This article originally appeared in Admap.
It's a simple human truth that if someone says they are going to do something and don't follow through with an action, we tend to lose respect and trust them less. It's the same for brands whose words today are hollower than ever before without actions. Consumers see through brands: they want interaction; they want to participate; they want to create; they want purposeful, meaningful and entertaining brands; they want an experience.
At the beginning of RPM's 24-year history, the agency was seen somewhat as the hippies in the marketing industry, but in the age of the Experience Economy, we are seeing more creative pointing to the experiential space. Experiential marketing today is all about creating brand actions and going beyond what straplines can only say. Brands are defining themselves more and more by actions – from those that are inherent to the brand's DNA, or to more abstract areas of passion and social purpose. The Meaningful Brands study by Havas Group claims people wouldn't care if 74% of the brands they use just disappeared, and that 75% of us expect brands to make more of a contribution to our wellbeing and quality of life, yet only 40% believe brands are doing so. Experiential is a very credible channel for creating meaningful connections and bringing to life the actions that define a brand.
I can't recall ever seeing an ad for Hendrick's Gin; however, mentally, I understand its brand world as my mind conjures up quirky Victorian Britishness with china tea services, cucumber sandwiches and even bathtubs. All too often, when we develop experiential campaigns, there is nothing much to go on other than words on a page and a flat visual. But brands are starting to understand the physical aspects that build in the mind and how to better define what they are. Although Red Bull has its quirky illustrative ads, it differs from the more instant mental associations of extreme sports - from Fl racing and soap box derbies to BMX shows and even space jumps. I know its world and who it is in terms of culture. 'Brand worlds' are key to defining who your brand is out in the world, what space and time it occupies in culture and what that looks like, feels like and even tastes and smells like. It is fundamental to creating experiential platforms, but also further strengthens a brand in the mind of the consumer across any media. Hendrick's Gin is multisensorial by nature but it could have just made an ad. A brand world should be a rich emotional space in which people can understand and fall in love with your brand.
According to studies by McKinsey, experiential is the largest driver of word of mouth, accounting for 50-80% in any given product category. Some 75% of consumers only advocate brands with whom they have great personal experiences. Seventy-five per cent of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends, but only 10% trust advertising. Furthermore, word of mouth from friends or family is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. When it comes to an experiential brand experience, 95% specifically mention to their friends and/or family the brand or products promoted. When I consider these sorts of statistics, I wonder why marketers don't make more of experiential marketing. Working with Virgin Holidays retail, who have a quite intangible product when it comes to sales (you can't physically touch or feel it until you go on holiday), we created 'more mojo' holiday experiences, which bring to life a multisensory experience uniting brand and holiday destinations to deliver an immersive brand experience. These experiential campaigns, so rich in emotion, also return sales several times over during the live days. When you consider the lengthy decision journey of budgeting and buying a holiday, it's quite impressive to drive such impulsive behaviour.
Experiential marketing has, typically, centred on events and live activation over the years; however, as retail divides further into convenience-led or experience-led, we are seeing more destination experiential retail concepts that bring to life the brand world – Lego, Rapha Cafe and Samsung 837, to name a few. We are seeing new product innovation centred on the experience and brands defining themselves through experience, rather than the product, such as Guinness Open Gate Brewery and the Brewers Project – going from being known as a beer to being known as a brewer.
To support its sun cream portfolio, Nivea tapped into the insight that kids love the beach but not applying sun block. On the beaches of Brazil, it gave out the Nivea Doll, designed to teach kids about applying sun cream, and which sunburns when exposed to sunlight without protection. Not only does this create conversations among mums with family and friends, it also provides a long-term lasting memory with a toy that becomes part of the family.
Experiential marketing has developed considerably during the many years RPM has been in business. In the early days, it was mainly about sampling campaigns across muddy fields and busy high streets, while running brand roadshows across the country. Admittedly, there is something almost romantic about working in experiential marketing, as what we produce is more than screens and boards, it's real-life experience. Experiential taps into the five senses beyond sight and sound, to include the less-explored areas of marketing – taste, touch and smell. As an industry, we are yet to properly explore all five senses, which seems archaic. Experiential marketing was born for the Experience Economy in which we now live, which is why today marketers talk about the brand experience with products at the heart, and more and more brands and agencies are wanting to define themselves through experiential marketing. The problem is, there are few brands – and agencies for that matter – with actual experience.
