Ex­pe­ri­ences are every­thing

More and more brands are turn­ing to ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing as a means to en­gage with con­sumers on a per­sonal level. Yet a lack of un­der­stand­ing, risk aver­sion and is­sues of mea­sure­ment are hold­ing it back in the re­gion

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - - I.A.

Ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing is on the rise. From events and trade shows to pop-ups and vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences, it is that rare ex­am­ple of a mar­ket­ing dis­ci­pline wit­ness­ing pos­i­tive growth.

In the UK in April the IPA Bell­wether re­port re­vealed that ex­pe­ri­en­tial bud­gets were up 7.8 per cent in the first quar­ter of the year. It’s a sce­nario that is mir­rored across the world as tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing spend falls and clients ques­tion the safety and ef­fec­tive­ness of dig­i­tal.

THE EX­PE­RI­EN­TIAL DIVE

“It is be­ing em­braced for one sim­ple rea­son,” as­serts David Bal­four, co-founder of Dubai-based Light­blue. “It gives brands di­rect ac­cess to con­sumers. Some­thing that the press or in­flu­encers can’t of­fer to their clients.”

“On a day-to-day ba­sis it can still feel a lit­tle iso­lated from the wider media/com­mu­ni­ca­tions mix, but more and more brands and mar­keters are start­ing to see the longer term busi­ness value and brand loy­alty that well-crafted, in­te­grated brand ex­pe­ri­ences can gen­er­ate,” says Kris­tian Val­dini, di­rec­tor of con­tent and ex­pe­ri­ences at OMD. “In the com­ing 12 to 18 months I fully ex­pect to see brand ex­pe­ri­ences be­come a pri­or­ity for brands, as they seek to clearly de­fine and ar­tic­u­late their pur­pose to their au­di­ence in the most ef­fec­tive way.”

And yet ex­pe­ri­en­tial re­mains ar­guably un­der­used across the Mid­dle East and North Africa. More of­ten than not it is viewed as an

add-on – as an an­cil­lary piece of mar­ket­ing – rather than as a cen­tral com­po­nent of any given cam­paign. As Rasha Ge­orgy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at JWT Ex­pe­ri­ence in Cairo, says, it is “de­lin­eated as a sep­a­rate item in the mar­ket­ing bud­get”. As a re­sult, this “siloed think­ing does not sup­port an in­te­grated ap­proach, which is a must for full ROI”

DEF­I­NI­TION

Maybe part of the prob­lem is se­man­tics. What ex­actly is ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing? How does it dif­fer from brand ac­ti­va­tion or event mar­ket­ing? Are they all one and the same thing? Ge­orgy refers to ex­pe­ri­en­tial as ‘live com­mu­ni­ca­tion’, fur­ther mud­dy­ing the wa­ters. None of which helps the ca­sual observer achieve a higher un­der­stand­ing.

Al­though clients are in­creas­ingly un­der­stand­ing what ex­pe­ri­en­tial is, “it is of­ten con­fused with hav­ing a pres­ence or hand­ing out sam­ples with pro­mot­ers wear­ing your brand,” ad­mits Bal­four. Whereas ex­pe­ri­en­tial should be “all about real en­gage­ment with your con­sumers”.

“It al­lows them to be­come a fan or­gan­i­cally but, more im­por­tantly, it’s about in­spir­ing con­sumers to act,” says Bal­four. “Ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing is about par­tic­i­pa­tion, en­gag­ing con­sumers, cre­at­ing mem­o­ries and, most im­por­tantly, a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with our brands in an im­mer­sive way. But there are far too many for­mu­laic cam­paigns and our au­di­ences de­serve bet­ter. They de­serve a brand ad­ven­ture. It is an ev­ere­volv­ing do­main where, as an agency, you al­ways have to un­der­stand it, re­spect it and hack it.”

The chal­lenges fac­ing ex­pe­ri­en­tial re­main size­able, not least rais­ing the pro­file of the dis­ci­pline it­self. Cost and risk aver­sion are also two of the big­gest brand ex­pe­ri­ence slay­ers out there, says Val­dini.

ON MEA­SURE­MENT

Then there’s the is­sue of mea­sure­ment. How do you gauge the suc­cess of a brand ex­pe­ri­ence? How do you quan­tify the achievement of any given event in the phys­i­cal world? Are so­cial media shares, at­ten­dance fig­ures, email sign-ups and prod­uct tri­als all but mean­ing­less met­rics?

