Put experiences at the centre of your strategy

Live shows, demonstration programmes and festival appearances are not simply add-on events for businesses, they are becoming the centrepiece of their strategy, helping brands to bring campaigns to life.

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American blender business Blendtec doesn’t treat experiential as a nice piece of add-on marketing, it is the “most important and effective form of marketing that Blendtec does”, according to Chris Georgeson, director of retail execution.

Putting experiential at the heart of its marketing strategy has proven to be effective as, according to Blendtec’s research, a quarter of its purchasers first hear about the brand through its demonstration programme, which its puts together with experiential marketing agency Fizz (see Q&A, below).

It is not the only brand with such a keen focus on events. Adidas told Marketing Week in September that it is investing more in experiential activities that tie in with wider campaigns, in order to create “product experiences”. But is experiential a sound foundation for a wider strategy?

Measuring performance

According to an analysis of more than 50 experiential campaigns by Continental Research in 2008, spontaneous mentions of a brand increase by 71% among people exposed to experiential activity, and 67% of people go on to tell someone else about the experience.

Westfield’s marketing strategy aims to cement its position as a destination for shopping, entertainment and events, and experiential is central to this aim. It helps achieve business objectives to increase turnover, footfall and spend per customer. Westfield marketing director Myf Ryan says: “Qualitative research and monthly exit surveys show that when people stay longer they spend more money.”

“We don’t want to be a spaceless platform, we want to get out there and provide a service”

Sam Sims, Up All Hours

It runs a range of events including Westfield Presents, a programme of live music, at its two London shopping centres every weekend, as well as a new event called Music Cube, where an audience can watch live music from a glass cube. Experiential marketing will also be central to the key shopping period in the run-up to Christmas.

“The marketing concept is the ‘Christmas before Christmas’,” says Ryan. “Christmas is not about the single day, it’s about the anticipation. We will be further developing the emotional depth of Christmas through our events programme. As well as the ice rink in Westfield London, and Santa’s Grottos in both shopping centres, there will be a photo booth touring the capital, giving consumers the chance to appear in our campaign.”

By bringing the two London Westfield centres to life over the Christmas period, Ryan hopes its events-based programme will encourage people to visit Westfield for shopping, entertainment and eating.

‘Hands on’ marketing

Bringing the brand to life is similarly the motivation behind parenting website Up All Hours’ presence at the Big Feastival this year. The site, which launched in May, is aimed at connecting parents who are awake during the night with their children.

Like Blendtec, founder Sam Sims worked with agency Fizz – one of the site’s investors – to develop a presence at the family festival with an aim to increase awareness and encourage people to sign up for membership and newsletters.

“We don’t want to be a spaceless platform, we want to get out there and provide a service – such as nappy changing and feeding facilities – to enable us to tell people first hand about the site,” says Sims.

The Up All Hours tent also handed out goodie bags with products such as nappy rash cream Sudocrem. Having a presence at the festival has so far resulted in 1,500 members signing up, with just over 8,000 visits per month. A planned festival presence in 2015 is aiming to help increase these numbers dramatically.

Experiential marketing or “hands on” marketing as Sims calls it, can help to establish a new brand in the minds of consumers, but well-known brands can use events to deepen their understanding of their audience.

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Sky Ride uses experiential to collect participant data and increase brand favourability

Sky Ride reroutes data

This year, Sky Ride, which is organised in partnership with British Cycling and local authorities, reinvigorated its events to improve brand favourability and to also gain a deeper understanding of participants, with an objective of better communicating with cyclists afterwards. Working with experiential marketing agency RPM, it developed a more robust registration platform to capture data about participants.

Paul Barrett, senior cycling manager at Sky Ride, says: “In the past, people haven’t had to register, but the RPM platform drove registrations and encouraged participants to go through a sign-in procedure when they entered different areas, using QR codes that were scanned. This enabled us to more than double registrations this year to around 56,000.”

Encouraging people to sign in to different parts of the cycling event has enabled Sky Ride to segment participants in order to target its communications. Barrett adds: “If we see that people took part in the air bag jump, we could deduce that they are probably interested in BMX and can send them communications around local BMX clubs, for example.”

