When I started in the experiential business, my pitch to companies was to give me 3 percent of their marketing budget and I would get them more than 3 percent worth of attention, compared to their other media spend. My hope was that I could design and execute an idea that would drive publicity and get people talking. This was before social media, so true success was getting in magazines, newspapers and on local or national news.
Fast forward to 2019 and not only does almost everyone seem to be talking about experiential marketing, but many are allocating significant chunks of their budgets towards it, too. In fact, Chief Marketer recently cited that brands in 2018 spent 20.7 percent of their marketing spend on event and experiential marketing. Marketers realize that there is an opportunity to create experiences that align the values of a brand to the values of the target audience, often in creative, colorful ways that look great on social stories.
Experience design is as much emotional as it is functional. We can leverage the reach and passion of a crowd to tell a story bigger than the brand itself. The masses themselves are the media and they are looking for interesting stories to tell. And we have seen many activations, nostalgic pop-up museums and immersive play spaces in a broad range of quality levels. There have been great successes and some significant failures as the fight for attention takes to the streets and the feed.
As with any evolving media channel, experiential marketing is constantly pivoting, and it's the changing nature of an experience-hungry audience that determines how best to utilize it. Filling a creative space with some shareworthy, balloon-filled activations used to be good enough but now people are asking for more. Experience planning and strategy as a discipline is on the rise and brands need to commit.
Here are five things to keep in mind as we move into the future of brand experience:
Sustainability in experience design is on the rise. We have all been to an event that ends with piles of plastic cups and cutlery and vinyl signs stuffed into garbage bags. Our industry needs to take responsibility for the waste we create and we should explore organic, reusable materials and production methods that will be good for our planet. Our attendees are asking for this, so let’s answer.
We have all seen a social photo booth, post-it wall or an interactive light sculpture. Interactivity should focus more on how to engage the audience in the entirety of the experience and have all elements pay off on the story and purpose of the space. Technology can be a great tool to help this narrative but sometimes the best interactivity is analog.
AR, VR, MR, AI and many other acronyms keep making their way into experiential RFPs. Technology and new media should always have a purpose beyond just being the cool new thing. These technologies are expensive and often are only usable by a very small subset of the attendees. Let’s be thoughtful when using more experimental technologies and ensure it is the appropriate engagement choice.
Amplification and distribution are the close siblings to experience and should be baked into the initial planning for maximum reach, context and audience alignment. There is rarely a good reason for a branded experience not to build in opportunities to tell a bigger story.
Last, but not least, measurement. Let’s be clear, experiential has never been cheap, and as venues, festival producers and cities catch on, the price to execute is only going up. Accurately measuring the return on your experience requires combining a number of different data points, with more on the way. Experience can never compete with programmatic when it comes to CPM, nor should it. So think of the problem you are hoping the experiential approach solves and use all of the tools in your marketing arsenal—including owned and operated channels, influencer relationships, media spend and PR—to get the full reach and impact of a well-designed experience.