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Experiential. Neither dead nor forgotten, but redefined

It wasn’t long ago that experiential marketing was hailed the future for most industries… but since the Covid-19 crisis, experiential is facing a seismic shift with many questioning its ability to bounce back and its place in the marketing mix.

This has led to a dizzying use of the word ‘pivot’ and multiple brainstorms debating, “how will we use [insert latest hot new ephemeral geo-fenced live-streaming video social platform]?” 

This kind of thinking could be true of experiential if you define it as a marketing channel that only serves up virtual events – or face-to-face experiences, such as events, conferences, pop-ups, sampling and so on.

However, experiential marketing is in fact a whole lot more than that. It is a technique that represents the absence of channel. It’s format-free – designed to be disruptive, relevant, and inspiring – meaning the creative opportunities are truly endless.

Experiential Marketing Campaigns During The Pandemic

Since the start of the pandemic, communities worldwide have been applying this experiential technique on a grassroots level, with incredibly creative results. We’ve seen numerous drive-in raves, neighbors in Ireland enjoyed projected movie screenings together, artists have been leaving rainbow benches across London, and florist, Lewis Miller, thanked healthcare workers through flower flashes in New York.

Experiential activation for brands is about adding color to somebody’s day. About truly standing out and resonating in a way that a 2D experience often cannot. It’s when a brand becomes human, feels empathy, uses humor, and says it how it really is. Something, no doubt, that we’re all craving right now.

An experiential moment with a brand can take place in many forms. It’s walking into an Apple store that’s designed to feel like a ‘town square’. It’s Patagonia telling you not to buy their jacket to help tackle the issue of consumerism. It’s Purina creating interactive billboards that scans canine urine for diseases. It’s the Nike x Pigalle technicolor basketball court that brightens up an otherwise grey street. It’s Google’s AR experience that tells stories of the Stonewall Riots. More recently, it’s Trojan’s recent ‘Rising Time’ cookbook which is designed to spark passion during the lockdown, and Burger King encouraging people to use their billboards as Zoom backdrops for money off coupons.

In June, we saw Babe Wine take to the streets of Brooklyn, with their baby pink socially distanced truck, offering free manicures to New Yorkers – and much welcomed TLC. The founder, Josh Ostovsky – the man behind the popular Instagram account “The Fat Jewish” – came up with the idea. It was designed to be a one-off experience, but the brand is now brainstorming additional locations, due to the huge amount of PR and social traction received – and lines seen around the block. This proves the huge demand for safe, real-world experiences and is hopefully a sign of what’s to come from brands.

Experiential digital moments have undoubtedly served us well these last few months and will continue to do so in the future. However, as people step back into the real world, brands should relish this chance to deliver unique creative moments to capture the hearts and minds of those craving life beyond the screen.

Taking this on board, the approach to briefing for great experiential ideas is this:

  • Keep the brief focused on the business problem – stay media neutral and avoid getting prescriptive 
  • Ask heretical questions about your brand and business challenge. Encourage your team to be brave and open-minded to do the same. Instil the mentality that no idea is a bad idea
  • Seek out productive tension. Tension makes people pay attention, especially in today’s crowded market. In a tedious world of routine, it pays to be different    
  • Never be afraid to think big and push the boundaries. Experiential is meant to leave a lasting impression so constantly test yourself, your team and the limits of your creativity
  • Analog and digital are not concepts that should be considered in a dichotomized way. They must and should coexist
  • Be agile. The future belongs to the fast

For brands looking to cut through and build relationships in this ever-changing world, the brand experience marketing agency must not forget that experience is everything.

Experiential needs a more holistic treatment to reveal its full potential. It’s isn’t dead, it’s just being redefined.

This article first appeared in Campaign US and UK.

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How to measure your experiential marketing campaign ROI

Without clear goals, experiential marketing campaigns can be wonderfully immersive and interactive, but without any measurable impact. Most modern brands know that a strong real-world presence pays dividends, but gauging how activations perform can be a puzzle. To make matters worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for assessing.

To run a successful experiential marketing campaign, you need to set clear campaign objectives from the start.

Then you can accurately measure whether your experiential activation was a brand-boosting success or a bit of a marketing mess. Here are some tips on measuring your experiential marketing campaign ROI.

Define your objectives

What do you want to achieve from your experiential marketing activation? Improved sales, signups, or sentiment?

Setting well-defined objectives are critical to creating immersive, impactful brand activations and then being able to measure brand experience. It helps keep the strategy aligned across all areas of your marketing operations. In experiential marketing especially, this integrated and simple approach produces the most meaningful results.

Some activations are carried out without objectives, because brands don’t believe experiential can be measured effectively, or they just don’t know how.

To draw real post-campaign insight, inspiration should be drawn from wider objectives. These objectives will invariably be either:

  • Action-based
    Perhaps you want to boost sales, particularly in one demographic or region. Alternatively, you might be aiming for sign-ups or engagement. This could be measured by comparing like-for-like sales or repeat purchases.

OR

  • Perception-based
    Your brand might be striving to change what people think and feel about it on a deeper and more personal level. This could be measured by comparing how many people agree with a certain sentiment about the brand before and after the campaign.

Strategic vs tactical

Are your marketing campaigns geared towards the long or short term?

Strategic

A strategic campaign is designed to enhance a brand in a sustainable way. It shares the values and purpose of the company with consumers and is the perfect opportunity to show the world what it represents and what it wants to be.

