Experiential marketing has claimed its rightful place at the top table. This should be celebrated. Just look at how certain annual industry awards are dominated by experiential campaigns, and it’s clear to see how marketers from all industry sectors have embraced the once relatively new technique.
Whether as the lead discipline in an integrated brand plan, or as a vital supporting component, experiential marketing can being applied at every key stage of a brand’s development.
Many positive characteristics have fuelled this growth, but two aspects are especially relevant in today’s trading conditions. First is the convergence of experiential with digital techniques that provide another means of ongoing dialogue with consumers, and new ways to amplify a live experience. This has in part helped draw a line through any scepticism that experiential can’t reach the masses. The second is the capability to be reactive, getting impactful activities into the marketplace in the shortest of lead times, which in today’s trading environment, is becoming an increasingly important tactic.
And let’s not forget the creativity and the power of a live interaction. A face-to-face engagement between brand and consumer remains one of the most successful ways to effect long-term brand perception and behaviour.
So, all in all, experiential marketing is in rude health and long may that continue.
But how? Will the steady growth in investment we’ve seen over the last 10 years continue, and how can we defend our position in a marketing landscape which sees marketers constantly bombarded with new and different consumer touch points?
Fear of the unknown
Education remains an ongoing priority and there’s still a real need to get brand owners to reappraise the role of experiential marketing. All too often I hear about clients ignoring the most robust and impressive campaign results, in favour of a comfort factor that might be provided by a more traditional but less effective channel.
But a much broader challenge is how all of us involved in experiential package our discipline in terms of what it can deliver. This needs to be in a way that is more accessible to brands and media planners alike, if it is they who are recommending what marketing mix will fulfil a client’s objectives.
Let’s never lose the creativity and excitement of such a high-energy and impactful discipline, but at the same time, we need to ensure we never trade on this alone and need to put tangible results at the forefront of how experiential marketing is planned and sold to clients.
Much as a catchy jingle doesn’t secure budget for a radio campaign, brand owners’ decision-making mustn’t be clouded by a desire to see their brand on the proverbial ‘live stage’, however bold, engaging and altogether tempting the agency’s creative presentation. All too often I meet or hear about brands excited about trying out a new experiential strategy, but not fully understanding the commercial reasons for their decision.
Tempting as it might be for agencies to spend the budget, long-term growth of our sector has to come from agencies behaving with commercial responsibility and pragmatism in advising their clients.
Take a look at the exponential rise in digital marketing and some parallels can be drawn. It’s frequently debated as to whether brand owners are investing in social for the right reasons, based on clear objectives and measured key performance indicators (KPIs) or simply a desire to push their Facebook likes up by another 10 per cent.
My own belief is that some social media investment is a result of the bandwagon analogy but as the plethora of digital opportunities evolve, in the long term those which succeed will be able to provide a very transparent connection between consumer engagement online and hard, measurable offline commercial gains.
Experiential marketing has to leverage its maturity and become more strategic in applying our trade, offering clients greater understanding of what a campaign will achieve and if and how this fits with brand challenges and objectives.
So from the agency perspective, there has never been a more important time to scrutinise a brief and provide a quantifiable solution – that campaign X is going to drive Y incremental sales, increase key brand health scores by Y per cent, gain trial among X genuine new users, or whatever the hierarchy of objectives.
This month [March] marks the relaunch of Sense’s upgraded planning and evaluation tools under the EMR (experiential measurement and research) banner. Our planning for the likes of Coca-Cola, Sky and Carling comprises a clear set of campaign deliverables, from reach and awareness, uplift in sales to incremental profit achieved through experiential investment. This clarity and upfront account of the likely return on investment puts the experiential option on a level playing field with other traditional media, and helps clients make informed, commercial decisions.
Sounds great, but of course the proof is in the pudding. Evaluation metrics have come a long way from the days of being limited to sample numbers and footfall. Campaign studies can now track precise KPIs, providing brands with a clear indication of how effectively their budget has been spent. Taking this a stage further, ‘learn and evolve’ methodologies can be applied, allowing results from longer-running campaigns to be optimised through continual adjustments to the planned execution.
So is experiential marketing future-proof? I believe so. But this relies on agencies becoming more commercially aware in their approach, continuing to develop award-winning creative ideas, but ones which stand up alongside other forms of marketing that can be perceived as being more transparent in what contribution they are really going to make to a brand’s long-term success.
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