Experiential. It is like the precocious child of marketing and often viewed as difficult by those who don’t quite understand it. Yet, those flashes of brilliance are universally appreciated by everybody (including the naysayers and doubters).
However, the argument over experiential budget allocation within the marketing mix is still very much ongoing. As we all know, above-the-line (ATL) still receives the lion’s share, although digital is fast catching up.
The Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report expects advertising spend in the region of £17.2bn for 2013. I don’t know what the figure is for the experiential marketing industry as a whole, but the top 26 agencies achieved combined revenues of £302m in 2010 – or to put it another way, under 2 per cent.
Experiential is about engagement. It means we actually talk to people and connect with them.
It is more than just awareness. It is about creating memorable moments worth sharing. Despite this, brands continue to allocate huge proportions of their budgets to traditional channels.
Experiential campaigns are expected to deliver results across the board. More often than not, delivering a great experience and a great story is not enough. We have to prove that sales targets are being achieved. We are supposed to gauge and record consumer opinion and at the same time, deliver a ‘wow’ moment for everybody who comes into contact with it. Entertainment, research, sales and content – all in the space of eight hours. When was the last time a billboard managed this?
ATL advertising ultimately achieves awareness. But it rarely goes beyond it. It may tempt consumers into buying something. But it is difficult to pinpoint if a single advert was the catalyst for doing so. It could just as easily been the point-of-sale literature or a product review.
At Hotcow, we recently raised a ‘what if’ scenario. That is: what if we flipped the industry on its head? If ATL media channels received just 2 per cent of available marketing spend and the rest went to experiential and digital, what would the marketing landscape look like then?
Quality of engagement
The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing. Experiential does more than just build brand awareness. It puts control squarely in the hand of the consumer, who will naturally create their own experience and share it.
One of the reasons experiential suffers when measuring genuine, long-term impact is that it is too often used as a ‘novelty’ in the marketing mix.
At best, brands might invest in a national roadshow which could see the brand experience visit a city once, maybe twice. Advertisers have long talked about the ‘rule of seven’ to achieve significant consumer impact. Yet we all know that when done right, experiential can achieve brand advocacy with just a single quality engagement.
If brands suddenly invested their budgets in the creation of a pure, experience-led marketing strategy with the aim of achieving constant quality consumer engagement, the possibilities and returns could be hugely powerful indeed.
But right now, this doesn’t happen. Instead, experiential activities often have a finite amount of time to engage with whoever passes by, on the day.
Anybody not around on the day misses out. Logic would suggest that due to the relatively small amount of live activations in a year, more people miss out on great experiential activity than those lucky enough to come into contact.
Imagine if 20 roadshows were to happen across the UK concurrently. How would we utilise digital and social to mobilise consumers to actively seek out the experience? Might roadshows instead become a week- or month-long event at each location? If so, could this experience offer different facets of a brand personality across a diverse range of key communications?
Focus of the ‘experience’
Any brand would readily admit that they want consumers to feel good about their brand. Why? People are much more likely to buy more products and remain loyal. Yet experiential often suffers from the dichotomy of the need to create an emotional connection with an audience and, at the same time, requiring an almost ‘retail-like’ expectation of ‘shifting units’.
As an experiential agency, creating a brand experience with multi-focus expectations, and then achieving those results in the space of eight hours, is one heck of a challenge.
But if experiential marketing received a level of marketing investment from brands on a par with traditional advertising (not to mention sufficient time for strategic thinking and planning), we could create increasingly diverse and sophisticated marketing strategies that focus energies on achieving a myriad of specific goals.
If branded experiences became more omnipresent within local communities, they could give so much more back. Brand experience projects would be the catalyst for a plethora of storytelling among the audience. Feel-good moments don’t come much better than a community getting together to create something wonderful. Anybody who has seen chef Heston Blumenthal sprinkle some magic among a local community will surely agree.
Coca-Cola could build a next generation of scout huts. Domino’s could campaign with schools to reduce vehicle speed limits. The point is that brands which have genuine community focused presence will reap the rewards.
Brands would also be able to extract much more detailed and relevant information from consumers. If branded experiences happened across the country with more sophistication and regularity, they could tap into the huge amount of consumer opinions, which could shape the way they communicate and develop their brand communications in the future.
The influx of marketing revenues would mean industry standard tools could be developed, subsequently achieving greater levels of measurement and analysis. Quality of production and equipment would almost certainly increase with longer campaign requirements. Staff would instead become employees and the standards of our industry would rise exponentially.
Until brands begin to recognise the true power of consumer experience and face their fears, the disparity between advertising budgets and experiential budgets will certainly have a big say in how our industry evolves.
Marketing strategies need to move away from “what to do” with a brand experience. Archaic “command and control” communications no longer work the way they used to. Instead, brands should apply “what could we achieve with no limit” thinking to experiential.
It may offer up more inventive and compelling answers.
Hotcow is an award-winning experiential marketing agency that helps brands to ‘be heard, be convincing and be unforgettable’.
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