The increasing importance of experiential marketing

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Now more than ever, marketers need to embrace the exciting, diversity of a LIVE experience, to not only lift a brand and its message from their competitors, but to bring to life a brands personality, its attributes; to ultimately make the purchase decision easier.

Historically, Experiential was an afterthought, misplaced and not understood; an addition to a broader marketing plan, almost so that a brand could be seen to engage this recently emerging discipline because it felt it should?

That’s not a criticism, from a brand marketer’s perspective, in those early days, what was experiential? Was it Field marketing with ‘personality’? Was it sampling? Was it brand experience? Fuelled with so many agencies using different terminology, no wonder the industry floundered and was confused.

Then the phrase ‘Experiential’ that had been in and out of favour for so many years, finally settled, uniting the media, agencies and brands across the industry; Experiential finally came of age.

Now, experiential marketing has now gone way beyond the pages of the marketing press. The wider business world has realised that, in this era of consumer power, an engaging experience can often be the deciding influence when choosing a product or service, across all categories.

This used to give marketing directors a bit of a problem. When the board asked them to explain experiential, many were unlikely to have enjoyed more than a brief flirtation with the discipline. In some instances, indeed, they may be guilty of a one-night stand about which they haven’t given a single second’s thought since the brand ambassadors got back into the van and the experiential agency’s bill was paid.

Yet as more and more campaigns prove, experiential works best when it is used – relevantly – at the heart of integrated marketing activity, because effective experiential is all about engendering not simply a brand experience but also a real brand relationship.

To create that brand/consumer relationship, marketing directors need to work in close partnership with experiential agencies/divisions. A brief flirtation with experiential as a tactical add-on will not yield the top-flight results the discipline can deliver. Of course experiential can introduce people to brands and prepare them for additional marketing – but it can do much more.

If planned properly, experiential can retain, reappraise, as well as recruit by taking a brand out of its traditional environment and challenging the consumer to re-evaluate it, turning customer interaction into a long-term brand-building tool.

That, in turn, gives experiential agencies a big responsibility. If they want to build the consumer/brand relationship and convince clients that experiential should be a core element in the marketing mix, they must behave like real integrated agencies, understanding – and helping their clients understand – how people navigate and interact with brands.

They must demonstrate that experiential is not just engaging and effective but that it also has real brand-building power which can include taking the brand to the consumer in their own environment, event sponsorship, inviting consumers to events – and even partnerships with other relevant brands to create a shared experience.

The most effective experiential campaigns are part of an end-to-end sales process involving data strategy, pre-event direct marketing to recruit the right prospects and post-event direct marketing to continue the dialogue.

If the experiential agency uses all these creative and strategic tools, it need have no fear of the Marketing Director’s inevitable question: “So what did we actually achieve for our money…?”

Brand experience lets consumers immerse themselves in a brand's ethos, and smart marketers now place experiential at the heart of the marketing campaign. Unlike the days when experiential was used as a tactical strategy to deliver short-term sales, live experiences now frequently form the backbone of an integrated campaign, with other media channels, especially digital, playing an ever increasing part; in amplifying the activity and ensuring an on-going conversation with consumers.

Agencies which use this approach are able to knock on the Marketing Director’s door with a great story to tell, one with a really happy commercial ending.

A key example from my own career (whilst at Billington Cartmell’s Closer) was Mazda. They wanted an experiential event to address consumers’ perception of the brand and to increase sales. Operation Renesis was highly motivational, with key brand truths at its core, but was also developed into a multi-faceted integrated campaign (including digital advertising and DM) to ensure the right attendees were selected. An amazing 20,000 people signed up, and they selected 3500 bulls-eye prospects. Post-event, they delivered nearly 1000 test drives (1200% above the normal response rates expected from a stand-alone DM campaign!) and 348 cars were sold as a direct result of the campaign. That’s experiential ROI – but it would not have been achieved without the framework of a bigger integrated campaign idea.

The Mazda story is not about ‘automotive’ but is a process that should be employed across all sectors. It’s about a way of thinking about experiential that focuses on commercial results. It starts with commercial objectives, and ends with commercial success – and in between is the award-winning ‘integrated’ magic of which we as an industry should be rightly proud!

Finally, it is about delivery. Brands need agencies that have an in-depth pragmatic approach to excellence. There are multiple facets to experiential delivery that are both constantly changing and influential from third party and external factors.

Brands need to trust that their specialists can deliver an experiential advantage across these facets; such as an experiential insight, strategy, logistical expertise, venue strategy, promotional staffing, production and build, campaign management and of course reporting, evaluation and ROI…

ROI which is another story, except to say, when an agency gets this right and it is built into the objectives of each campaign coherently, this will allow agencies, to triumphantly return to their clients post campaign and potentially ask albeit more subtly, another line from Jerry McGuire, “Show me the money!”


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