In today’s marketing mix, experiential is a widely recognised and widely used tool to create a deep emotional connection between consumers and brands. However, there are several preconceived notions, held by those who are not convinced of the efficacy of experiential marketing. It is, therefore, the intention of this article, to confront these ‘myths’ head on, debunking them to show why they will only ever be myths.
Debunking Myth 1: It’s Limited to Big Brands
“Experiential marketing is only viable for big, established brands. No-one cares about the average joes!”
Misconceptions like this help the household names like Pepsi, Coke and Sony to dominate the market. Whilst it is true that these companies have an advantage, in that their place in the consumer landscape is already well established, that is the point of marketing. The same rules apply in all its forms and is important to recognise in order to stay competitive in a modern market.
Experiential marketing is about quality not volume, therefore a big name and a hefty budget does not an effective campaign make. The ethos behind the medium is creating the engaging experience to attune consumers with the brand, rather than using the brand name to attract to the experience. In fact, it is likely that a campaign will have a negative impact on the brand-consumer bond if it is not a truly engaging, enjoyable and memorable (for the right reasons) experience.
By creating an engaging experience you bring aspects of your brand, which might normally go overlooked, into the public eye. This enables you to convey messages which would be lost in the noise of other traditional channels, like sponsored social content; or drowned out by bigger brands with bigger budgets, as with print and media advertising. There are no real “head-starts” with this medium, and it does, in fact, provide a springboard, for the smaller brands who get it right, from which to launch themselves.
Debunking Myth 2: It Only Works for Specialist Sectors
“Experiential marketing for my polymer u-bend design company simply won’t work”
Again, experiential marketing is dependent on the quality of the experience, it’s about finding a way to engage consumers. Whilst some products are more naturally suited to experiential marketing, the only limitation on this medium is the creativity of those who produce it. It is also important to understand the appropriate context. eventeem, for example, as a promotional event staffing company, would not benefit from handing out flyers on a high street. An engaging booth at a trade show however, is a much more appropriate idea and far more likely to generate business.
The key is taking your brand’s USP and putting it under your target consumers’ noses, showing them what makes your brand different. Experiential marketing can work for anyone, it’s all about doing it right.
Here’s two campaign ideas for sectors, for whom experiential marketing isn’t necessarily the first choice:
Firstly, an unlikely candidate, toilet paper:
If you think you have the softest toilet paper prove it; a relaxation experience where seat cushions are made from the brand’s toilet paper and consumers, unknowing, can take a load off of their feet after a busy day shopping. As they leave, they are told that the basis of their comfort was from your magnificent paper, they leave surprised that a toilet paper could be so soft.
Secondly a less obvious source for inspiring campaigns, insurance:
Think outside the box. A VR experience where the participant climbs a mountain, as they reach the summit they slip, sure to fall to a messy fate. However, they are caught by a human representation of the brand which delivers a message along the lines of “you’ll always be safe with us”. This campaign is fun, engaging and delivers the brand message in such an unexpected way that it will be hard to forget.
These two quick ideas are proof that experiential marketing can work for anyone!
Debunking Myth 3: It’s Expensive
“My brand can’t afford a troupe of actors and a live performance from Adele”
Process is completely scale-able, campaigns can range from nationwide all-singing, all-dancing installations to local sampling and leafleting campaigns. Again, the importance is to bring the USP of your brand to your consumers. A roadshow is an effective way of doing this at the expense of a team of brand ambassadors, hotels and a vehicle. In return you create anticipation for the arrival of your brand and an air of exclusivity due to the limited time spent in each location. The most famous roadshow being the Coca-Cola Christmas lorry, drawing huge crowds wherever it goes.
One of the main benefits of experiential marketing is that it produces brand evangelists. If people have a good experience with a brand, they WILL tell their friends and family about it. WOM advertising is priceless, as it comes from an inherently trusted source. In an age where news media is filled with stories of untrustworthy brands, experiential marketing presents a unique opportunity to set your brand apart from this.
