Experiential marketing was once regarded as just a branch of field marketing, but it is emerging from the shadows as companies realise how it helps develop brand perceptions. By Steve Hemsley
Here’s a quick question for you – which of the following sentences best defines experiential marketing (EM)? Is it a live interaction to communicate a brand’s personality in order to change perceptions and behaviour; the bringing to life of brands by enabling consumers to see, hear, touch, feel and smell the brand; or face-to-face interaction with consumers that adds layers of emotional brand experience above and beyond the physical product?
The correct answer is all three. In fact, it would be easy to list many more definitions by agencies keen to promote a discipline that has broken away from the shackles of traditional field marketing and is now a major force in its own right.
According to a study by HPI Research Group commissioned by specialist EM company iD Live Brand Experience, some 89% of marketers believe EM is best at getting brands closer to consumers and 72% say it boosts brand loyalty. Encouragingly for companies such as iD, some 49% of respondents plan to spend more on EM during 2006. “Marketers are implementing live campaigns in response to a growing demand from consumers for this type of communication,” claims iD chief executive Paul Ephremsen.
In the past 18 months specialist EM agency RPM has seen its turnover grow by more than 12%, but new business director Cameron Day believes the sector has yet to fulfil its full potential.
“There are still some industries, such as telecoms, automotive and entertainment, that are not spending as much as they could in this area because they do not realise what can be achieved,” says Day. He cites The Strongbow Rooms as a good example of EM. These 400sq ft rooms appeared at music festivals and included table football, a raised dance floor, an outdoor sundeck and renowned DJ talent, all designed to enhance the brand’s credibility and recruit 18- to 34-year-old drinkers.
A different experience
Explaining to marketers the difference between EM and field marketing is one of the biggest obstacles faced by any agencies specialising in this area. In simple terms the difference lies in the strategic insight and sensory interaction provided EM, whereas field marketing is more about putting a product into someone’s hand.
“It never fails to amaze me how many people in our industry still struggle to differ between experiential and field marketing. In reality, effective field marketing is a component of successful EM,” says Theatre Brand Experience managing director Rob Quinn.
LoewyBe managing director Sharon Richey says that as more clients start to understand EM, more money will come into the sector from above-the-line advertising budgets rather than from the field marketing pot. She believes the days of “dish ’em out” sampling campaigns are numbered because clients are realising they must engage with their target market face-to-face.
One brand which certainly understands the advantages of investing in EM is P&G’s Pampers which has increased its EM spend with LoewyBe by 51% in the past year. This decision follows the success of the Pampers World of Babies supermarket roadshow which allowed parents to experience the world through the eyes of a baby. Pampers took an average 97% of all nappy sales in the stores where the event took place.
Such has been the interest in EM that a number of traditional field marketing and other agencies have entered the arena. This has not always gone down well with the specialists, however.
“A lot of information about this exciting sector is being clumsily force-fed to clients by agencies from other disciplines, such as advertising and PR,” says Quinn. Traditional field marketing company FDS admits it has had to adapt to clients’ demands for specialist EM agencies. Just over a year ago it launched its own brand experience agency, The Gallery. Client services director Ruth Chapman says the industry has moved on and established agencies must react and adapt. “Consumers want and expect more from brands, although a lot of what we are seeing is still being driven by the broader field marketing industry,” she says
The UK is still someway behind the US in terms of how brands view experiential marketing but this is likely to change as more consumers adopt ad-avoidance technology such as PVRs when watching television and spam blockers when online.
According to Jeremy Garbett, joint managing director at Jack Morton Worldwide, brands will have to look beyond mass media to get their message across, especially if they want to reach young people. His company’s research published in the US in November revealed that 70% of 13- to 23-year-olds say experiential marketing influences their opinion of a product or brand and 74% said participating in a live marketing experience is something they would tell others about.
“Brands have to take their customers on a journey. We ask clients what they want to achieve and talk to the customers to discover what they think about a brand so we can devise a brand experience that is relevant and engaging,” says Garbett.
Clearly brands need to be cleverer in their marketing, and enabling consumers to experience a brand in a creative way can increase loyalty, change negative perceptions as well as boost sales.