Marketing insights specialists Pearlfinders announced in January that 54% more UK brands were looking to increase their use of experiential and event marketing during 2015 than 12 months ago.
It is clear that experiential marketing is increasingly important for major brand-owning companies, with many incorporating it – and even leading with it – in their strategic marketing planning.
As the CEO of an experiential agency, this increased interest in experiential is music to my ears. It means we are working with a larger landscape of brands. For experiential agencies, however, what comes with this new opportunity is a need to do more and to do it better. To respond to this challenge, a step-change in how agencies approach the creation, execution and measurement of experiential work is needed.
Playmaker may be a new name in the industry, but the two partners behind it, Square Melon, an agency group based in Belgium, and Tribe Marketing, based in London, have been delivering experiential and event campaigns for many years. For the past four years, we have worked together in the UK on campaigns for a number of big brand owners.
In Europe, we have been collecting and analysing data on the work we do for our clients, including Coca-Cola, Mōndelez, Unilever and Bacardi Martini, since 2002. Our database goes back 13 years, with up to 600 different variables. In the UK, where we have been working in partnership with Tribe since 2011 on work for Coca-Cola GB, we have more than four years of data.
So, how do we use this data? We apply sophisticated measurement and planning tools that allow us to create complex experiential schedules of the kind that marketers are used to in other media channels. We can analyse response rates, track the effect of the work we do and even predict the likely results of experiential and event-based campaigns.
That is how to ensure the work delivers against the clients’ real business objectives. That said, it isn’t always easy convincing clients that experiential is what they need. I am all too familiar with experiential being seen as an add-on or a way to use left-over budget.
We know that experiential works because we commissioned consumer research to explore its effect. The findings demonstrate that experiential is as powerful as TV advertising at getting existing users of a product to buy more, lapsed users to start buying a brand again and new users to try a brand for the first time.
Experiential also outperforms other media channels when it comes to imparting product knowledge, communicating what a brand stands for and, most importantly, building a relationship.
In terms of getting consumers to engage with a product, experiential mechanics are clearly the most effective. More than 50% of those surveyed by Playmaker spent between one and 10 minutes engaged with a brand. Nearly half of the people polled (45%) said they had bought a product after being to an experiential event, while 74% said they had told on average another five people about the product.
Experiential is also a powerful tool to convert non-users into users, light users into heavy users and heavy users into brand evangelists. In Europe, we have been developing an approach to experiential that we call ‘convertising’, where the focus is on using experiential for converting people in this way. By using our database, we can show clearly how increasing the budget for experiential to deliver longer and higher quality interactions, even by only small increments, can significantly improve engagement and conversion levels and directly drive increased sales and market share.
We have also developed a multi-dimensional model that we call the Channel Data Cube, which enables us to factor in the information from our historic database plus data from other sources, such as footfall analysis, to explore in detail how changing selected variables can further improve conversion rates.
Combine the knowledge gleaned from customer research with our database of previous campaigns and things get really interesting. We can take a deeper look into what happened at an experiential event. Include the usual variables such as footfall in different locations and the socio-economic breakdown; but then add time of day, gender, age of the target audience, whether the activity included sampling, money-off coupons, free gifts or prize promotions, how many brand ambassadors were deployed, even the sex and hair colour of the staff on duty. Only then are we equipped for true analysis and, in turn, better planning.
It gives us the powerful tools we need to analyse a client’s brief, their real business objectives and the target audience. With all of this information combined, we can put together an experiential strategy that can rival that of any TV, press, outdoor or online media planners and buyers.
More importantly, we can also highlight when marketers are using experiential in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.
I recently had a meeting with a major European cosmetics and toiletries brand owner. It wanted us to put together an experiential campaign to support an on-pack promotion where people could win a trip to an exotic location. It already had a fairly fixed idea of what form the creative execution of the experiential activity should take.
Effectively, what it wanted was purely delivery and execution. Yet when I asked the brand’s penetration with the target audience, it didn’t know – and when it came back with the figure, it was 2%.
Using our data, I was able to prove to them that experiential would grow their user base – but not when subordinated to an on-pack promotion that was about loyalty-building with existing buyers and nothing to do with bringing in new users. The two activities did not fit together and would not have delivered on their objectives.
Our arguments, backed up by solid evidence from our database, seem to have worked; the last I heard, the owner had put the on-pack competition on hold and was exploring other ways to grow its user base including an experiential-driven campaign.
There is a real opportunity for the experiential marketing industry in the UK to become more scientific in all that it does. As a provider of experiential, it is our responsibility to the brands we work with to have the systems in place that can track return on investment and prove – scientifically – that experiential and event activity can build brand love and, ultimately, drive sales.
At the same time, by demonstrating to marketing directors that we have the proof to back up our claims about the impact of experiential, we can ensure that our industry can take its rightful place on their media schedules alongside the other marketing channels. We should even be able to convince them that there will be times when experiential can take the lead in delivering against their business plans.