Tactical

These are geared towards achieving a quicker return on investment and often have a narrower remit. This may be to hit a particular sales target, elicit a desired response or engage new audiences (e.g. using the campaign to create a viral social media post).

Understanding which of these camps your campaign falls into is important because:

  • It helps you create a better experience

Just as matching your experiential objective to your overall marketing objective focuses your campaign, so does knowing the type of campaign you’re creating. Viewing it through either a strategic or tactical lens helps you to design its features more effectively and set relevant goals.

  • It means you can measure against the right criteria

Assessing as either strategic or tactical dictates how you measure its success and your experiential marketing campaign ROI. Your campaign may effectively communicate the best aspects of your brand to consumers, but if you measure it by its immediate sales impact, your results might look disappointing.

Shaping your goals

Once you’ve settled on your objectives and you understand the type of campaign you’re planning, you can set measurable goals. It may be easier to think of goals as performance measures that sit under your primary objective, and determine whether it’s been met. You can choose relevant performance measures by asking yourself the following questions:

1.What business challenge prompted the campaign?

What are your main marketing priorities and is there anything restricting your brand’s growth?

2.What will the campaign solve?

What’s the desired outcome of the activation? This should be your experiential objective; the thing that you expect to see an improvement in because of the campaign.

3.How can this be quantified?

This will be determined entirely by your objective and the kind of campaign you’re going to execute.

Some relevant performance indicators include:

  • Opinion change
  • Purchase rates
  • Return on investment
  • Education
  • Demographic shifts
  • Competitor comparison

For example, the skincare company Sanex noticed that their brand was viewed as cold and clinical. To challenge this perception, they designed an experiential marketing campaign to bring a sense of warmth and humanity to their brand. Their measurable goal was linked to the statement: “Sanex is a brand I feel close to.” The experience boosted agreement with the sentiment by 87%.

Experiential marketing campaign ROI summary

Clear goals are the first step to devising and delivering exceptional experiences. But a great experience shouldn’t be hard to measure.

That’s why we’ve put together REAL WORLD IMPACT, A Guide To Measuring Brand Experiences In The Real World. It gives you everything you need to know about experiential reporting to start measuring experiential marketing campaign ROI and guage impact.

Download it for free from The Futures Lab below.

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Mum’s the word for better marketing

Returning to work after maternity leave can be challenging for many new mums – regaining the art of holding an adult conversation, for example, for longer than the five minutes it takes the Tesco driver to deliver shopping, or learning to think above and beyond how many nappies you’ve changed that day. However, the real challenge lies in employer attitudes and the need for a mass culture shift towards more mum-friendly flexible working.

I’m one of the lucky mums who works for a marketing agency that values the important contribution we make in terms of skills, experience, commitment and loyalty. I’ve been with the business for 10 years (minus two years maternity leave) and my colleagues currently share 23 babies of various ages between them – almost half of the company.

Is the business suffering as a result? Hardly! Revenues are increasing year on year, and we’re repeatedly winning industry awards for our work. So why don’t more employers take this approach?

Research published late last year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed that pregnant women and mothers now face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago. The EHRC estimates that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year, and since 2005 that number has nearly doubled, yet only 1% of these lodge a complaint at an employment tribunal. This is something that the likes of top blogger ‘Mother Pukka’ is trying to change through her ‘Flex Appeal’ campaign.

The cost of this attitude to families and businesses is significant. British women forced out of their jobs – either by being dismissed, treated so poorly they had to leave, or made compulsorily redundant – could lose in total as much as £113m a year, according to the report. Meanwhile, the costs of hiring and training new staff, redundancy payouts and lost productivity after women were pushed out of jobs amounted to £280m a year.

With employers seemingly happy to blow millions on getting rid of new mums, you’d think they were actually a liability. Working mums are often said to be stressed and distracted – juggling everything but not quite managing to make it work. However, a recent Ernst & Young report found that women in flexible work were the most productive members of the workforce, stating: “In an average year, these women effectively deliver an extra week-and-a-half of productive work, simply by using their time more wisely.”

Studies like this show that it makes economic sense to create a working environment where women feel comfortable taking maternity leave and are encouraged to return to work afterwards rather than the current trend of pushing them out of the workforce.

Beyond productivity, working mums are, after all, real people and as such are a key consumer group that totalled almost 8 million people in the UK in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics. What’s more, research by Yankelovich and Greenfield Online shows that mums decide on 85% of all consumer purchases on average, ranging from food and pharmaceuticals (93%), holidays (92%), homes (91%), bank accounts (89%) and healthcare (80%) to computers (66%) and new cars (65%). This makes mums particularly valuable in marketing positions, as they are able to bring their personal experience to bear as the key decision-maker when promoting products.

In fact, in a recent interview with Bloomberg TV, Michael Roth, CEO one of world’s largest advertising and marketing services companies Interpublic Group, said this was a key reason for his business deciding to employ more women.

When it comes to attracting mums to work for you, the Working Mums Annual Survey 2016 revealed that the best ways to create a family friendly company were flexibility in terms of hours, home working and offering part-time roles.

But flexibility won’t just help attract working mums. New research shows that it’s also vital to retaining Millennials in general. The report from Digital Mums reveals that 73% of Millennial employees would be more loyal to a business if they could work flexibly, which is a major part of the wish list of working mums.

So come on employers. Offer greater flexibility to your workforce and you’ll not only attract Millennial talent, but also working mums – and benefit from the boost in productivity and marketing intelligence they bring.

Helen Bryce is Senior Staffing Manager within the Real People staffing team at Sense.

This article was first published in Campaign.