The past decade has seen a much-reported surge in the "experience economy". People are seeing the value of moments and interactions over stuff. Which makes sense – we’ve got loads of stuff, but we crave opportunities to connect, experience and share more than ever. Watch Minimalism on Netflix, read Stuffocation by James Wallman or talk to your nearest millennial if you have yet to be convinced by this burgeoning trend.
As a consequence, the expectation of what experiential marketing can, and should, achieve for brands has increased significantly. Our understanding of consumer behaviour and how people interact with experiences, the opportunities presented by emerging technology and the tools and techniques we use to measure the effectiveness of these experiences have all evolved at great pace.
Can the same be said for the highly specialist area of experiential staffing? Commoditisation and a race to the bottom on price have been worryingly prevalent during the same 10-year period. Hourly rates have, for the most part, remained at the same level as they were in 2009. This has had – and is having – a hugely detrimental effect on the quality of individual who can be hired and the level of training that can be given, inevitably impacting on the success of experiential activation.
According to Andrew Orr, client services director at TRO: "In a world seemingly dominated by the language of uncertainty – the gig economy, surveillance capitalism, fake news, chatbots, click farms, artificial intelligence and so on – people are crying out for the human touch, and that includes from brands. In our headlong rush towards all things tech, it is essential that we don’t forget the human and their unique role in delivering emotional connection."
Effective recruitment and appropriate levels of training are, of course, essential steps in delivering remarkable human interaction. Helen Hanson, creative director and founder of Hel’s Angels, is very clear on this point: "There are many different types of staffing, but we must accept that experiences which demand hand-picked and trained brand ambassadors will cost more. The job of a brand ambassador is often to be the face of a brand, to create a bond of trust between that brand and its target consumers. Like any credible role, this requires a thorough search and selection process, skills testing, cultural mapping and matching, and a fit-for-purpose training programme."
Perhaps by glimpsing into the near future and attempting to understand the context within which brand experiences will need to perform, we can truly appreciate what we need to do now from a staffing point of view to positively influence success. As the cultural landscape evolves and the need for watertight compliance (codes of conduct, GDPR, employment law etc) rises, much will be expected of the people at the brand coalface.
At the IPM, we will be supporting the industry in this evolution of the brand ambassador, specifically by working with our members and beyond to agree future-proofed standards of skills, training, pay and conduct. Creating a support network that protects brands, staff and agencies alike, and calling out great – and less-than-great – working practices, will go some way to securing a bright future for experiential staffing. The rest will be up to the people who do it.
Paul Cope is managing director at the Institute of Promotional Marketing