Although this information could be used to market Sky products to participants, Barrett says Sky Ride doesn’t do this because it doesn’t work, and that the aim of the event is to improve favourability towards the brand rather than increase sales. This year, the event has resulted in a higher customer satisfaction rating – over 90%, according to Barrett.

He adds that Sky Ride has ambitions to engage participants even further, with an aim for the next Olympic Year – 2016 – to include a social media drive bringing everyone’s stories together.

Continue the conversation

Brands that combine social media with experiential can increase consumers’ ability to purchase by 50%, according to research by brand experience agency Electrify. So brands that can continue the conversation beyond an event or campaign could be dramatically improving the effectiveness of their experiential marketing.

“Experiential allows people
to put a face to the brand”

James Chambers, Freeview

Digital television brand Freeview uses content to continue the conversation beyond experiential activity. Working with field marketing agency Gekko, the business is using experiential activities to “bring our messages to life in front of the consumer” says James Chambers, partnership marketing manager at Freeview.

He adds: “As a subscription-free TV platform, the other benefit of using experiential activity is having a touchpoint with consumers. This is invaluable to us as we have very few opportunities for any direct contact with the people who use Freeview. Experiential allows people to put a face to the brand.

“They can ask questions and it’s also an opportunity for us to show them how the products have evolved through live product demonstrations.”

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Freeview sets key performance indicators to measure the success of its events

But beyond the events, Chambers says it is important to continue the conversation through additional content. (See Top Three Experiential Challenges).

Experiential marketing is being taken seriously because results show how effective it can be. Many brands are using live events and demonstrations as a centrepiece of their campaign rather than just a bit of marketing on the side.

Chris Georgeson Blendtec

Q: How important is experiential marketing to Blendtec’s overall marketing strategy?

Chris Georgeson: Experiential marketing is the most important and effective form of marketing that Blendtec does. We use live demonstrations on our products as our primary touchpoint with consumers. The uniqueness of a live demonstration programme drives awareness, advocacy and purchase. Most importantly, our experiential marketing feeds both the emotional and rational reasons why consumers purchase our product.

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A quarter of Blendtec’s customers first hear about the brand through its demonstrations programme

Q: How does Blendtec measure the performance of this marketing?

Chris Georgeson: We measure the success of our experiential marketing on awareness and sell-through. The sales component is unique to our programme where each meaningful connection could turn into a sale. Additionally, we monitor awareness through surveys and social media response.

As a tribute to the success of the programme, a quarter of our purchasers first hear about our brand through our demonstrations. Whether they purchase the product that day or six months later, our live demonstrations are able to display the value of our brand. Our demonstration programme has built our brand where traditional media could not.

Top three experiential challenges

1. Making it count

Robust measurement of an experiential marketing campaign ensures that brands can track the effectiveness of events. Freeview draws up key performance indicators with targets against them, says partnership marketing manager James Chambers.

“With our latest experiential campaign, we measured the number of contacts on the stands and the number of competition entries because our objective was to communicate the message: ‘Entertainment. It’s even better when it’s free.’ We also aimed to capture consumer information, so we could contact them in the future.”

2. Branding the experience

This year, Sky Ride looked much more closely at the “consumer journey” of the entire cycling experience, says Paul Barrett, senior cycling manager. “We wanted people to feel like they were on a Sky Ride for the entire event. We wanted to split up our experiences and activations on the day.”

Previously there had been a branded central hub where participants could gather, but this year there were a range of experiences from route entertainment, to an air bag jump where daredevils could jump onto a large inflatable on their bikes. By having more branded areas, Sky was able to associate itself with the event more closely and increase consumer favourability towards the brand, which is the key objective.

3. Continuing the conversation

Marketers need to make the most of an event by ensuring that people continue to talk about the brand long after it has finished.

Creating content from an experiential event helps to continue the conversation around Freeview, he adds. “If we can create a fantastic environment for consumers both on and offline then they’re much more likely to stick with us in the long-term.

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