Don't chase impressions at the expense of engagement
A view from Paul Saville

Don't chase impressions at the expense of engagement

Too many brands are creating live experiences solely to generate social-media content. While this can boost online engagement, the events don't always provide that deep and special connection with consumers that skilfully planned experiences deliver, says Wasserman's head of experience for EMEA.

In a world that revolves around content, the combination of social media and experiential should be at the centre of a brand’s marketing campaign. We need only look at the IPA’s Bellwether reports, where both channels have reported sustained growth over the past two years, to see how important social and experiential have become.

The benefits of combining them are obvious. Experiences are the most effective way for brands to connect with audiences in a deeper and more engaging way – a way that is unparalleled by any other form of marketing. And social has the power to extend the life of any physical event long after it is over. However, brands need to strike a balance between these two channels to create a killer campaign – something they frequently fail to do.

At the moment, too many brands create live experiences solely for the purpose of sharing content through social. While this can bring untold benefits in online engagement, the events themselves don’t always harness the advantages experiential can bring. 

Brand experiences deliver quality over quantity. This makes sense if you need to persuade consumers to like or buy your brand but, more often, the people who sign off marketing activities require large numbers to justify the budgets associated with experiential. The mention of ridiculously high impressions from social media can sway clients in that channel’s favour, but this is often causing brands to move away from the true benefit of well executed brand experiences.

This focus on impressions over engagement is leading to the creation of more brand experiences that function solely to create content. We’ve seen this recently with the likes of Hungry House’s unconventional ‘gym’. The event invited members of the public to eat takeaway meals away from judgmental eyes during select dates in January – a month known for an increased pressure on eating healthily and staying active. As part of the experience, attendees were surrounded by fake gym equipment and encouraged to pose with it on social media to fool their followers into thinking they were keeping fit. Another example is Gregg’s upcoming partnership with OpenTable for Valentine’s Day (pictured above) – because every love story starts with a sausage roll and steak bake combo.

It’s true that both of these campaigns will create great content that will reach a large swathe of the UK public through Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms but they lack the engagement and value for which brand experiences are renowned.

And therein lies the issue. Valuing impressions over engagement goes against the true meaning of brand experiences. If a brand’s raison d’etre for creating an experience is merely to create compelling content for social reach, it needs to think again. Where experiential excels is in its depth of engagement and this is often tricky to replicate when translating the same experience into on-screen assets.

Take Bombay Sapphire’s The Grand Journey. The brand’s fully immersive experience ensured those in attendance had a unique – over one-hour long – interaction with the gin that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. This focus meant the consumers naturally shared their experience with others, it was not simply a gimmick that didn’t fit with the brand and that was created to forcibly encourage social sharing forcibly.

Magnum's Pink and Black launch event on London's Regent Street

Another great example from recent years is Magnum’s Pink and Black Pleasure Store and Regent St takeover (pictured). The brand got consumers up close and personal with its latest flavours. The result? A hugely successful campaign. People were prepared to queue for 45 minutes to experience the brand and try its new flavours and the experience fitted naturally to social sharing, thanks to visually captivating activities and the chance for people to create their own personalised Magnum ice-creams.

Clearly, if you create a great physical experience, its shareability through social will come naturally. It’s here that the focus should be. Strike the right balance and you can hit a sweet spot between the two disciplines that will make a campaign unforgettable and, more than likely, award winning.

Paul Saville is head of experience, EMEA, at Wasserman