Potter book. And after the performance was over? The emotions we felt drove us to purchase those wands as keepsakes.
While experiential marketing can be a moving target in our ever-changing field, it is absolutely a tactic worth considering. Some marketers, like Icenhower, have found that immersive experiences can accomplish in minutes what a traditional tactic takes weeks or months to do. Consider the immeasurable return on investment, too: a moment of joy, a laugh, a look of wonder — these emotional reactions are priceless to a marketer.
So keep an eye on experiential marketing. It just might be the most magical touchpoint you can have with your target audience.