Brands hit the road

To better engage with consumers, brands are going mobile. But to ensure the success of any experiential activity, time and effort should be invested at the planning stage. By Ian Whiteling

BreakdancingSlapping a brand on TV, in a newspaper or magazine, or all three, was once the answer. Although expensive, it would guarantee blanket coverage. But media fragmentation has changed all that, while an ad-weary, marketing-savvy population is tuning out of traditional forms of advertising in droves.

More and more consumers are demanding to be engaged and entertained before they will part with their cash. This has led to the growth of the live brand experience, where an event is created around the values of a brand. This not only engages with modern consumers, but also helps deliver the essence of brands.

The problem here, though, is reach. A single event is only likely to touch a fraction of a product or service’s market. Consequently, more and more brands are hitting the road.

Touring concepts”There is an increased interest in the use of touring concepts and a recognition of their effectiveness,” says Ian Bushell, head of consumer at live marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide.

“There is now an appreciation of the benefits and brand equity that marketing directly to the individual can bring.”

Roadshow specialists Event Marketing Solutions (EMS) backs up Bushell’s comments, having experienced an unprecedented demand for its services recently. Managing director Keith Austin reveals: “With traditional forms of advertising, the large agency groups are only forecasting at best 5% growth, yet we are already up 26% on last year with only five months of 2008 gone.”

EMS has also noticed some of its clients using roadshows to supplement or replace other types of marketing. Audio equipment manufacturer Audio-Technica, for example, swapped its usual attendance at the Professional Lighting and Sound technology show for the Road to Success tour, which it launched with EMS recently.

“We wanted to do something fresh and exciting in terms of the way we present our products and know-how in 2008,” explains Audio-Technica’s senior UK marketing manager Harvey Roberts. “We’re also aware that our customers’ time is precious – by taking Audio-Technica to them, we hope to make it as easy as possible for them to access all that we have to offer in terms of product innovation and advice.”

Temporary structure

The most appropriate roadshow mechanic to choose – mobile vehicle, temporary structure, or permanent venue tour – depends on objectives, target audience and budget.

“It’s all about budget,” says Bede Feltham, of e-money card sQuid, which has used roadshow campaigns to boost its brand. “Creating installations in a number of different static venues in various locations can put a strain on even the largest marketing budget.”

If budget is an issue, then a mobile vehicle may be the answer. “They can have a major impact because the branding is often visible on the road as well as on site, giving you additional exposure,” says Robin Carlisle, managing director of Mobile Promotions. “It is usually cheaper to use a trailer than a temporary structure, as it can be set up and removed more quickly, and with less manpower, meaning you can schedule the tour dates closer together.”

However, Paul Lucas, managing partner at experiential PR agency Brando, sees beyond the costs. “A mobile vehicle allows you to blitz an area in one day,” he says. “This can be particularly effective when combined with a carefully targeted local radio promotion designed to push listeners to get involved with the roadshow.”

Although Sharon Richey, managing director of experiential agency BEcause, is also an advocate, she points out: “The flip side is that some people fear they are more likely to be ‘trapped’ than with a more open venue.”

Open-plan environment

In such cases, touring with a temporary structure could be the answer. “The space requirements are usually the deciding factor in using a structure rather than a trailer,” says Carlisle. “Clients who are not looking to control the access and the environment so carefully might also choose a structure, or if they are looking for an open-plan environment, such as creating a garden party feel.”

Taking brands on tour opens a can of marketing worms that doesn’t exist with traditional campaigns. “There’s a wealth of logistical issues to consider in staging roadshows, from health and safety matters to vehicle management, food safety, stock supply, audio-visual, power, point of sale, staffing, subsistence, accommodation, licences, insurance and so on,” says Bruce Burnett, managing director at i2i Marketing.

