Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general, strategist and philosopher, said: ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.’
In the early years of this now maturing industry, experiential marketing, when delivered as a standalone tactical creative activity without strategic rigour and integration, could have left some clients feeling as though they had suffered either one or the other of the above.
In recent times, however, experiential marketing has come of age and some great agencies have emerged.
They have demonstrated a mastery of their craft and delivered powerful campaigns, showing that, rather than being little more than tactical components within an overall strategy for their clients, they can be at the strategic core – with impressive results.
It is becoming ever easier for consumers to filter out the multitude of marketing messages they do not wish to see or perceive to be of little value.
Several of the leading brands in the UK – Disney, Virgin, Red Bull, Innocent Drinks, Apple and T-Mobile, to name just a few – can already see how live brand experience has been a core strategic contributor to their business performance and enabled them to circumvent the fragmentation of many other channels by making the face-to-face experience the focus.
The potential opportunity for challenger brands – which, by definition, are the majority – is that experiential campaigns can compete on impact against the biggest of budgets of their competitors, just as long as they can find the right idea and execute it well.
In the experiential marketing world, we have one major factor in our favour: namely, that we are all highly evolved social animals craving social interaction at all levels. This is especially true if we are being educated or entertained, whether that happens at a museum, art gallery, music event, shopping centre, inside a retail store or even on the street.
The reach-vs-cost equation has been one of the bigger obstacles facing experiential in the past, but this is becoming easier to discuss with the development of better understanding on the part of clients. Real face-time with the customer provides so much more than the immediate interaction with the individual.
Depending on the product and experience, it can speed up the prospect-to-sales cycle. Research shows that, due to the deeper and stronger emotional impact of true consumer engagement with the brand, word-of-mouth advocacy is not only more likely, but – as most of us know through personal experience – also widely perceived as the most credible way to learn about brands that can deliver strong long-term benefits.
We now live in a world of personal recommendations, where all of us, at some time, act as a trusted adviser on some subject or other. Digital social networking, when it is executed well, whether by the agency or client, can also contribute to and amplify the experiential event.
Location-based services on smartphones, integrated into the experiential strategy, will also become more prevalent as the services become wider spread across Facebook and other social networks. Not only will we then be going to the audience, but we will have the opportunity to build an audience around our campaign.
ROI remains the big challenge for many clients looking to measure the relative merits of experiential against other marketing disciplines, even though many metrics are available today. This can hold them back from diving into this exciting and expanding area of brand and sales development.
Sometimes, however, when making decisions, it is worth considering Albert Einstein’s words: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’ n
Tony Hall, chief executive, Channel Advantage