Hitting the road builds positive relationships

Experiential events can increase a marketing campaign’s reach, longevity and amplification. But brands must ensure such activity delivers a return on investment. By Maeve Hosea

Star quality: O2 ran a roadshow to promote its overseas calls

If making contact with customers in a positive and pro-active way is the touchstone for any brand, commanding a potential customer’s undivided attention must be its Holy Grail. Free from the interference and background noise of competing media channels, experiential events allow a brand to take centre-stage.

The O2 Indian Soap Star roadshow toured the UK at the end of 2010 giving thousands of people the opportunity to step in front of the camera for their chance to win a speaking part in India’s biggest soap, Pavitra Rishta. The experiential event, which visited Glasgow, Manchester, north London, Leicester, Birmingham, Croydon and Slough, brought together people from all ages and backgrounds to show off their acting skills.

But these shows must not be undertaken lightly, according to Will Kemble-Clarkson, senior brand manager at O2. “There is always a sound tactical reason to go out and do a roadshow because you can actually have conversations with people,” he says. “However, it’s something you really have to plan because when you are in the communities at the local level you just have to be that much more honest and clear with a solid and robust brand proposition.”

The mobile operator worked with experience-led creative agency PD3 on roadshow activity to promote its international tariff. It gave people around the UK the chance to audition and win a 30-second appearance in the famous Indian show, as well as a trip to India. It considered the target consumer and their behaviour in detail.

“You have to make sure that you engage the consumers on-site and give them something to take away and share with their friends,” explains Kemble-Clarkson. “We made sure we had a YouTube video channel up so that people could look at their and other people’s videos.”

The O2 Indian Soap Star roadshow toured the UK at the end of 2010 giving thousands of people the opportunity to step in front of the camera for their chance to win a speaking part in India’s biggest soap

This contemporary model of brand marketing has gone beyond the simple broadcast method and now encompasses listening to consumers and seeking interaction with them. Roadshows can work particularly well with niche markets or marketing objectives where you want to target opinion or style leaders, argues Patrick Cairns, chief executive of Kallo Foods and former Unilever marketer.

“Experiential marketing never makes sense unless you have a clear targeting strategy that involves heavy users or users who have a disproportionate impact on other consumers,” says Cairns. “It works well when you amplify the roadshow event, so you have a campaign and get media coverage beyond that,” he says.

Apart from the obvious benefits of having people on hand to represent the brand, roadshows can be more engaging and use more senses than TV or press – including touch and smell. Cosmetic brand Sanex created a branded space with many diverse elements where consumers could choose what was most relevant to them.

“We designed the experiential campaign Discover Your Sanex Skin to be able to reach different consumers with appropriate levels of depth,” says Claire Holliday, group brand manager at Sanex UK. “The scales go from a really in-depth interaction with one of our skin experts to handing out a sample with some branded literature and a coupon,” she says. “Those consumers which have spoken to our skin expert go away feeling they have had a much more personal experience, which will translate into a stronger bond with the brand.”

Achieving solid metrics for return on investment is notoriously difficult with roadshows like this, so Sanex was keen to measure the activity carefully the first time it ran the event in 2010, Holliday says. “I would definitely say that the first step is to work with an agency that values measurement of activity and is experienced in helping brands to create key assumptions around the activity, which can be linked back through to sales.

Greater understanding

She adds that Sanex wanted people to understand its products better. “More than ROI, we wanted an improvement in brand understanding among consumers that we interacted with in the experiential activity.”

While FMCG players may have to justify the long-term brand loyalty that is the prize of a costly roadshow investment, housing brand Plumlife has no qualms about the spend. “One lead generated at an event that results in a sale will more than justify the entire cost,” says Martin Dillon, assistant director, marketing and communications at parent company Great Places Housing Group.

“We’re not selling small consumer items: A home purchase is the biggest investment of most people’s lives and people need reassurance and a face they can trust,” he says.

