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Well, has it? Could the Bellwether be any clearer? Live engagement, brand experience, experiential – call it what you will – has risen to the top of the marketing mix but is it merely en vogue or has it become mainstream?
Itch Experience founder Mike White states:"Mainstream is a big word, but experiences have always been mainstream for as long as I remember – just look at the festival market. However, I think the demand from consumers not to be sold to has meant that experiential has become a necessity. I still get comments from brands that experiential is ‘expensive’ and it is still one of the first channels to get cut."
And building towards brand experiences as a necessity can only come if clients themselves believe their objectives can be delivered effectively. George P. Johnson managing director Jason Megson believes clients will start to think brand experience first:"The most progressive already are and then the rest will be up to us as an industry to ensure that our ideas are not only creatively brilliant, but also truly deliver against objectives. Without effectiveness we’re at risk of reinforcing the myth that we are a specialist and expensive marketing tactic, as opposed to a communications imperative."
Sharon Richey, CEO of agency Because, agrees: "Ramping it up to achieve the same level of exposure that broadcast has becomes very expensive. Digital needs to be really rooted within the consumer journey and you need to have as big a budget for digital as for the live event.
"Only those ideas that are great live and online achieve the same reach that mainstream marketing does. What can go wrong is when stunts like floating something down the Thames get championed – there is a job to be done where agencies need to be a bit more transparent on the returns with clients."
Indeed, many believe the measurement impact will continue to stand in the way of brand experiences
being taken seriously.Wasserman’s Paul Saville explains: "The biggest barrier is measuring the business impact experiences can deliver. We are behind other disciplines and need to work hard to justify the larger budgets we aspire to."
World of Initials head of live engagement Rachel Bateman agrees:"One of experiential’s historic al Achilles heel is ROI. However, fuelled by social and digital, campaigns can now increase their reach through engaging content."
Michael Wyrley-Birch, chief operating officer of agency TRO, believes experiential is starting to drive the marketing agenda due to consumers’ thirst for authentic brand messaging."Consumers are increasingly cynical of brand promises and are looking for the authentic story behind the marketing hype. It’s not enough to hear the product USP or marketing strapline – instead, we want to try to decide if we like the product for ourselves.We want to know what a brand stands for and have belief in the product before we become true fans,"he says.
"Brand experience is where brands are exposed, authentic and real. Whether you’re tasting it, testing it, trying it on or sitting in it – there is no escaping what that brand is truly about. From here consumers can make up their own minds about a brand, having had a genuine experience of it. And, if we’ve done our job really well – by targeting the right people, at the right time, with the right product and the right experience – they will go on to share that experience with others, helping to do the marketing on our behalf."
The age of experience
Much has been documented about the next generation of consumers being the most ethically aware when it comes to brand choices, and as such, this need to experience will become all the more prevalent. As Sense managing director Nick Adams explains:"In the future it will be the
norm, as the new breed of consumer has grown up with brand experiences. Experiential will become more ingrained and will just be how brands do their marketing."
RPM's founder HUgh Robertson states: "Arguably, much of traditional advertising has an experiential element at its heart. You only have to look at Smirnoff Night Life Exchange Project and many more to see that putting the consumer at the heart of your brand campaign is a winning combination."
ID managing director Emma Ede agrees: "We now live in the era of experience. Social media has shattered the barrier between personal and public life for good and new technology enables us to do just about anything we want. Consumers no longer want to be fed content, but would rather create their own via shared experiences. The experiential industry will only get bigger and become more integrated with other marketing disciplines."
"Experiential is no longer an add-on," believes Jack Morton Worldwide’s managing director Mike Kunheim. "Brands recognise its ability to not just fuel advocacy, but also to grow brand loyalty – experiential can provide the proof of the brand promise. In an era where so many brands need to build trust, this is increasingly vital."
Campaigns of the future
Several agencies highlighted the rise in the number of university courses focusing on experiential as a healthy indicator for the future, and pointed to the increased focus from trade bodies, including the IPM and the MAA, enhancing the service they offer members and content covered as a sign of interest in the market. So, mainstream or not, the agencies and brands interviewed for this year’s report believe brand experiences will feature in the most engaging campaigns of the future.
"Many of the best and most innovative campaigns now have a brand experience at their heart, as most savvy marketers now recognise the value our discipline brings, above and beyond the straightforward trial model of our past," says Circle Agency founder and managing director Claire Stokes. "Experiential is about driving two-way conversations, feedback and even product development. It can be used to drive and generate social content, which both engages your primary audience and encourages secondary engagement with peers in a way that most disciplines cannot match."
And the surge in social and digital campaigns has in turn fuelled the growth in live experiences, complementing measurement metrics and providing added content for brands looking to extend
the lifeline of a campaign. Stokes concludes:"People will always engage with people. That is a fundamental truth, even more so as online is replacing mainstream media in a way that is more targeted and cost effective. Our desire as humans to create social currency via new experiences will always mean real-life brand engagement has an advantage – we create personal stories that drive much more interesting value to those who participate, and these are the kind of conversations that don’t expire at the end of a campaign."
Mainstream or otherwise, there has never been a more exciting time for experiential.