Experiential Essays: TRO Group - Does experiential fulfil its promise?

Understanding human behaviour is the key to achieving amplification through your event activity.

A lot of people are jumping up and down, gyrating in the streets, standing on their heads - and it's quite entertaining. But if that is all that experiential activity has achieved, it is hardly money well spent. The key to experiential's huge success potential lies in its ability to affect behaviour through an event or experience, and the challenge for marketers is to faithfully deliver on that promise.

Actually, behavioural change is not easy to achieve. Today's consumers are cynical about corporate messaging, and we have become ultra-savvy in determining what we want. We conduct our own research online, and are far more likely to trust the recommendations of friends and peer groups than of advertisers. Words and images alone are no longer enough to influence public perceptions.

At the same time, media has become so much more fragmented and content-hungry. Brands need to have something relevant to say on a daily basis.

How do you make yourself heard above the clamour and across so many channels?

Which is precisely where events come into their own. They generate content, they engage people in dialogue, and, in so doing, give the brand a personality. And it's this powerful combination that can change individual behaviours.

Luckily, people like to share their experiences, and social media provides the perfect vehicle with which to pass on brand endorsement to a limitless audience.

Of course, the experiential marketer's dream is to see reports of their event generating thousands of 'likes' and retweets, but for such viral amplification to occur, the experience needs to have been entirely relevant to its target audience and must have affected people at the right time and in the right place.

Therefore, human behaviour in relation to a brand should be the guiding factor for experiential marketers, who must ask themselves what kind of experience would surprise and delight people sufficiently to prompt social-media amplification. In some cases, a single big-bang event works well, but we have found that very often it is the multiple touchpoint approach that delivers the best results. This provides the opportunity to start a dialogue, reinforce newly formed perceptions then follow up with genuine value experiences.

A prime example of this is provided by Nike, which operates free-to-join running clubs in various locations for all skill levels. The clubs are led and supervised by Nike staff and serve to help people achieve better running times as part of their individual training programmes.

To the runners, the brand is providing them with a fantastic means of performance improvement. Needless to say, these eager brand advocates are highly likely to share their experience on Facebook and Twitter.

The proof of effectiveness lies in the results, and if you can't quantify the outcome, you probably didn't understand the objectives in the first place. Campaign results can be tracked using a range of metrics, from recall stats to competition entries, photo impressions, tagging, and, of course, sales figures.

When Lucozade Energy wanted music festival-goers to experience its product to maximum effect, TRO identified the most influential opportunities to reach visitors as being when they arrived at the site - hot, tired and thirsty - and on waking up after a late night, when the drink's refreshing qualities would revive them for another day's festival enjoyment. The response of surprise and delight created by this activity resulted in measurable brand recall and social-media amplification.

All of which demonstrates that loud, eye-catching activity will only affect the behaviour of its target audience in a positive and meaningful way if it truly recognises and fully responds to key human behavioural factors.

Michael Wyrley-Birch is managing director of TRO