Figure focus

40% of people are more likely to choose a product they’ve sampled over others of a similar price and function.
83% of shoppers who take part in a brand experience either make a purchase or consider making a purchase after participating
64% of people going through a brand experience go on to tell someone else about it

Source: iD experiential

Plumlife has several communications challenges, most notably the fact that many people don’t know anything about government backed affordable homes schemes or don’t understand them. “It’s our job to demystify these schemes in an engaging manner and explain to people how they can get on the housing ladder with government help,” comments Dillon.

“We see roadshows as an increasingly effective and relevant approach because people today are busier than ever and reaching them solely via traditional marketing methods is limited.”

With strategically planned and well-executed roadshows, brands across sectors can tailor their messaging to the needs of the individual consumer and their experiences

Soup brand Glorious ran a roadshow last year to challenge consumers’ negative perception of the quality of its products. “Customers were surprised that we could make a tasty product which would be available in supermarkets,” says Matthew Stephenson, marketing manager at Glorious. “Giving out soup samples [at a roadshow] is particularly simple as we can heat up and hold relatively large amounts of it. We can serve it very quickly, so at events such as Battersea Bonfire night we could serve up thousands of hot soups when people arrive and leave.”

Last year it ran a sampling campaign to promote a rebrand and its new range of ’Skinny Soups’ delivering 136,000 samples. The roadshow campaign drove sales with retail partners as well as picking up new business with sales to Goldman Sachs and British Airways. The activity reached national and regional press throughout trade and consumer media. Stephenson is confident that roadshows deliver on ROI. “You can immediately see local stores sell out and we have seen good redemption in store of the vouchers we handed out with the samples and sales have increased,” says Stephenson.

Glorious sourced an interesting-looking campervan from Sweden to give the brand an edge on the road and designed a mobile soup kitchen for the back of the van. “Using the campervan helped reinforce what the brand stands for, about thinking differently, having a taste for adventure as well as a love of food,” he adds. “Sampling in isolation doesn’t give you that lasting impression.”

Raising awareness

Healthy lifestyles might be on trend at the moment but there is still a long way to go for many health charities in raising awareness around risks from particular illnesses and disease. Diabetes UK’s roadshow vehicle gets to the heart of the challenge it fights against by offering free diabetes tests to assess a visitor’s risk of having or developing Type 2 diabetes. “Through this 5-10 minute interaction we encourage people to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and where necessary, make an appointment to see their GP,” says Olivia Steed-Mundin at Diabetes UK. “This is an invaluable way of ensuring that healthy lifestyle and prevention messages are received and fully understood by our target audience.”

Apart from the obvious benefits of having people on hand to represent the brand, roadshows can be more engaging and use more senses than TV or press – including touch and smell

The charity advocates the value of the activity because not only are the messages heard by high risk groups but they are powerful enough to encourage behaviour change. “About 90% of our roadshow visitors remembered that weight is a risk factor of Type 2 diabetes one or two months after their visit and 80% said they would probably or definitely eat more healthily as a result of their visit,” says Steed-Mundin.

Similarly, last year’s NHS organ donation initiative sought to encourage the general public to sign up to the organ donor register by highlighting the serious issues surrounding the lack of organs available.

Visiting 20 UK cities, the marketing team took the emotive campaign direct to consumers to provide them with a live interaction with brand ambassadors. This helped to increase sign-ups as people could ask staff complex questions.

With strategically planned and well-executed roadshows, brands across sectors can tailor their messaging to the needs of the individual consumer and their experiences. Well-judged, face-to-face activity can increase a campaign’s reach, longevity and amplification, which ensure the campaign messages are being heard and that positive relationships are built.

Brand in the spotlight – case study



’Pop’ card, a new travel smartcard from Nexus, the owner of Newcastle upon Tyne Metro system, was launched in February and is set to be rolled out across Tyne & Wear this year.