Logistically, roadshows can certainly be very demanding. “There are hotels across the tour to be booked for staff and guests, ensuring drivers get the legal number of breaks, making sure meals are organised and health and safety is briefed at each venue,” highlights Carlisle. “And each location will require its own risk assessment. Cashflow is also vital, ensuring expenses, sometimes totalling several thousand pounds a day, can be covered by key personnel.”

Setting the right schedule is also crucial. “Choosing locations that target the right demographic for the campaign/brand is essential,” says Brando’s Lucas. “It should mirror any other marketing activity it is running alongside, and vice-versa. It should also make efficient use of time and money ensuring the locations fit a logical route for transportation.”

Another key element is the people involved. “Planners and administrators must be in sync with operational staff,” according to Carlisle at Mobile Promotions. “You may also need technical support on the road for AV or electrical equipment. Meanwhile, brand ambassadors need to be able to mix with a team that is on the road day in, day out.”

With a variety of options available, the secret to a successful roadshow is making sure this kind of activity is relevant to the brand.

Brand values

What’s more, quality is everything. A roadshow that creates a cheap feel for a luxury brand will do more harm than good. After all, a roadshow conveys brand values more effectively than traditional forms of advertising, so it’s vital to put across exactly the right ones to the right audience.

“For a brand to benefit from the full effect of a mobile consumer experience, it should not be compromised by production or venue limitations,” warns Ian Irving, sales and marketing director of experiential agency Sledge. “This involves increased effort spent on the planning and creative elements.”

It’s also vital to avoid repetition of the event over an extended period, which can reduce its impact. “This takes innovative staffing selection, and training and motivational models to be developed that are constantly monitored and evaluated,” says Irving. “The route to success is to ensure that the last show is as good as the first.”

Experiential measurement is more than just counting customers 

Claire%20Stokes%2C%20the%20Circle%20AgencyMeasurement of experiential campaigns does not need to be the big mystery that everyone seems to think that it is. In fact, the complete opposite is true. It has to start with the basics, the things we all know we should be doing — you measure the event attendance, the footfall on your vehicle/stand, the number of one-to-one interactions the consumers have with your staff, dwell time, how much event collateral you give away (literature, goodie bags and the like) and if possible and relevant the amount of consumer data collected. These are indispensable indicators of the individual success of one event over another. However, a solid experiential return on investment model should be based on more.

As live marketing programmes become more integrated in the larger marketing mix, it is becoming easier to build a layered approach to measurement that can provide a more in-depth insight into the effect the activity has on your brand. The EA Hub, a national touring roadshow for Electronic Arts, is one of our largest experiential programmes and provides a useful example. While we provide all of the above measurements (and others) throughout the tour, we have also designed the programme to fulfil more than the basic facilitation of one-to-one gaming demonstrations that was its original objective. The Hub has been used as a platform for PR stunts (live performances from bands such as The Hoosiers, visits from celebrities and athletes and the like), media programming (a three-part series filmed onboard for EA Sports FIFA 08 and aired on X-League), sales promotion (win the Hub for a day) and digital and online content. It has helped strengthen brand partnerships, and our latest addition of a specific EA Hub customer relationship management programme creates a new level of measurement by creating Hub VIP brand evangelists and sending consumers directly to retail. “While getting our games in the hands of our consumer has always been our number one goal, we have designed the programme sot it compliments the other activity that we do and provides additional opportunity for ROI. The more integration we achieve, the higher the ROI, which means that we consistently exceed measurement expectations,” says Penny Humphrey, experiential marketing manager, Electronic Arts. Finally, it is important that you speak to your consumers. Experiential programmes are a direct link to your target demographic. Never underestimate the consumer feedback that is provided direct to your staff onsite, however, a formal evaluation programme that incorporates exit interviews and post event re-contacts will provide you with additional invaluable insight into the impact of your programme. Although often removed as part of budget cuts, a robust ROI model will include an element of independent research. The key to proving just how successful experiential marketing can be is to build measurements into your programming from the outset and to keep revisiting new and inventive ways of adding to those basic ROI measures. 

Claire Stokes, managing director, the Circle Agency

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