When we first set out to find the reason a third of the world's largest marketers are planning to spend 21-50 percent of their budgets on experiential marketing in the next few years (Freeman Global Brand Experience Study, 2017), we had only a vague idea of where we were going. Then, a new world opened to us and overcame our natural suspicions. It is a world of campaigns so appealing that people enthusiastically share them.
Very high-quality articles about experiential exist across the Internet. That is why I am offering a different point of view, namely that of an agency for which traditional marketing has been the bread-and-butter for many years.
The enthusiasm that experiential marketing brings to brands such as MasterCard, Bud Light and Microsoft is reminiscent of the 1990s, when the incoming tactics of sales promotions caused the same passion. Image communication had less and less impact on the sale itself. Large-scale media intervention required large budgets and, at the same time, a major number of reached people outside the target group. There was a need to speed up the purchase process and streamline spending. This was therefore quickly seized upon by brands that wanted to grow.
People who were literally hungry for any consumer competition were willing to buy any amount of products to win prizes - a car, house, holiday, money. All that was needs were a simple mechanism, strong communication and an attractive prize. If you had the right know-how and linked it to the brand's character, you were on a winning streak for the next fifteen years. We counted on hundreds of thousands of entries in most promotions.
Maybe some can still remember the Nescafe Mini, Bon Pari and their Mystery of the Wicker Basket, Rama with the Winning Festival, Cornetto with the Red Sports Car, Studentska Pecet and the first Octavia cars, or the search for a thousand crowns in Zewa toilet paper rolls. The prizes were such strong motivation that each of these competitions saw sales increases of 20-60 %, sometimes more. One contest alternated with another, TV spots filled up with promo tags, and promotional visuals were more visible than branding. Sometimes you saw dozens of promo teams in shops offering tastings and demonstrations. Every new and current product fought for its place on the shelf with millions of POS materials and leaflets.
Packed with events, the market gradually lost its attractiveness, and there was less differentiation between brands. Today`s small participation in promotions seems funny by comparison. Their weakness lies in the fact that the brands purchase loyalty for money or for a price, which in a society that has already fulfilled core values is a significantly weaker motivation for creating a long-lasting bond with the brand. This was also highlighted by research, which revealed that people prefer "being" to "having", and appreciate happiness more than financial benefits. After all, how long does loyalty last when it is bought?
Attention shifted to the novelty - the online world - that was shaking up marketing. A large number of brands shut down all offline activities and shifted their budgets to building a new, digital world, in anticipation of lower marketing costs. And so, while we gulped down information from the Internet, the brands began to chase us at every click. Traditional direct marketing shrunk to just e-mailing. The huge amount of e-mails led almost immediately to the creation of a 'spam' folder.
The advent of social networks has opened the door to a whole new dimension of communication. Mass networking on social networks soon showed its strength. Brands realised that they could reach people in their natural environment and that it was easier to get into groups and communities with a similar philosophy. So they started to learn how to tweet, post, blog… and measure the performance ever more accurately.
With the advent of Google Analytics and increasingly accurate measurement, we have become accustomed to the idea that an ever-shrinking amount of improvement is worth a steady increase in spending. Keeping the consumer`s attention in a world full of possibilities is increasingly challenging.
According to a 2017 report by AdBlock and PageFair Limited, 11 percent of global Internet users have installed ad-blocking software. And the AdAge survey found that 89 percent said that their online experience had improved as a result of blocking advertising.
Although the traditional event is a powerful tool that gives the brand clear credibility and the opportunity to communicate directly with people, the brands soon felt that it was becoming increasingly difficult to lure customers to open showrooms, a gala evenings, a press conferences, or to training for a new product. People know that when they come, they will be exposed to a one-sided presentation. It's hard to surprise them with something new that they haven’t already seen on the Internet. They value their time, and if they have to go somewhere, they want a unique experience.
The plethora of ubiquitous advertisements and the one-sided push-to-sell approach caused a drop in confidence in advertising (for fans of statistics I recommend Focus, 2015) and the rise of the oldest human motivation to buy: recommendations.
A clear message for the brands: Consumers increasingly ignore traditional techniques. Our exposure to social media and online advertising makes people seek true connections and create real memories. More than new tools, a completely new approach is needed to create a more valuable brand-consumer relationship. Brands must find a different path - less annoying, more engaging.
Nowadays people primarily seek experiences, and then share their brand experience and their products almost in real time. Naturally, this has opened up a more interesting path to marketing than the passive form of persuasion about benefits. This new way is more natural and more engaging. Experiential or engagement marketing is about action. Instead of telling the consumer what life would be like with the brand, experiential marketing proves it. It focuses on all the senses that create emotions and let consumers see and feel. It creates a link between the brand and these positive vibes. It lets the customer become familiar with the brand first, bypassing low confidence in advertising. The customer then decides on the basis of a real experience or a recommendation from someone who has experience, instead of a promise. In a world connected by social networks, it only takes a matter of days.
For one day only, Oreo built a room with large furniture that took you back to the days when the hardest nut to crack was how to get at the biscuits in the jar on the table. Add the magic of social networks and you've got a campaign with more than 100 million impressions.
Thanks to experiential marketing, people want to communicate with the brand and its products. It offers them activities that they not only want to participate in, but also do not want to miss. It takes the character of the brand, connects it with technology, and with a live event, as a starting point, transforms the narrative into a true brand experience.
Experiential uses the interconnection of individual marketing-mix tools in a single channel and leaves out their weaknesses:
The days of passively listening to presentations about product benefits and features, watching TV spots, clicking on bargain-priced emails or sending barcodes in to a contest are gone. Today, we are much more inspired by activities that make us experience something real. We want to touch, smell, taste, and personally evaluate the message content, and then share our experience with others.
„The best way for a brand to be remembered is to be memorable.“ Freeman
Verizon was able to get viewers directly involved in the Super Bowl game with VR. Results: 5,000 participants at the event venue, 140,000 views, and 3.6 million impressions..
Irrespective of whether the goal of marketing is to launch a product, raise awareness, or enhance brand loyalty, it is essential to get the audience to interact with the brand by engaging all five senses. Experiential campaigns educate, entertain, please, and engage. They make a brand memorable. Creating a platform for authentic content that arises during an activity thus has a strong impact on the brand's entire communication:
Experiential campaigns can be only a supplement to the current marketing mix or can become a totally new brand-building approach.
„There is only one valid definition of the purpose of marketing: to create valuable customer experience.“ Experiential marketing, Bernd H. Schmitt
Obviously, good ideas can be downplayed, statistics challenged, facts overlooked. One can be bound by both habits and numbers. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that the experiential is marketing that entertains both customers and marketers. That is why we have become marketers - to create brand activities that people love and appreciate, and that they are even prepared to pay more for and then tell others about. We want to distinguish the brand from others through creative campaigns while doing something that customers value highly - conveying experiences that are truly unique.
For this reason in particular, experiential is an emerging tactic.
„It seems that, going forward, experiential marketing will dominate—especially for hi-tech and creative brands. Marketing will be more about exposing audiences to experiences that transform them into brand ambassadors, and encouraging them to post about these experiences on social media.“ Custom media, Tokyo
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Jiří Macháček, Innovate CEO