“We looked at a number of ideas for launching the card and wanted an event that would attract the media’s attention and reach out to passengers using the service,” says Nexus head of communications Huw Lewis. “The natural follow-up to branding a Metro train was putting people on the trains and have them talking about what Pop card is and what it is going to do.”

Regular Metro season tickets were replaced with Pop cards from March and over the next year a phased rollout will allow more people to travel with a Pop card, whose functionality will develop into a full ’pay as you ride’ option on the Newcastle-based transport system with stored cash balance on cards in 2012.

Nexus worked with marketing agency Smith Creative and PR agency O Communications on a roadshow, taking a branded train on tour with brand ambassadors handing out Pop T-shirts, balloons, lolly pops and information cards.

“In the past we have taken a bus out to do consultation events at shopping centres and other places people pass through – here we felt there was the same logic,” says Lewis. “They are getting on and off the train so it makes sense to talk to them while they are travelling.”

Nexus has not carried out formal research yet but says it has met its objectives from the amount of comment and discussion in social media.

“It is great to see how quickly the brand has become recognised and established,” says Lewis. “People aren’t just talking about getting a smart card, they are using the brand name and talking about Pop.”

Top trends 2011 predictions


Rob Allen
Vice-chairman of live marketing trade body Eventia

As with all other areas of marketing, the emphasis is now on amplifying the conversation with the target audience. Human interaction is important. Clever roadshows extend beyond the first-hand experience – the challenge is to get people to tell their friends about their experience.

Experiential has become an integral element of marketing campaigns, and is increasingly partnering with other disciplines, such as PR, advertising and digital to amplify its reach.


Chris Collis
Senior marketer at Alpro

The big trend has been towards one-on-one communication, particularly on-line. People do discuss what they’ve been eating and drinking, and trust their friends to recommend new brand choices. Roadshows can start these conversations and a good experience will have a reach far beyond the original sampling engagement. Alpro is a growing business and we will be running roadshows in the coming year.


Heather Devany
DMA Field Marketing & Brand Experience Council

To create buzz, more brands will need to ensure visitors can share their experiences at roadshows with friends and family on the brand website, social media and email.

Popular offerings at roadshows include exclusive access to anything from limited edition products to access to VIP events. The shareable, memorable engagement creates serious brand fans.



Saskia Stoop
Sales and marketing manager at drinks mixer brand Fever-Tree

Brands are approaching roadshows in a more innovative way. While we pack our stand into a small car to travel to the outdoor events we attend, the vehicles that transform into elaborate stands once they arrive at a venue always impress me.

Premium food and drinks brands are emerging every month so it is always interesting to see who else is exhibiting at the shows we go to.


Shaz Smilansky
Author of Experiential Marketing: A Practical Guide to Interactive Brand Experiences

There has been a lot of recent hype about augmented reality (AR) integration into roadshows. Simply put, it involves a screen with a web cam (or a camera phone) and photo recognition software. The participant can see a product or motion graphic sitting on top of the background or reflection that the webcam picks up. This has many possibilities and can add a really cool interactive edge to an otherwise relatively straightforward roadshow.


Ed Chandler
General manager, business development at MasterCard

The anticipated launch of mass-market near field communication-enabled smartphones will open up a huge range of opportunities for brands that use experiential marketing. They’ll be able to build more intimate customer relationships by delivering “hyper local” messaging and creating immediate sales through contactless payments.

In practice – top tips you need to know

  • If putting yourself out to a niche audience, make sure you know what you are talking about.
  • Get yourself in the right area for your target audience and that you have good footfall.
  • Make a roadshow fun, newsworthy and PR friendly so that you can get both the local and national media on board.
  • If you are going to get people down to your roadshow, make sure they walk away with something more than a branded mug.
  • Give people something to talk about when they leave so you maximize your opportunity for word of mouth.
  • New smartphone technology will let brands communicate with visitors more effectively.


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