Experiental Storytelling

Six Keys to Experiential Storytelling via SXSW

October 16, 2018by Becky Lowe

It’s safe to say: There were a lot of trends happening at SXSW this spring. But the one I’m still turning over and over in my brain (in true copywriter form) was all about how to actually bring audiences into the stories we tell. I mean, would you rather have an actual face-to-face conversation or just leave someone a message and hope they pay attention?

That’s the beauty of experiential storytelling. It’s the mashup of experiential marketing and storytelling, essentially creating compelling, memorable relationships between people and brands through immersive experiences.

Consider that it takes someone an average of 30 seconds to watch your TV spot, but they could easily spend 90 minutes visiting your brand home. Chances are the brand home visit is going to do a whole lot more to build advocacy.

Emotional engagement investment, anyone?

Here are the keys:

  1. Start in the Heart

In Hiebing terms: find some empathy. Figure out why your audience will give a damn and go from there. Remember that 90 percent of decisions are based on emotions, so it’s important to “fish with bait that’s interesting to the fish, not the fisherman.”

The heart of your experience will be where the heart of your audience and the heart of your brand intersect. To find that heart, you need to understand the story of your brand in the minds and hearts of your audience … which sounds exactly like (more Hiebing terms) illuminating the truth.

  1. Know Your Destination

As a wise Yogi (Berra) once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” In other words: If you’re trying to create a change in your audience through the experience, you need to be clear about what change you expect.

Do you want your audience to learn something? Do something? Act or feel differently? Rave about you to everyone they know? The clearer you can be about your goal, the better you’ll be able to achieve—and measure—the change.

  1. Make ’em Feel Something

Hello, have you met Hiebing? If so, you’ll know #2 of our five core beliefs is: We believe in the power of forging emotional connections. Whether we’re talking about roofing or car repair, we’re not just sharing facts. We’re finding ways to make people feel.

Yes, and we all know that every great story has a central theme. Around here, we call that your Core Creative Idea. With experiential storytelling, it’s about how we bring that core idea to life. Again, not just showing and telling. Feeling.

  1. Engage All the Senses

The ultimate goal of experiential storytelling is to offer experiences your audience can’t get elsewhere. If you’re Schneider, that might be letting folks climb into a truck cab and pull the horn. And if you’re Culver’s, that might be inviting people to create and taste their own small batch of frozen custard.

The point is to not simply say what you do. You want to make people part of what you do. Because experiences are more shareable than simply looking at something.

  1. Create Magic

Astound! Surprise! Refer back to the part above about offering your audience experiences they can’t get elsewhere. Technology may very well be your best friend here—just keep in mind that technology is best when it’s invisible.

If it’s magical, it’s memorable.

  1. Hospitality Is Everything

As it’s been so eloquently stated, “At 211º water is hot. At 212º water boils. That 1º of difference can power a steam train.”


Always remember that this experience with your brand could be someone’s only experience. Maybe you’re offering the most amazing experience ever—but if you’re off, it’s all off.

TLDR? Facts don’t stick. Emotions do. People will remember how you make them feel. So, let’s make them feel.


This post was inspired and informed by “Create Magic: 6 Experiential Storytelling Secrets,” as presented by Christian Lachel of BRC Imagination Arts, Claire Tolan of Jameson Distillery and Cynthia Jones of the Henry Ford Museum at SXSW Interactive, 2018.

Subscribe to Blogworthy
Stay fueled.

Sign up for Hiebing Marketing Fuel, our monthly newsletter, and we’ll send even more real-world inspiration and information straight to your inbox.