Experiential marketing is possible in B2B as well, as it is in B2C. If this concept of customer experience, branded by Pine and Gilmore, is hot in consumer marketing, what about B2B? Here, we’ll see that it is a possible path to creating mutual benefits for customers and partners

Experiential Marketing in B2B

experiential marketing
the notion of experience is a bit abstract and needs to be defined. Very fashionable in B2C, it is also applicable to B2B. Experiential marketing in B2B is an avenue to explore because it is rich in benefits for customers and partners


Note: in this sheet, the section “The Limitations of Theoretical Approaches” has been put in Part 3, not Part 2

Experiential marketing definition

The invention of the term experiential marketing is attributed to Bernd Schmitt, professor of international business at the Columbia Business School in New York. He published the book “Experiential Marketing” in 1999. In France, it was the academic Patrick Hetzel who first spoke of experiential marketing in his book entitled “Planète Conso: marketing expérientiel et nouveaux univers de consommation” published in 2002.

But it is in fact the researchers Morris Holbrook and Elizabeth Hirschman who were the first to present (in 1982) their “experience research model”. They broke with the research work on consumer behavior that prevailed in the 1970s. They affirm that the act of buying should no longer be analyzed only through a utilitarian vision, based on the simple use value of the product, but that consumers are emotional beings in search of sensitive experiences.

Trends and innovations in experiential marketing

Experiential marketing consists of giving the prospect or customer a memorable experience at each point of contact (reception, pre-sales, order, delivery, after-sales service…) with a brand. This even goes as far as using sensory marketing or immersive marketing techniques.

Source: adapted from Addis and Holbrook (2001)

In an article entitled “Expériences de consommation et marketing expérientiel” published in 2006 in the Revue française de gestion, Antonella Carù and Bernard Cova state that the production of experiences has three main facets:

The decor, the design, the staging with a special attention to the polysensory stimulation;

The active participation of the consumer helped by facilitators of all kinds who specify the roles of each in the rituals put into play around the company’s offer;

The story, the history, the intrigue that is tied up and whose most important thing is to keep memories, most often in the form of derivative products.

Today, digital plays a crucial role in experiential marketing. In the book “L’expérience client en pratique” that she co-authored with Sylvie Daumal, Laurence Body reminds us that there can be no separation between digital and customer experience, which is now omnichannel. The customer experience is even the business of all employees, of all departments of the company. It is a group exercise and not an artificially technological approach.

The limitations of theoretical approaches

Citing researchers Eric Arnould and Craig Thompson who, in 2005, published an article entitled “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research”, Antonella Carù and Bernard Cova recall in their article that research on consumer behavior sees experience as “a subjective episode in the construction/transformation of the individual, with an emphasis on the emotional and sensitive dimension to the detriment of the cognitive dimension”.

However, in reality, “experiential marketing has given experience a much more pragmatic and simplistic meaning (an offer programmed and marketed by the company) while emphasizing the idea that the result should be something highly meaningful and unforgettable for the consumer who is going to live the experience.” In the field, then, a more restrictive interpretation than that of the research was implemented.

Tools and Methods

In B2B, customer experience can take many forms. One of these forms is the product test (or the test of a service). Nothing is more concrete than putting the product or service you want to sell in the hands of your future customer – in real conditions. And as the prospect / BtoB customer is most often very involved in the configuration of what he wants to buy (in the case of complex sales), the idea is to reinforce – through experiential marketing – his participation, his active role.

This involvement of the customer can be strengthened by building a strategic partnership with him or her and, when the stakes of value creation are high, by co-creation approaches.

In a research article entitled “What interest do B2B clients have in co-creating a service?”, Élodie Jouny-Rivier, a teacher-researcher at ESSCA, highlights the benefits of co-creation for service providers: reinforcement of client commitment, creation of a client/supplier interdependence. The benefits for clients are as follows: development of more accomplished services, generation of new business ideas, creation of competitive advantages, additional turnover, participation in innovative and motivating collaborative projects.

Learn more about experiential marketing in B2B

Fabrice Deblock
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