BRANDWEEK ran an expansive special section on Experiential Marketing this week that included some pithy quotes from yours truly. Since this is a topic I tend to think a lot about, here are extensive notes from my conversation with BRANDWEEK reporter Michael Applebaum a couple of months ago.
Great experiential marketing programs
Experiential marketing comes in a lot of flavors which makes it tough to generalize what makes a program great. For some clients, it is enough to have created an engaging trial-focused experience during which the consumer consumes the product or service in a reasonably memorable fashion. For others, the ultimate goal is buzz, as measured by PR coverage, word of mouth or on occasion trade reactions. Still others seek to establish a continuing relationship with the target, so online registration becomes the ultimate measure of effectiveness. A truly great program, in my opinion, does all of the above and then some.
A truly great experiential program first and foremost is so appealing the consumer wants to engage with the brand. It is the opposite of disruptive advertising which like an unwanted door-to-door salesman intrudes into the home. Great experiential marketing is not shoving a donut in someone’s face on the street and then saying “try our bank.” To be appealing, marketers need to offer a reasonable exchange of value, during which the consumer gives up his/her time while the brand provides the experience and usually some free stuff!
Done correctly these experiences can have exponential impact which is important since 1:1 experiences can be pricey. If an experience is targeted at the right influencers, then these influencers will undoubtedly share their experiences. If the physical experience has an online component, then there is an opportunity for both WOM and a deeper relationship with that consumer. If an experience is sufficiently newsworthy, millions of other interested parties can be influenced by the event(s).
Renegade’s rules of thumb for a great experience are as follows:
- the experience is fresh enough that the press wants to write about it;
- the experience is relevant to the story you want to tell about the brand;
- the experience has legs well beyond one single event and/or one single communication channel;
- the experience is entertaining and enlightening;
- the experience is so engaging that the consumer wants tell his/her friends about it.
This is not about just getting attention. There is an old adage in our business, “If you want attention, put a gorilla in a jockstrap and stand him on a street corner.” This is about engagement. Mutually beneficial engagement.
Lots of industries are turning to experiential marketing
Food and beverage companies are old hands at this since sampling is essential to growing their businesses. Brands like Pepsi AMP go to extreme lengths to sample their product to the right target–they handed out as many as 5 million samples this summer. Alcohol brands are creating mini-experiences in bars, clubs and restaurants with extraordinary frequency across the US. Entertainment companies like to include experiential programs in the mix often with the hope of creating a “must see” buzz prior to launch. B2B brands are also crafting experiences with greater frequency (examples available if you need them).
Lately, we’ve been noticing a lot of brands pulling from the Experiential 101 Playbook:
- The World Record—Wise potato chips set the world record for most chips crunched at the same time at a Mets game this summer. Not exactly New York Times material but surely some pub out there besides the Guinness Book was interested.
- The Pop-Up Store–Southwest Airline is the latest airlines to set up a pop-up in Manhattan theirs being a café-like setting in Bryant Park. Now defunct Song tried a pop-up store in 2004—unfortunately the store experience was better than the airline itself.
- User Generated Content—a lot of experiential programs start by asking the consumer to create some kind of content. HSBC’s Soap Box and JetBlue’s Story Booth (both by JWT) ask the man on the street to provide their points-of-view. This “content” was then turned into ads and online communications. A smaller scale example comes from a small Canadian Beer Company called Okanagan Beer that challenged consumers to tell them why the brand should sponsor their events/parties. This content was then repurposed into a 360° campaign and sales jumped 30% — this is definitely on my list of “wish we’d done that.”
There are lots of ways to measure experiential marketing
As for research, there are so many different kinds of experiences and a corresponding amount of measurement tools depending on the objectives. We like to use Net Promoter Score on a pre/post basis as a measure of the experience itself. We have seen 30-40 point swings in likeliness to recommend a brand to a friend after exceptional experiences. In theory, every brand can measure the value per customer gained and/or the value of increased loyalty per customer. For example, if a brand experience makes you twice as likely to buy and/or recommend a brand, then one can compute the increase in lifetime value of that customer. That said, the math can get fuzzy pretty quickly. That’s why PR coverage is so important. Great press coverage can extend the reach of a program, making it more comparable to measuring the effectiveness of a media or PR program.
Latest trends in experiential marketing
First, mobile devices are becoming integral parts of brand experiences. An iPhone app can start an experience. An in-bar trivia contest answered via text messages can start an engagement. Mobile is part of a bigger trend to integrate technology into the experience and extend beyond the physical into the virtual world. Event experiences are often extended via Facebook and Twitter programs. Event experiences can be used to introduce on online extension, like Frito/NFL’s hunt for the most “fanatical football family.” And of course, social media is playing an ever increasing role in starting and extending brand experiences. An experiential program Renegade created for Toasted Head wine has evolved into an on-going Facebook program that keeps the faithful engaged.
Second, microevents are starting to get big. Royal Caribbean held 1000+ “Cruisitude” parties at homes of former cruisers. As I mentioned earlier, alcohol brands are hosting small events at bars almost nightly to engage their targets.
Where to start
Marketers are best to start with “the why,” not “the how.” If they know why they want to create experiences then it is much easier to figure out the how. If trial is key, then the experience can be built around that. If they are doing it to stretch marketing dollars, then getting buzz & PR should probably be the top priority. From there, we recommend marketers focus on “the do,” not “the say.” What is it that you can do for your target that will make them want to engage with you? Sometimes “the do” is just free stuff but often “the do” can be more substantial. Sports car owners like to drive fast but rarely get to do it legally. “The do” for BMW was a Performance Driving School for its customers. Road warriors scamper about airports looking for places to charge their gear. “The do” for Samsung was charging stations in airport terminals.