No accounting for taste?

The appeal of experiential marketing remains as strong as ever – advertisers are willing to invest more, but they demand engaging creativity and effective evaluation strategies. By Steve Hemsley.

Creativity is fundamental when planning experiential campaigns, but agencies are fast realising it is no longer enough on its own to persuade clients to spend more.

Suppliers must show advertisers they have a reliable targeting and evaluation strategy in place to ensure budgets are spent effectively.

Businesses want to spend money on experiential marketing because they understand the immediate positive effect it can have on their brand, but they still worry about how expensive it can be.

A survey by Mice Group International reveals that 43% of the 57 senior marketers it asked in the UK, Europe and North America will spend more on the discipline between now and 2010.

Yet the survey highlights low levels of awareness and understanding among some brand marketers about what exactly experiential marketing is, and the techniques it embraces. To some it is the extension of traditional field marketing and sales promotion activities, but to others it encompasses everything from one-to-one meetings to sponsorship.

This means agencies must ensure their evaluation methods are robust and flexible enough to cover what has become an extremely broad discipline in the eyes of many marketers.

A clearer picture
The key to accurate evaluation is reliable data. If this exists, brands can improve their profiling and targeting of consumers and track changes in how a brand is perceived, and ultimately see what effect this is having on actual sales.

One company specialising in data gathering and analysis as well as campaign planning is Connection. It has discovered that about half of UK companies fail to collect data when they carry out face-to-face marketing. Sales director Andrew Mitchell believes it is impossible to measure work if a brand has no idea who is taking part.

“You must make sure you collect data and use it intelligently. This allows you to plot changes in brand perception over time,” he says.

Mitchell advises brands to establish benchmarking studies using controlled groups to get a clearer picture of how brand perceptions are changing. “This allows you to compare people who have been exposed to the brand experience with those who have not,” he says. “It is also vital brands follow up with people who took part in an event to get a medium and long-term view of how well any activity has worked.”

If experiential work is evaluated accurately it will make planning future campaigns that much easier. The results will identify which promotional sites work best, and might reveal that the audience that has interacted with the brand is not as narrow or as broad as the marketing team had initially expected.

RPM says clients are asking agencies to measure many different elements of experiential work these days. They want to know how a brand’s image is shifting, how many interactions particular consumers had with the brand and want to assess the impact of word-of-mouth by analysing how many people not at an event heard about the activity. One of RPM’s evaluation models monitors continued purchasing behaviour for up to 12 months after an experience.

“We can calculate how long people spend interacting with the brand at an event, determine the suitability of each site for experiential work and cross-reference client objectives against population demographics,” says RPM account planning manager Sofia Foglefors.

The right target
Carbon Marketing managing director Wendy Hooper, who is also chair of the Direct Marketing Association’s fledgling Brand Experience Strategy Group, says that as the experiential industry gets smarter and more creative in coming up with ideas, agencies have a greater responsibility to target these ideas at the right place, and at the right time.

“Deciding the best time to target consumers will depend on the product being promoted. If it is a breakfast cereal then early morning is best, or if it is a dessert then the end of the day may be better as people are going home to have dinner,” she says. “Getting the timing spot-on will have an effect on the return on investment.”

One company making the most of how consumers are feeling at a particular time is JC Decaux’s Sphere division. It runs activity in the departure lounges of the busiest UK airports, where director Denise Moore claims people are willing to interact with brands because they are relaxed having arrived and completed the security checks.

“We can target different people at different airports who have time to spare once they are in departures,” says Moore. “If a client wants to reach the business community we will go to the business • lounges, and if it is targeting the leisure market we will go to Gatwick South or Luton.”

When Sphere ran a promotional stand for the Sony Vaio laptop, airport retailers reported sales up by a third. More than 60% of passengers said they were likely to buy the product after the campaign compared to just 35% before.

JC Decaux also created a free internet area called Google Space at Heathrow to showcase the search engine’s latest products, which generated media coverage reaching an estimated 24.8 million people.

Nick Adams, managing director of Sense, which experimented with live advertising on the Heathrow Express from Paddington Station, says: “Accountability is driven by clients, but as an agency we must ensure that methodology discussed at the planning stage is followed through. This has to mean a percentage of any budget is apportioned to measuring results.”

Music festivals and sporting events also offer brands the chance to take advantage of a consumer’s mood and collect valuable data.

For Famous Grouse whisky, agency BD-NTWK tapped into the brand’s association with Scottish rugby with music and events at Murrayfield and Twickenham during the Six Nations tournament, in a bid to make the drink appeal to younger people. Data from 6,500 sample tastings yielded positive results.

The latest toys
Agencies want to impress clients with the targeting and measurement tools they use and they are always looking to utilise new technology.

Brand experience agency Impetus, for instance, offers an added-value service using Bluetooth to target consumers when they are shopping. Bluetooth is a standard for a radio chip which is plugged into mobile phones so consumers can receive transmitted information such as promotional offers if they are within 100 yards of a retailer.

Impetus managing director Gill Dunsford says using Bluetooth can extend the life of experiential activity and improve its value for money. “Using Bluetooth to send offers to people’s mobiles when they are near a retailer gives clients greater coverage and extends the life of a promotion,” she says.

The Bluetooth technology also allows a brand to change its message to fit the consumer demographic at a particular time of day. This might be office workers at lunchtime or parents with young children mid-morning.

Whatever technology is used, the pressure on marketing budgets means targeting and evaluation strategies must be much more rigorous than in the past.

Momentum group account director and head of field marketing Tim Harper says measurement can be more accurate if experiential campaigns link with other media activity. “It is easier to get robust measurement if it is part of an integrated campaign,” he says. “We put mechanics in place that drive people to a website or to stores to redeem vouchers, so we can track where sales have come from and see the effectiveness of all marketing activity.”

The appeal of experiential marketing remains as strong as ever and advertisers are certainly willing to invest more in this area. What they do insist on are creative ideas that will engage customers, and evidence that the campaigns they are paying for are accountable.

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