“Suc­cess can be driven by num­bers, en­gage­ment and ROI,” says Bal­four. “We do not see it this way. Num­bers are part of the equa­tion, but the most im­por­tant met­ric is your im­pact on cul­ture, your im­pact on be­hav­iours and on the mar­ket.”

But how do you mea­sure im­pact? How can you tell if con­sumer per­cep­tion has shifted, or if a de­ci­sion to pur­chase was ini­ti­ated by a par­tic­u­lar brand ex­pe­ri­ence? How do you track the con­sumer jour­ney from aware­ness to the fi­nal de­ci­sion to buy? It’s far from an easy task.

“The industry is find­ing more ways to mea­sure and asses the con­tri­bu­tion that brand ex­pe­ri­ences can de­liver, not only in-the-mo­ment, but fur­ther down the pur­chase/de­ci­sion-mak­ing fun­nel,” says Val­dini. “We are al­ready start­ing to see greater em­pha­sis be­ing placed on more en­gag­ing, per­son­alised brand ex­pe­ri­ences pow­ered by con­sumer data. As we start to join the dots be­tween pre­vi­ously siloed brand ex­pe­ri­ence touch­points and con­sumer data sets it will be­come eas­ier to bet­ter quan­tify the re­turn and per­for­mance of such ac­tiv­ity.”

Ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing is about par­tic­i­pa­tion, en­gag­ing con­sumers, cre­at­ing mem­o­ries and, most im­por­tantly, a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with our brands in an im­mer­sive way. - David Bal­four, co-founder of Dubai-based Light­blue

EX­PE­RI­EN­TIAL IS FUN

Sig­nif­i­cantly, ex­pe­ri­en­tial is a field in which both brands and con­sumers can have con­sid­er­able fun. At this year’s SXSW fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas, HBO brought West­world to life via the cre­ation of a gun­sling­ing theme park, while Warner Bros utilised vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) and 80s pop cul­tural ref­er­ences to take at­ten­dees in­side the world of Steven Spiel­berg’s Ready Player One.

Both VR and aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) have the po­ten­tial to greatly im­pact ex­pe­ri­en­tial, with the lat­ter mar­ry­ing the real and dig­i­tal worlds – what Ap­ple and Google have re­ferred to as im­mer­sive com­put­ing.

“AR is (go­ing to be) huge for brands,” be­lieves Val­dini. “The bar­ri­ers that pre­vi­ously pro­hib­ited ef­fec­tive AR cam­paigns are fast fall­ing as the big tech/mo­bile play­ers (Snapchat, Face­book, Ap­ple and Google) start to make it pos­si­ble for con­sumers to ac­cess AR con­tent in­stantly through their re­spec­tive cam­eras (no clunky app downloads re­quired). It is now pos­si­ble for brands to cre­ate and de­ploy AR ex­pe­ri­ences in real-time and at scale without break­ing the bank. When done well, AR can en­rich a brand story, adding dig­i­tal lay­ers of depth and rel­e­vancy to seem­ingly vanilla real-world mo­ments.”

To make the most of all this brands will need to be braver. Blinkand-you’ll-miss-it events have to be con­signed to the dust­bin and more dy­namic ex­pe­ri­ences em­braced. Ones that en­gage all the five senses and al­low in­di­vid­u­als to be­come an in­te­gral part of a brand’s story.

Val­dini cites Sole DXB as an ex­am­ple of ex­pe­ri­en­tial done well, with brands and agen­cies from the re­gion de­liv­er­ing “orig­i­nal, en­gag­ing, world-class brand ex­pe­ri­ences”.

“Con­ti­nu­ity is key,” says Bal­four. “Today, con­sumers want a brand to en­rich their lives, not just fill their clos­ets or dec­o­rate their walls. To de­liver truly trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences, brands must chal­lenge the tra­di­tional take on events and trade show ex­hibits.

“I would like brands to be more dar­ing as a whole, but also see more ini­tia­tive from re­gional brands. This is their mar­ket and they should be at the fore­front of its de­vel­op­ment.”

In the com­ing 12 to 18 months I fully ex­pect to see brand ex­pe­ri­ences be­come a pri­or­ity for brands… - Kris­tian Val­dini, di­rec­tor of con­tent and ex­pe­ri­ences at OMD Ex­pe­ri­en­tial is de­lin­eated as a sep­a­rate item in the mar­ket­ing bud­get. This “siloed think­ing does not sup­port an in­te­grated ap­proach, which is a must for full ROI.” - Rasha Ge­orgy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at JWT Ex­pe­ri­ence in Cairo

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