Appealing to communities of interest
Rather than thinking 'what's my standout idea and where is the place with the highest footfall I can activate?', it's important to find cultural relevance through people's passion points. It's vital to listen to what they like to share, see where they want to spend their time and understand the trends forming and altering the passion point. Take Sky's cycling programme Sky Ride, which we worked on. On face value, you may wonder why the passion of cycling is relevant for the brand, but when you consider the brand's issues with decision-maker mums who see Sky as a big corporate, know it for Premiership football and movies and don't want their family sitting on the sofa all day, it starts to make sense. Sky Ride got millions onto their bikes, bringing communities together; it softened up Sky's brand image and created positive conversation with families, allowing them to be more receptive to what Sky really offers.
Through the medium of experiential marketing, there are multiple ways to create enhanced brand experiences – from connecting brands in the most relevant contexts, making them more distinctive through bringing to life the brand world and making brands promises credible and relatable. Put simply, it's a powerful way to help people understand product stories and benefits. This is especially key for launching new products and trying to change brand perceptions, when ideally you want to interact with audiences in more relaxed contexts, when people have time and space to take in the brand message. Living in a time of overcommunication and media bombardment, one-to-one interaction can really make a difference. It's important to understand the mind, mood and mode of people in the context of where they are, and blend your content with context to create the most compelling ideas.
Bringing to life the brand story can also act as a highly disruptive communication in a moment when people are distracted and busy. It's a must to ensure the right level of experience is achieved to sell the story. This is always a balancing act of depth of experience vs. number of contacts. It's possible to be disruptive with experiential marketing in locations where other media may not succeed. Take, for example, train stations: the amount of forgettable low-level experience sampling campaigns I have witnessed is phenomenal. What was it someone put in my hand last week with a half-smile? At the same time, I don't pay attention to the many Adshel media in the location either. Another all too common mistake? When brand communicators are unscripted people who haven't been properly trained and don't represent the brand. It's so easy to miss the depth required in preparation for good experiential marketing and the sector needs to ensure there are higher benchmarks to push on what can be achieved for brands.
Growth of 'participation' marketing
The 2017 WARC 100 study shows that the creative approach of 'participation and UGC' has overtaken that of 'emotion' from 2016 – a mind-blowing reality for the marketing industry that has relied on the emotional ad to guide the way. In fact, it increased 22% and is the most-used creative approach among leading case studies.
Social and experiential marketing are the channels that drive this. Experiential is an inherently social channel because it's interactive and live. Media Markt in Germany broke into the top ten ideas of the WARC 100 by creating a live bunny race that could be entered via a betting slip receipt from purchases at the store, with those lucky winners getting money back on their products. An engaged audience tuning in for a live event delivered to the masses via social channels. Ultimately, it's an idea people want to spend time with and share. 'Participation' marketing is on the upward trajectory but brands are still too hung up on 'what's my brand wheel and my 30-second ad'. To take advantage of participation and UGC, experiential and social thinkers need to be closer to developing and defining the brand.
How to measure experiential
Where experiential marketing currently doesn't help itself is in measurement. Often marketers consider cost-per-contact and numbers reached as the KPIs to guide activation, but it's all too easy to see how flawed this is. It only leads to a mass approach with low engagement, in which case you may as well buy another medium. Measuring an experiential activity is not always favoured by the creative because it can get in the way of the experience. It's important to bring measures in more subtly. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a good way to measure experiential activity because, as mentioned earlier, word of mouth is a key component to this marketing.
This needs to be baked into the experience and tracked to understand the actual impact of the scores. Yes, many studies have provided industry benchmarks – such as every interaction sparks five conversations – but this doesn't account for the varying levels of impact that are achievable, as it can be much higher. Of course, social monitoring can help us see the impacts as an additional indicator of success. It's possible to go deeper with measurement in experiential and create data subsets that can be linked to the broader brand trackers, so building a digital measurement facility is ideal for managing this process.
To truly harness the power of experiential, marketing brands must dare to break the rules to build the right internal culture and capability for the long term, to develop the compelling purpose and worlds, deliver experiential as core to the brand, integrated not siloed, and create a system for measurement that is simple to manage and track. And in the age of the Experience Economy, when the 'participation and UGC' creative approach has overtaken 'emotion' campaigns, how can any brand afford not to embrace experiential marketing?