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Engaging with the masses

The powerful combination of experiential marketing and social media has resulted in any remnants of the traditional question marks over the reach of the discipline being well and truly dismissed.

The weakness of experiential marketing is its inability to reach the masses, versus other forms of broadcast media. Well, that may have been the case once, but how the discipline has evolved.

Today's experiential landscape is very different. Short-term, tactical campaigns which once would have reached a small number of consumers in one region, at a relatively high cost per contact, have the potential to reach millions today. In some cases, experiential not only continues to be one of the most powerful marketing tools; it is also one of the most effective.

This development has led to a considerable increase in the importance of experiential marketing. Our discipline is now often at the heart of integrated campaigns, taking the lead role in creating awareness, influencing purchase or any combination of communication and sales objectives. For many brands, experiential is the cornerstone of their brand strategy, and agencies, finally, are being asked to sit at the top table in leading brand planning and long-term development.

How and why has this come about? Once seen as a standalone discipline, experiential often lived in isolation. The campaign reached as many consumers as took a sample, walked to the stand or attended the event. The 'one-night brand stand' was prevalent - experiences could be engaging, but often didn't exist outside the immediate activity venue.

Today's experiential marketing model has 'amplification' high on its agenda. Best-in-class brand experiences are being used as the catalyst to create or inspire content that resonates far and wide, with the campaign 'footprint' touching millions more consumers. Our own low-cost tactical sampling campaign for a confectionery brand engaged 2.1m consumers online. There was then a PR stunt in Trafalgar Square that led to 8m YouTube hits in one day, and our recent shopping centre experience that engaged 1.5m consumers who had never seen or previously knew about the activity; the evidence is phenomenal.

While PR, tactical advertising and other traditional media are effective tools, the marriage between experiential marketing and social media has become a force to be reckoned with. Social networks have breathed the creative lifeblood back into experiential marketing, with practitioners devising more innovative, impactful and engaging experiences, capable of creating and inspiring online content, conversations and long-term relationships.

Of course, we have now become well-informed about the power of our work. Research methodologies allow us to track the profile of experiential participants, their attitude before and after the experience, purchase behaviour and advocacy.

Attributing a true ROI figure in pounds and pence to the primary audience of a brand experience is now a key part of any campaign evaluation, or at least, it can and should be.

Once given a hard time for the lack of measurement, experiential agencies are now providing more comprehensive results, greater insights and a better commercial return than many other disciplines.

For those consumers online, captured by the blog, the tweet, the online competition or the themed campaign app, profiling techniques allow us to understand, quite precisely, the dynamics of the secondary audience engaged in a campaign.

So what is the set of fresh considerations for those investing and delivering experience marketing?

One is ensuring creativity communicates a tangible brand message. We absolutely must view the activity as the starting point of a consumer dialogue.

Also, integrating techniques to amplify the experience way beyond the primary audience is definitely a fundamental route to success.

So for those who still believe experiential is lacking, beware. The discipline today is responsible for engaging more consumers in long-term relationships than ever before. Lack of reach, RIP.

From Marketing's October 2011 Experiential essay supplement

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