Categories
Articles Insights

How US and UK perceptions of experiential are converging

It’s no secret – the past 16 months have been tough for experiential agencies. So, it’s thrilling to see live brand experiences bouncing back strongly. It’s also important to acknowledge and applaud the innovation we’ve seen during this time, fast-tracking industry progress and stretching the possibilities for brands, beyond what might have seemed possible pre-pandemic. The brand experience landscape is forever changed. As are the perceptions of it.

What does this mean for the future of experiential? What is the impact in terms of how brands (and which brands) are using the discipline, and how and why does this differ by market? Starting with those at the forefront; the US and UK.

The omni-channel mindset

Before the pandemic, US brands were more inclined than their UK counterparts to view experiential campaigns with an open, omni-channel mindset, looking to their agencies to create engaging experiences, regardless of the channel and developing more integrated activities. This forward-thinking “format-free” approach was not being embraced in the UK to the same extent.

Agencies could often be siloed or selected for their “specialisms”, and briefs were often more prescriptive, at times stifling the creative possibilities. The same brand types would incorporate brand experiences into their annual plans in the UK, in a somewhat formulaic style. While several of these brands remain on the experiential sidelines, we’re seeing the challengers stepping forward, with a more flexible, open-minded approach. Fully embracing the lull, or lethargy, from their big-brand competitors.

As US brands emerge into the recovery, it seems their hunger for this free-thinking approach has grown, as is their reliance and trust in their agencies to advise on the best and most appropriate approach.

Increasingly and refreshingly, brands are supplying briefs with no specific format in mind for their activation, willing to let the agency lead on how best to engage the target audience to meet campaign objectives. Idea first – execution second.

A cautious return

An activation for Henkel brand Zotos Professional (ZP) started out as a more traditional brand experience brief in a live environment, but evolved into a purely digital campaign, in order to deliver the best, most relevant and engaging experience for the audience in question. ZP was comfortable with the shift in format, so long as the integrity of the idea was maintained. It is one of a number of post-pandemic US activations being digitally led.

Indeed, the term “hybrid” appears to be the new normal, with agencies now able to offer clients the best of what went before, while also drawing on the innovation seen during the pandemic to amplify and deepen experiences. Live activations have a live-stream element. Digital is booming.

Brands are understandably cautious, so it makes sense that they’re leaning towards digital/virtual activations, but with more live elements being built into the mix than was the case a few months back. In this way, digital technology is helping to accelerate the experiential revival in the US.

There’s been a similar, if slightly more cautious, return to brand experiences in the UK, but in a more traditional way, with touring activations across the country still popular to reach consumers nationwide, rather than digital amplification.

However, there are signs that UK brands are taking a broader view. A recent survey of about 100 brand marketers found that 91% felt brand experience didn’t just have to mean live, which is unlikely to have been the case 16 months ago. So it appears that brands are starting to open their eyes to other forms of activation and potentially looking to their brand experience agencies to offer this range of options – just not as enthusiastically as in the US.

The contrast could well be due to the sheer scale of the US compared with the UK, forcing brands and agencies to explore efficient ways to achieve reach for the experiences they create, making PR-able stunts and campaigns with a social or digital aspect more typical.

However, by embracing a hybrid, omni-channel future, the UK will not only be able to rise to consumers’ hunger for experiences, but also deliver more effective activations that also acknowledge the acceleration of digital technology that’s taken place during the pandemic.

The future of experiential

It’s telling that YouGov’s tracker informs us that “boredom” and “frustration” are the strongest emotions currently felt by the British people, replacing “stressed” and “scared”.

Brands can meet this demand with exciting, engaging activations delivered in the most appropriate way, not only with respect to health and safety restrictions but also reflecting where the audience is and what they want to do, embracing digital technology and social media to build engaged communities united through experience.

US brands are setting the pace in this new world of experiential and, as if often the case, we foresee a similar trend emerging in the UK.

Sarah Priestman is President at Sense New York, and Nick Adams is Global CEO of Sense.

This article first appeared in Campaign Magazine, July 21st 2021.

Categories
Articles Insights

How to run a successful experiential marketing campaign

Running a successful experiential marketing campaign takes planning and processes, as well as preparing for the unexpected.

We’ve learned this the hard way from our 15 years on the front lines here at Sense. As with all marketing campaigns, your experiential goals should align with your wider brand and business objectives. So, to maximise your campaign’s consistency and impact, you’ll need an agreed process that your whole team can work through together.

Experiential marketing campaigns are different to traditional campaigns in that they always involve an element of direct customer interaction. This needs to be built into your campaign process from the strategy stage, because it’s often at the heart of the campaign itself. Every experience is different, but here are six fundamental and future-proof steps to make sure your experiential marketing campaigns have maximum impact.

