There are a lot of important dates circled on a marketer’s 2015 calendar. April is Marketing Week Live, September is the Rugby World Cup and 21 October is Back to the Future day.
In keeping with Back to the Future, let us jump into a marketing time machine and set the flux capacitor to 1999. It was a world when the only digital issue a marketer had to consider was whether the millennium bug would destroy the office. Experiential marketing was a commonplace and popular tool, perceived as high expense, but high value.
The successful execution of an experiential campaign included glossy brand or product collateral and a few questionably tanned ladies offering a free sample. The results? Mutual back slapping amongst the marketing department, and head-scratching financial directors, wondering what exactly was the return on the outlay.
Fast forward to a time where the financial world has collapsed, financial directors are scrutinising and cutting marketing budgets, and social media is offering a cheap and measurable way of marketing products to customers. Experiential activity became a luxury, and one that fell out of favour.
In a world obsessed with measurability, marketers could easily show how one tweet could do more for their brand than a costly experiential campaign. As a result, experiential and event marketing have become unfashionable and the new buzz words are ‘digital engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’.
Now fast forward to present day. Marketers, retailers and service providers have upped their game – they understand how social media and digital marketing works for their brands.
Digital has become an essential part of brand identity – if it is not on Twitter, it is not a brand. The upshot of this is that online marketing platforms are saturated, which means recording statistics that impress is now a much more likely proposition.
So how are marketers making their brands stand out from the crowd? By taking the digital leverage their brands have gained and enhancing it with a first-class, real-life customer experience and interesting and engaging brand touchpoints. In other words, we have come full circle.
Where does that leave us? Experiential marketing did not disappear during those technically charged years. It simply stepped into the background and, more importantly, learned lessons in preparation for its 2015 renaissance.
Experiential marketing in 2015 is almost unrecognisable as its past self. Gone are the days of bland promotional stands and flesh-pressing oompa-loompas. The objective of experiential marketing is to enhance the positive brand messages that have been instilled into a customer’s mind, through exciting, memorable and interactive events. ‘Event’ is the key word – experiential is no longer just a campaign, it is an event.
The focus of a good experiential marketing agency has, by necessity, broadened. As always, a good agency will have a strong focus on the relationship with the client and will listen to, and understand, the client brief.
The added dimension is creativity. A good agency is not afraid to be creative but has the self-discipline not to get carried away unnecessarily (and unprofitably) with the theatrical.
Marketers have all had key ideas drilled into them throughout the digital revolution. We have been told that customer engagement is king, the measurement of customer goodwill is highly valued and a campaign can be made or broken by its content. Each of these points transfers directly to the new and improved version of experiential marketing that we have today, and in turn, brings live brand experiences up to date.
Experiential is now a serious contender within any brand’s marketing campaign. Not only is it potentially a customer’s first physical encounter with your brand, but it informs and enhances every other element of your marketing mix.
A memorable and engaging live event engenders goodwill and inevitably receives good reviews. It also encourages dwell time – every second that a consumer is focussed on your brand takes you closer to a sale.
The benefits of an experiential campaign for a brand are endless. The value of a weekend spent in a busy shopping centre or city square is perceived as high again. An innovative guerrilla brand experience is worth even more, but it is not just for individual brands or products.
A shopping centre client recently briefed my agency to create a campaign to increase footfall and counteract negative TripAdvisor reviews. We provided the necessary tweaks to its social media tone of voice, and its print and creative. Additionally and more crucially, we gave its customers a chance to experience the brand that the shopping centre aspired to be.
We took the central shopping centre space during a busy school holiday, traditionally sold for ancillary revenue, and transformed it into a full-size farmyard, complete with animatronic animals and bright, eye-catching decorations.
Why would a shopping mall in a central urban location relate to a farmyard, you may ask. But that’s the wrong question, because people connected with the idea. Children were entertained by free storytelling and arts and crafts, and adults were presented with innovatively packaged messages about late-night shopping and sales, while being asked what they liked and disliked about the venue.
The result? Happy families that will talk about the venue, tweet about the venue, and, most importantly, spend time and money in the venue – priceless quantitative and qualitative customer data. And, because it remains paramount to put stats on a bottom line, venue footfall increased by 28% year on year and retail sales increased in excess of 60%.
Marketers and brand managers understand that the human touch is essential regardless of brand size. Yes, it is only one part of the marketing mix but it is now an unmissable and essential one.
Experiential is back in fashion. All of its prior shortcomings have been addressed by lessons learned from other tools in the mix. Marketing managers are once again taking their brands on the road and capitalising on the unchanging truth that good word-of-mouth reviews and brand reputation are invaluable.