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Experience marketing's marvellous medicine

What are the keys to a successful piece of experience marketing? Should it be big - or clever - or both? Is it best as a shared experience - or an experience shared? A group of experts worked it out.

We live in the experience economy. More marketers are investing in live and more are making it a central pillar of their marketing strategy. Experiential and technology go together, helping marketers and event planners take brand engagement to new levels.

Campaign, in partnership with Hawthorn, hosted a dinner debate featuring industry experts to discuss this interplay of creativity and technology. In today’s experiential economy can you have one without the other?

The changing face of experiential
We’re seeing a shift towards consumers wanting experiences and the role of events in brand marketing reflects this. Events and experiential have evolved, especially among the much discussed millennials and generation Zs. Jo Coombs, CEO of OgilvyOne doesn’t think that these trends are a passing fad – she sees it as the future of the industry: "Consumer needs are changing, we’re coming into an economy that’s driven by doing things rather than buying things."

The guests discussed the importance of shareability both during and after these experiences, with Tom Rutter, managing director of Muster, explaining that "there’s a big difference between sharing an experience in person and sharing an experience online."

Jonathan Terry, head of JWT Live, said that "there are two types of events: the ones that lots of people go to and the ones that nobody goes to but everyone sees". How then do planners get the balance right between success with people at the event – in the ‘real-world’ – and the post-event online activity?

Kate Morris from M&C Saatchi said that more and more she’s seeing brands wanting to do events just to be shared and viewed online. Brands are less preoccupied about the people in the room but increasingly concerned with the shareability and mass audience online.

Creatives and event directors need their content to be so compelling that attendees and consumers want to share without a nudge.

Jonathan Terry said "the idea in the real world has to be led by shareability". With the group’s acknowledgement that while this is true, they also all agreed that you can’t force shareability. "One of the core things is authenticity, if you create an authentic experience then people respond to that’," said Anton Christodoulou, CTO at Imagination.

Planners and marketers are also finding it harder to control what’s shared. Is the point of the event for people to share their content or is it to share the content and the brand’s message? Jo Coombs cited Snapchat filters, saying that they are an interesting, branded overlay to people’s own content and images from an experience.

The use of tech in experiential
Technology is central to experiential. With more and more brands choosing to do large scale amplification projects, planners are looking for the most exciting technology to set them apart.

But the group agreed that tech should never lead an event: the creative and the ideas should come first and the technology bring this to life. Peter Harding, group creative director at Hawthorn said: "The joy of good technology is hiding the magic – consumers shouldn’t even know it’s happened."

There has been an increase in tech for tech’s sake when it comes to events and experiential, with the group agreeing that there is a danger of clients shoe-horning technology into events where it shouldn’t be used. Morris said: "I’ve seen more people approach us with the technology they want used rather than a creative. This should be the other way round."

Rob Pryce, director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide, said that it’s important for planners to know what tech is out there and for people working at these agencies to continuously experience and use it.

Technology changes so rapidly that it’s vital that people in these industries are up to speed and know about what’s on offer to bring creative ideas to life. The room discussed the downfalls and successes of VR at events. Anton Christodoulou said: "If it’s used well it’s an incredibly powerful medium but poor usage has left a bad taste." VR shouldn’t be an add on to an event as a gimmick without proper planning as that reduces its importance – and this goes for other developments in software and technology.

Ultimately, the group debated what makes an event work – creativity, production, or the brand? The consensus was "all three".Main photo (L to R)
Top row: Scott Micklethwaite, production manager, Wonder London, Scott Powney, digital director, Quiet Storm, John Kilcullen, head of digital, Verve, Peter Harding, group creative director, Hawthorn, Jonathan Terry, head of JWT Live, JWT, Tom Rutter, co-founder and MD of Muster, Rob Pryce, director of experiential and events, Momentum Worldwide
Bottom row: Claire Ledward, business development manager, Hawthorn, Anton Christodoulou, CTO, Imagination, Zoe Snow, director, Gary Beestone Ltd, Jo Coombs, CEO, OgilvyOne, Kate Morris, experiential account director, M&C Saatchi
(not pictured: Ben Taylor, head of creative technology, TRO: The Experience Agency)