How experiential marketers can raise the bar in 2018

Currently, there’s a lot so celebrate if you’re an experiential marketer. During a period rife with predictions of falling ad spend, brands are considering growing their experiential budgets.  

According to a 2017 report from Rakuten Marketing, 80 percent of global audiences say that online advertising hasn’t got any better with time, on any device or platform, which only highlights further why brands are choosing to take the route of experiential.

And it’s the same picture of growth around the world, with U.K. spend increasing by 22 percent, according to the country’s advertising body, Institute Practitioners in Advertising, and similarly buoyant statistics are coming out of Europe and APAC regions.

So, everything’s just great, right? The experience economy is booming, brands are seeking real-world impact, the creative industries are putting dollars behind new capabilities—really, what more do we need to do but let the good times roll?

Well, lots actually.

Sustaining growth beyond being the “bright shiny new object,” relies on the global experiential industry really stepping up its approach to accountability and results. I would say experiential is one of the most misunderstood techniques, and if we’re going to continue to build confidence from marketers, we need to address a few burning issues.

So, let’s explore what I believe are the three top priorities for experiential marketers:

1. Recognise that experiential isn’t a channel

Unlike advertising, experiential can’t be broken down into formatted executions—print, outdoor, radio etc. Unfortunately, experiential is a little more complex. For lack of a better definition, experiential is the art of “expressing a brand’s purpose and proposition through a form of real world consumer interaction.”

“Experiential” is an adjective, not a noun, right? It describes a way of marketing that can be limitless in form, idea and environment. Because of this, I’d caution against the labeling of campaigns, which applies to the use of “events,” too. Events are a type of experience, but this shouldn’t be the generic descriptor for a multitude of different live creative activations.

2. Embrace brand planning

Experiential planning can’t simply mean finding the best venue or maximizing attendees. It requires traditional brand planning. What’s the up-stream business challenge? What perception do we want to reinforce or change? What’s the core consumer insight at the heart of the creative concept?

For impact to last beyond interaction, our “thinking” capabilities and processes should be no different to those found down the corridors of traditional ad land. Think of a live experience as a piece of sophisticated brand messaging, no different than a 60-second TV ad. Every experiential agency needs a brand strategist, someone who is as important as your senior producer.

3. Measure, measure, measure

NFL player and coach Vince Lombardi once said, “If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.”

Experiential marketing has baggage, and bad baggage at that. Experiential agencies are often obsessed with anecdotal consumer feedback, time-lapse films showing the ‘event in action,’ surveys reporting that 99 percent of attendees said ‘it was great, we loved taking part.’ All these elements can be important to a rounded piece of evaluation, but are really not a clear indication of the attitudinal shift, the change in consumer behavior or the incremental profit generated from the experiential campaign.

So, let’s attack the myth. Experiential marketing should be evaluated to ensure campaigns are not only justifiable to the finance director, but also so that a “learn and evolve” mentality can be applied to continually improve next year’s campaign.

Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” methodology that can be applied in order to achieve this. However, in general terms, using qualitative research techniques is a worthwhile starting point. For instance, understanding consumer’s perceptions and behavior before, during and after an experience and comparing these to a control group of consumers not exposed to the experience can tell you a lot about the effectiveness of a creative idea in communicating the right message, to solicit the right reaction.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s fantastic news that experiential marketing is in such good health globally, but in order to sustain, grow and reaffirm its status as one of the most influential marketing techniques, both now and in the future, we need to get our house in order.

Sarah Priestman is President of Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Ad Week.

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