Experiential: digital marketing for real-life experiences
What is guerilla marketing ?
Nowadays, it is no longer enough to simply sell a product: consumers are evolving, and they want to buy from companies that share their vision and ideals. Brands understand this, and they are responding by striving to build a more accessible, human image, but also by providing branded ‘experiences’ to help create a stronger, durable bond with consumers, in order to increase purchases or enhance loyalty.
If passers-by stop to take a photo of your event, your marketing stunt or your brand ambassadors, you have succeeded in creating an experience that will take on a life of its own, beyond the physical branded activation: it will be shared online. Take for instance popular US kitchen towel brand Bounty, who created a street installation in New York featuring giant ‘spills’ (from coffee cups to melting popsicles), causing general hilarity among passers-by. The advantage of these so-called ‘guerrilla marketing’ stunts is that they generate buzz and organic brand exposure on social media, all for a relatively small budget, thus guaranteeing a very high Return on Marketing (ROM).
Creating memorable experiences is therefore also a way to lower customer acquisition costs. Shrewd marketers know very well that an amused, moved or loyal customer is much more likely to buy products or services from a brand, as opposed to someone who is not familiar with the brand and simply sees an online advert or a banner at an event.
Why experiential makting is the new Holy Grail for brands
Experiential marketing originated from insights gained at corporate events and exhibitions. Marketers understood that the longer prospects spent interacting with a stand (asking questions, browsing, etc.), the bigger the ‘attachment’ they formed to the brand. If we transpose this in terms of the digital economy, the longer prospects spend at a stand, the further they progress along the conversion funnel. For instance, they will have agreed to sign a disclaimer or leave their contact details in order to take part in the experience; they will then be asked if they are happy to be contacted by email to provide feedback, and so on.
Creating memorable experiences allows brands to attract and retain prospects’ attention far better than the omnipresent bowl of free candy at event stands. The Latin etymology of the term ‘experience’ refers, in fact, to something that takes us out of our own dimension, a moment that becomes etched in our memory and that leaves us changed.
Kolb’s learning cycle
Educational theorist David Kolb, whose research focuses on experiential learning, developed a model to describe how a new experience or situation is the crucial starting point in a 4-stage cognitive cycle. The cycle goes from taking in new information and reflecting on that concrete experience, to formulating an abstract conceptualization, and finally to testing out that concept by applying it again to a new concrete situation.
Experiential marketing, therefore, helps build a strong and durable relationship between brands and customers; and if the experience is powerful enough, even a sense of belonging to an ‘experiential community’, whose members share not just the experience they lived through together, but also the same values and aspirations. Taken seriously, experiential marketing involves real commitment, both for participants and for those who are in charge of designing and providing these precious experiences. It also involves costs, which then need to be justified by a higher Return on Investment (ROI).
Maximizing Customer Lifetime Value
All this talk of cognitive processes and Latin etymology may lead to believe that ‘experiences’ belong exclusively in the realm of science or philosophy, and that these parameters are too subjective to be applied to event management, or to provide concrete KPIs to evaluate the success of an event or a marketing initiative.
However, in the digital era, the extent to which an event can be considered memorable or impactful is, in fact, very easily measurable. It suffices to analyse the buzz on social media, by tracking the number of mentions, likes, shares, comments, followers or subscribers it generated.
In addition to enhancing brand image and increasing customer loyalty, unique, innovative events are therefore also an excellent source of data. Because their impact is easily measurable, it can be effortlessly compared to that of other marketing tools, thus allowing marketers to reward efficiency by allocating more resources and funds to the best performing initiatives. For instance, different brand ambassadors can be evaluated and rewarded based on their performance, thus encouraging best practices.
Experiential marketing, therefore, takes its place within the broader ecosystem of lead generation initiatives, whose contribution can be objectively measured. Moreover, the data and information generated from an experiential activity can also contribute to creating a more precise and detailed profile for each customer, which can then be used to further personalize offers and messages.
This requires considering customers or prospects as potential life-long brand assets, that must be nurtured throughout their entire life-cycle across multiple channels and touchpoints: it’s the so-called omni-channel approach, in which different communication channels cooperate to create an improved customer experience. Going beyond the simple conversion metric of turning a prospect into a customer, this entails a complete shift in the way we perceive customer relationships, which in fact automatically enhances what is known as ‘Customer Lifetime Value’.
Improving event experience
We saw how, thanks to social media, it is possible to generate long-term value from an event by extending customer relationships into the digital realm. However, as easy as analyzing an event’s buzz on social media can be, it is by far not the only metric to take into account. KPIs must be carefully chosen to match the ultimate objective for holding the event – analyzing participants’ interactions and satisfaction, or how the event impacted sales could be a could start, but again it is not enough.
Event analytics can do more, for instance by providing a personalized experience for each participant during the event itself. A dedicated app could suggest relevant stands or talks based on participants’ interests. For a corporate event, for instance, it could suggest meetings with relevant exhibitors or organizers. It could send push notifications to remind participants that a keynote speech is about to start, or what the dress code is for the cocktail party. It could provide an interactive map where participants can immediately locate any stands or facilities. In short, the idea is for participants to fully ‘own’ and determine their own event experience.
Gaining a detailed picture of each participant by collecting large volumes of data is therefore key in this approach.
The power of data applied to events
Easier said than done in a post-GDPR context! However, collecting large volumes of data doesn’t mean collecting data indiscriminately, or in an invasive manner. For the data to be of any value, it needs to be collected responsibly (with the participant’s consent) and above all, it needs to be collected based on specific parameters that reflect the strategic objectives of each event. For instance, a good way of evaluating the impact of a sales training seminar is to look at sales figures in the three to six months following the event. In other words, know what information you need, and know how to obtain it responsibly.
Once this crucial planning exercise is complete, marketers can resort to an Event Management System (EMS) software that will gather and analyze the required data based on the parameters provided, and then feed it directly to the CRM in an omni-channel marketing strategy.
How can a brand generate more data to keep building accurate customer profiles, and thus justify the cost of participating to a seminar or purchasing a very expensive stand at a trade exhibition?
Image and speech recognition have great potential in this respect, but carry equally great risks in terms of privacy. Correctly exploited, data generated by these technologies could enrich participants’ experience by suggesting, in real-time, personalized offers or content based on their interactions and their reactions to various stimuli. In the future, there may not be a single, shared experience of a same event, but a myriad of personalized experiences, one for each participant – just imagine the ROM potential!
That said, data and interactivity can only augment, but never replace the power of genuine human emotions. Events must be inspiring in and of themselves, they have to stimulate creativity and offer an experience that will leave a mark. Apps and data will facilitate event management and provide incredibly useful information to the organizers, but they are no substitute for the catalyst provided by a shared emotion, or the pride of belonging to an organization that values these moments. Therefore, to increase a corporate event’s ROI, the most important thing is to create something that truly reflects the organization’s DNA and is in line with participants’ expectations.