1. Understand your goals

First, it’s a case of scrutinising the brief and working out the best team to deliver the campaign. What special creative skills and experience does it demand?

Once an initial team of account handlers, planners, creatives, production, and staffing personnel has been formed, it’s time to sit everyone down and go through the brief thoroughly. This is the time to work out what the brand requires, identifying critical areas. It’s also the time to question the client and partner agencies for any areas that need clarifying, and get any additional information. Goals are the grounding for every great campaign. We’ve waxed lyrical about them here, so have a read before getting creative.

2. Creative, strategic planning and budget harmony!

With your brief on the table and your team in place, you’ll need to work with everyone to build an exciting creative concept backed with a solid strategy, and all within budget – easy, right?

Your planners should work alongside creative and production to dig into consumer insights and build concepts. Alongside this, you’ll need to establish the cost of the experiential marketing execution, taking all elements into account. The live part of the experiential campaign means there’ll be one or more events to organise, possibly a tour. This needs to be costed as accurately as possible, along with internal resources, developing and producing the creative, production requirements and supporting staffing. And all while staying true to the brand’s goals. Carefully sourcing suppliers with the right skills and experience is vital, as well as negotiating the best deal.

If your client has set a budget in the brief, how does your estimated figure compare? If it’s higher than specified, look for ways to reduce costs without impacting the effectiveness of the campaign.

If you feel that the campaign ROI could be compromised by the budget, it’s important to make this clear to your client.

Key to this is the brief response…

3. Get campaign sign off

With the campaign planned and an initial budget calculated, it’s time to present your creative ideas. For many, this is one of the highlights and “big buzzes” of agency life. It’s arguably even more exciting with experiential marketing, as there’s more theatre involved.

Your pitch shouldn’t focus solely on the campaign, but rather how the activation will achieve the goals and objectives while staying true to the product, company, and brand. You need to give the client the confidence that consumers will get an accurate brand experience, because no other type of campaign has such a personal touch.

Be as transparent as possible and invite feedback. An open and honest discussion at this stage is vital to managing expectations and agreeing on an accurate budget.

A pitch should inspire and motivate while highlighting your true understanding of the brand. After all, if an agency can’t engage a client at this point, how will the campaign engage the target audience once it’s live?

4. Plan and prepare the activation

There could be a little back-and-forth after presenting the brief response, but once the client’s happy with the proposal, it’s time to flesh it out. This involves working closely with your team and your chosen suppliers to formulate the full-timing plans and get the financials nailed down.

Designing and making the key physical creative elements of the campaign can take the longest time, so this needs to be up and running as soon as possible.

Recruiting appropriate brand ambassadors is also vital. Rather than simply pulling them from an existing ‘staffing pool’, it’s best to source them specifically to meet the requirements of the campaign, so they perfectly reflect the brand. Your chosen team of brand ambassadors and influencers then needs to be thoroughly trained.

The location should be carefully selected to enable the activation to engage with the target audience and bring the experiential concept to life. If this is a tour, the logistics must be planned out and booked.

This stage can take anything from three weeks for a tight turnaround on a sampling campaign, to up to six months when planning a roadshow or live event. PR stunts and integrated campaigns involving other disciplines are more complex so demand more time to align strategies.

5. Go live!

No other type of campaign is as involving or exciting as an experiential marketing activation because it takes place in the real world and directly engages with customers. When dealing with real-world situations anything can happen, from a festival being cancelled to staff illnesses, so all eventualities need to be planned for and contingencies put in place.

Before live, it’s vital for experiential marketing agencies to do a mock set up of the activation (if appropriate) and make final checks on all aspects to iron out any last-minute glitches. Be ready to act on any problems as soon as the campaign’s live so they can be dealt with quickly and effectively. The account management team should carry out ongoing monitoring of the activation to ensure it runs smoothly, looking for ways it can be improved.

Initiatives need to be in place to assess the success of the campaign, from measuring footfall to interactions to social media posts generated. This should be based on the goals of the campaign and designed to assess whether they’re being met. The activation can then be tweaked while it is live, if necessary.

6. Research and evaluation

The work doesn’t finish when the activation stops. Once the campaign is over, you’ll need to assess how successful it was by measuring experiential efforts.

The key metrics put in place during the campaign need to be analysed against the objectives to assess true impact. Depending on the type of campaign and its aims, you might need to contact consumers who took part to assess their recall of the activation, how the experience influenced their opinion of the brand, and whether it generated the right response.

It’s often said that experiential campaigns are difficult to measure, but if firm objectives and assessment criteria are set early on, it’s easier to accurately measure success and ROI. This is vital in developing ongoing relationships and provides key learnings and brand experience insights that can be taken forward to continually improve campaigns. Here are some tips on how to accurately measure your campaigns.