Measuring experiential could be easier than you think

I was delighted to see Ivan Entchevitch’s thoughtful article for Campaign US last week, banging the drum not only for the enormous value of experiential strategy to brands, but also for the critical importance (and massive challenge) of properly quantifying success.

To misuse our own film reference (this time from Field of Dreams), we’re a long way from the marketing glory days of “if you build it, they will come.”

Marketers are no longer satisfied simply by a great idea, and a track record of success. And rightly so. Competition for hearts and minds has never been fiercer, especially in experiential – with spend on the discipline continuing to rise each quarter in the UK (IPA Bellwether Report Q4 2017). What’s more, brands across the globe are planning to invest increasingly amounts on experiences (Freeman Global Brand Experience Study 2017) – and of course they want to know that they’re spending their money wisely.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ivan when he challenges the pre-eminence of social media shares, likes and click-throughs for measuring the supposed impact of real world activity. Sure, those simple digital metrics are a useful indication, but of course they only tell part of the story.

Not least, because while they often involve big numbers that sound impactful (1.5m likes, 120k email sign-ups), impact itself is actually far from present in these metrics – they are just not analytical tools; rather they’re measures of one aspect of reach. It’s the same in the physical world too, though – 50k interactions, 200k samples distributed. These are measures of volume, not value.

Set SMART goals

Too many people mistake a review for an evaluation. Evaluation means understanding whether you achieved your business goals or not, and in order to know that, you need to know what your goals were in the first place.

The best goals hit that cute little SMART mnemonic (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound) but at the very least they need to be quantifiable. Getting those objectives right is a whole separate conversation by the way, but the key point is that campaign measurement is not an isolated process; in fact it’s a process that begins long before pen is put to paper, before the campaign is designed. Experiential is a discipline with such a wide variety of potential approaches and solutions that it is simply impossible to define a universal measurement technique for all campaigns.

This is why it’s so important for client/agency collaboration right from the start. To work together to unravel the business challenge from the creative brief; the objective from the solution. Because, in the same way that each campaign has its own distinctive shape and characteristics, so each campaign has its own set of success criteria, and effective measurement lies in understanding them clearly.

Isolate the variables

So far, I’ve agreed with Ivan, but here comes the inevitable point of departure. I like his idea of a full attribution funnel (akin to the model currently used in digital advertising). It sounds amazing. And like he says, challenging and expensive, although not impossible.

Or is it? Sure, no doubt some yet-to-be-invented clever smart device / AR tool will be able to pull out the many different touchpoints that an individual, well, touches on their “winding and cross-channel customer journey.”  But will it ever be able to tease apart what each interaction attributes to the larger whole? Perhaps. But it does seem a long way off.

In the meantime, I think the value comes not from an increasingly complicated web of connections and interdependencies, but from the long established (and disconcertingly simple) technique of the good old scientific method: isolate the variables. It’s as easy as that.

We might not be able to build a perfect econometric model of the value flow of the experiential intervention. But who needs that when you can look at the relative impact of the action that you’re taking? And see if the specific activity that you’re delivering is delivering against the objectives that you’ve defined. Define what you’re hoping to achieve (easier said than done, but if you’ve got a clear strategy and a killer brief, then you’re probably already there) and then do the thing that achieves it.

Test the impact

But here’s the clever bit – you test its impact on the recipients (using robust research methodology of course – chat to the MRS if you need guidance) and compare that with a control group who are identical in every way, but just didn’t enjoy the same experience. You might find that, for instance, there was a 21% strengthening of the broadcaster’s offering of “cutting edge programming” among those who did the experiential activity.

Of course, you can start to extrapolate impact more broadly, taking into account the difference and relative impact of direct and indirect reach, but the only thing you can be really certain of is the change that you’ve elicited in your sample group. And taking it a step further, by going back to respondents a few weeks later, once the dust has settled, means that you can get a true read on the longer term impact of the activity. 

Ultimately, whether people enjoy your experience is far less important than their relationship with the brand weeks later, when the activity may be a distant memory.  This is the true influence and impact of the work. And if we can already understand the relative impact of each component of a brand’s overall consumer experience, maybe soon we can start to join the pieces together to Ivan’s extremely useful sounding full attribution funnel.

It’s only when we understand things fully that we can measure their effectiveness, and make better decisions as a result. And it’s only by working closely together that brands and agencies can continue to further our collective understanding, working ever towards that truly connected and effective experience for customers.  And if that means incorporating insight driving measurement methodology into every activity we run, then we’re on board with that – any opportunity to understand more and make the work better, for brand and customers alike.

Dan Parkinson is Planning Director at London and New York-based experiential marketing agency Sense.

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