Media Week Essay - Experiential

LONDON - Experiential marketing looked set to become one of the biggest growth areas in marketing, but will the economic climate cause a shift away from spending in this area?

James Long: media and data services director for Bounty
James Long: media and data services director for Bounty

In these difficult financial times, when consumers are re-evaluating their choices and increasingly susceptible to brand switching, product sampling can cut through the noise, providing the perfect opportunity to take advantage of brand promiscuity.

However, the reality is that knowing exactly which consumers are reviewing their brand preferences is critical to successful sampling, as is proving return on investment.

Although advertising continues to take the lion's share of marketing budgets, the media landscape is fragmenting and companies are embracing alternative forms of communication, particularly experience-based forms of marketing.

A good "brand experience" can enhance brand values and create greater trust and confidence through a two-way engagement between consumer and brand.

Marketing mix

Most marketing budget holders view experiential marketing as an effective part of their marketing mix and are moving a greater proportion of their marketing budgets towards the channel.

This is because clients are starting to recognise that experiential marketing offers advantages over other marketing tools in terms of building brand loyalty and encouraging word of mouth.

Experiential can even provide better return on investment than other marketing activities.

However, to achieve good ROI and for experiential activities to be effective, it is essential that you reach your target audience accurately, with minimal wastage and significant levels of coverage.

Take sampling, for example. While many marketers agree this method works, the biggest hurdle for sampling as an experiential marketing discipline is that it lacks effective measurement tools in comparison with traditional media, causing it to be perceived as a tactical, rather than a strategic, discipline.

That said, marketers are growing frustrated with traditional media because they don't always provide the most effective, long-term relationship-building platforms that today's brands need.

However, with marketing spend increasingly channelled towards enabling consumers to experience a brand, the focus on effectiveness and measurability is growing, as marketers and brand owners demand to understand and prove exactly what experiential marketing is achieving for them.

One challenge is that levels of awareness and understanding of experiential marketing are relatively low among senior global marketers.

Although it is accepted that the ability to engage with the consumer offers brands a clear advantage, experiential ROI measurement has always tended to be informal, relying upon customer feedback and sales uplifts.

Sales uplifts are often helped by the immediacy of the activity and current measurement tools have certainly not kept pace with the industry's growth.

However, because experiential marketing can be expensive to implement and needs a strong commitment in terms of resources, the evaluation of the medium has to become more sophisticated if the discipline is to realise its fullest potential.

Reciprocal relationship

To successfully use experiential marketing, which is all about strategy, planning and creating the right experience for the right people, you need to ask whether the activity is aligned to the brand values and the experience creates a reciprocal relationship.

Other considerations include fitting the timing of the activity in with the key triggers that lead to point of market entry and point of market change among your target consumers and what controls you have over the experiential channel.

Reaching the right audience at the right time, with a larger reach than your competitors, provides the missing link brands are looking for to improve ROI.

The marketing industry also needs to embrace the opportunity to challenge traditional media in terms of proving ROI, so levelling the playing field. Only then will experiential marketing have its best chance of continuing its growth well into the future.

However, it is unlikely that traditional media will lose out as experiential becomes more mainstream. Instead, the two will need to work together to achieve maximum impact and provide as many opportunities as possible for consumers to interact with brands.

Experiential marketing is a young industry, which is experiencing natural growing pains as more and more marketers realise its value and its potential position in the marketing mix.

One thing is certain, however: experiential marketing will need to ensure that standards are kept high and levels of best practice are established in order to safeguard its reputation.

James Long, media and data services director, Bounty

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