A perfect example of a company who does experiential marketing right is Red Bull. Whilst I’m aware that they possess a monstrous experiential marketing budget, Red Bull have consistently pushed the envelope, steering clear of traditional marketing methods in favour of doing their own thing.
Red Bull are smart enough to recognise that they are not too big to think small, actively running a student ‘brand ambassador’ program, wherein these students run and sponsor events in their local area under the Red Bull umbrella (a campaign style now employed by a multitude of brands including Spotify and Smirnoff). These events cost Red Bull pittance, but they’re unique because they are designed and run by the students themselves and who knows students better than students?
Now I’m not suggesting you hand over your experiential reigns to the local drinking societies, the point here is that these events aren’t popular because there’s a few free cans of Red Bull floating around, they’re popular because they are, and have always been, well run and great fun, at relatively little cost. To sum up, you don’t have to break the bank to run a good event and, in fact, creating a reputation for running engaging events should be the final goal, prized above a ‘blank cheque’ budget.
Debunking Myth 4: Experiential Campaigns Have Limited Reach
“Experiential is too localised, compared to other channels the reach is poor!”
In the 21st century, we cannot continue to think of different marketing channels as separate entities. Moreover, a holistic approach is what’s needed, combining all inputs to achieve goals related to elevating the brand. Experiential marketing is a key component of this mindset, and is designed to be used in conjunction with other channels.
Firstly, powerful WOM (word-of-mouth) advertising, through the brand evangelists created by experiences, gives a much deeper, organic reach from a trusted source. “96% of consumers that tell a friend or family member about their experience mention the company or brand running the event.” (EventTrack 2015) therefore, the distribution network is already in place and the impetus should be on creating an experience worth talking about.
Similar to brand evangelists, user-created social content is extremely valuable as it costs nothing and creates a buzz around your brand, exposing the networks of your engaged consumers to your brand, again through a trusted source.
Going back to the holistic approach, it is essential that experiential campaigns are augmented by effective social media and content marketing support. As we know, the most engaging content is shared the most. Thus, in creating an experience which piques consumers’ interests, you create a source for engaging content which will last long after the physical campaign has run its course.
Take the “Unlock The 007 in You” campaign by Coke Zero, this fun experience challenged participants to pause their commute to unleash their inner Bond, a perfect way to build expectations ahead of the release of Skyfall. The campaign embodies the Bond ‘brand’ and more importantly, received over 11 million views on YouTube. Good work 007.
Debunking Myth 5: It Is Hard To Quantify The ROI Of These Campaigns
“Events are so nebulous in their effects, it’s difficult to calculate the ROI”
The first part of this statement is true, however the same can be said of all campaigns which don’t have a direct journey to sales involved. However, the benefits of experiential marketing are long-term oriented, creating value in areas which are harder to alter, like public opinion.
There are, however, quantifiable takeaways from this method. Firstly, data, consumers are more open to giving feedback and releasing contact information to a human extension of the brand over a machine. In addition, as this release of information comes after a deep engagement, the leads generated are likely to be of a higher quality. According to EventTrack, Eighty-seven percent of the consumers said they purchased the product or service after the event at a later date, showing that whilst not necessarily achieving immediate sales uplift, events can generate sales long after they have finished.
Additionally, using a social reporting service to quantify the response to your campaign on social media is an effective method of calculating ROI. Most experiential marketing content on social media appears outside of typical advertising channels: sponsored posts, promoted tweets, posts via the brand’s pages for example.
The content is almost always more engaging because it’s based in reality, you are reporting a physical event which happened, rather than a staged situation. Reality is always a more powerful influence than fiction when it comes to purchase decisions, as that’s where people live (mostly), and thus bears a closer resemblance to their own experiences.
The ability to identify with a brand is ultimately what makes consumers engage. Therefore, whilst experiential marketing can produce a wide variety of effects, the right mix of reporting tools and patience will catch the data.