What Marketers Can Learn from the Experiential Art Craze
By Krystal Overmyer on September 15, 2017
For weeks, I tried to score tickets to the experiential art event of the year in Washington, DC. I failed miserably. Released in limited batches once a week, the free tickets to "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors" at the Hirshhorn Museum disappeared in seconds. Despite my frantic clicking, I never had a chance.
But even if I had snagged a ticket, my wait for the experience would have just begun. Once at the museum, ticket-holding visitors waited in long lines to enter six different rooms, each for a mere twenty seconds. Their prize, as my Instagram feed informed me, were photos like this:
Life imitates art, they say, and perhaps digital marketing experts should, too. "Infinity Mirrors" harnessed all the things marketers want to capture in a campaign: a sense of urgency, buzz, audience engagement, emotional connection, and heavy social sharing. Massively popular, the "Infinity Mirrors" exhibition broke attendance records at the Hirshhorn, generated 34,000 Instagram posts, and scored over 330 million social media impressions, the museum reports.
"Infinity Mirrors" isn't the only art exhibition generating this type of interaction. Increasingly, artists are experimenting with works that invite the viewer to experience their work in a more interactive way. Social sharing has made these special, limited-time-only exhibitions into communal, must-see events.
It's exactly this type of experience that B2C and B2B marketers should be aiming for.
Why Experiences Are Powerful
While art has always sought to elicit a response from its observer, it's hard to connect the types of gallery-going experiences of yesterday with the experiential art exhibitions of today. It's one thing to view art. It's another to invite attendees to participate in some way, creating interaction and relationship between art and viewer. Increasingly, artists and museums are working together to create these sorts of unique experiences that transcend our perceptions of art. The social sharing of said experience is, of course, encouraged.
For example, "The Beach," installed in summer 2015 in Washington, DC's National Building Museum, invited museum-goers to "swim" in an ocean of one million recyclable clear plastic balls. The exhibit offered a fun, unique experience for all ages, in addition to offering a visual treat for social media.
So why are these participatory experiences like "Infinity Mirrors" drawing record-level crowds and social sharing?
Part of the attraction is the experience itself. Experience tickles a part of our brain that observation alone can't—which is why people tend to learn things better by direct experience, research shows. Marketers know the same thing holds true: It's easy to watch a product demonstration, for example. But it's much more meaningful to actually engage with the product yourself.
Experiences themselves are now desirable commodities. A Harris study revealed that 78 percent of millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience or event versus spending on stuff. Americans overall share the same perspective, devoting more of their spending in recent years to recreation and travel and decreasing spending on posessions, Fortune reports.
Of course, Instagram matters in this equation, too. Any great art exhibition or event is a chance to see something unique and special. "But the 'Infinity Mirrors' exhibition has added one key ingredient to the mix—the chance to capture the lonely existential experience of infinity and send it to others in the form of a selfie," Sarah Boxer notes in the Atlantic. (For proof, check out the thousands of pictures tagged #Kusama and #InfinityMirrors.)
Marketing with an Artistic Mindset
Experiences—whether inside an art museum or not—resonate more profoundly with consumers. This is a compelling reason for marketers to inject immersive and experiential marketing campaigns into their overall strategy. But how can brands, particularly B2B brands, create special experiences?
For business from small to large, the key is thinking visually. In addition to serving up great food, the new trend in restaurants is serving up a visual feast—in décor and on the plate—to encourage social media sharing, as the Verge reports. Entice a few influencers to snap an iconic shot, such as the custom-made floor tiling at San Francisco's Media Noche, and suddenly thousands of people are hearing about your brand and making the pilgrimage to get the same picture.
Not all B2B companies have heavily trafficked brick-and-mortar presences, but the opportunities for special experiences still abound. At events, conferences, and trade shows, B2B companies have the opportunity to play with the type of visually immersive, experiential environments that have become so intriguing in the art world.
Take, for example, B2B giant IBM's Cognitive Cocktail bar at SXSW Interactive 2016. Visitors received a personalized drink from Watson based on their preferences, mood, and energy level. The concept quickly drew attention and social media buzz. In fact, as lines grew longer, organizers were forced to limit the drinks per person, according to Convene.
Trying a customized cocktail at #IBM Cognitive Cocktail Bar - yum! Thanks, @IBM & @IBMWatson! #sxsw pic.twitter.com/RebnjDiP1P
— Shay Tressa DeSimone (@escriteur) March 12, 2016
Creating a social-friendly interactive experience means more than throwing together a photo booth with random props. Rather, the types of experiences created should be relevant to your brand, while also tickling that desire to share something extraordinary with others.
Great experiential marketing has a lot in common with today's interactive art exhibitions. Both offer something buzz-worthy, shareable, and a unique experience that's worth the massive lines. B2B and B2C marketers can learn lessons from the art industry. Powerful, interactive experiences drive excitement and connection—and ultimately a longer-lasting relationship with the brand.
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Featured image attribution: mahdis mousavi