Eighty-three per cent of consumers find experiential marketing more personal than other forms of advertising. And an even greater number (87%) agree that it gives them the chance to interact with a product, whereas TV and other media just 'tell' them about it. This is according to research commissioned by brand experience agency iD, and carried out by research firm My Voice.
Experiential marketing is still commanding low shares of a client's budget, yet some savvy marketers are starting to catch on to the fact that consumers like this interaction and find it more personal, memorable, effective and credible than other disciplines. What's more, because consumers are open to this type of marketing, the experience positively affects their purchasing decisions. ID's research also shows that 83% of survey participants either made a purchase, or would consider doing so after an exposure.
Matthew Bending, founder of the Brand Experience Association, believes experiential marketing cuts through the advertising clutter because it's permission-based and engages people in a genuine dialogue, rather than an enforced monologue. 'Historically, brands have been able to interrupt consumers when they're reading a newspaper, watching TV or going to the cinema by buying advertising space. But people aren't taking notice anymore, regardless of the quality of the ad and media planning,' he says.
ID chief executive Paul Ephremsen agrees: 'Brand experiences aren't a frustrating medium. People can test, look at, touch and feel a product or service. There's a limit to what a traditional ad can communicate, whereas in experiential campaigns, consumers can talk to brand ambassadors.'
As proof that experiential activity is memorable, Ephremsen cites a campaign that iD ran for Hugo Boss fragrances. Besuited, male models went into offices to hand out samples. A year later, the brand still generated a 72% unprompted awareness among the target group. Campaign research also showed that 58% of participants told someone else about it, while 31% went on to buy the product.
Brands that have cottoned on to the powerful impression that experiential campaigns can make on consumers are continuously looking for ways to personalise the interaction. Brand experience has been central to the relaunch strategy for Lever Faberge's Lux cleansing product. Lux's brand experience agency, theatre, part of the Incepta Group, created a 'Star Quality Tour' (pictured), in line with the advertising strapline 'Bring out the star in you'. Consumers who visited the roadshow at shopping centres, such as Bluewater, could receive a style consultation and a personalised style guide, as well as have their photo taken for a Marie Claire magazine cover mock-up to serve as a permanent reminder of the experience. On leaving the stand, they were also given a goodie bag containing samples and a fragrance card.
Despite the high set-up cost involved in running a campaign such as this, Lux brand manager Dominic Grounsell believes the buy-in from consumers as a result is worth it: 'We are reconnecting our brand to a large amount of people and giving them a message they'd only get by watching a TV ad several times. Considering the level of engagement you get from consumers, the campaign pays for itself.'
Marketers such as Grounsell are pledging to spend more on the discipline.
It will never replace traditional media (it works best in conjunction), but it can bring even the most dull, everyday brands to life in a way other media can't. Bending says the best shopping-centre promotion he has experienced was for the Inland Revenue. 'Representatives were informally explaining people's tax forms. It showed the world of the Inland Revenue isn't just a lot of faceless bureaucrats and gave it a human face,' he says.
Try before you buy
Consumers like to learn about brands in a relaxed environment where there's no pressure to make an immediate purchase decision, which works well when a company has a complex message to get across.
Six-star cruise brand Celebrity Cruises strives to offer VIP treatment to customers, with its ships' facilities comprising spas, award-winning chefs and butler service. Karen Evans, director of agency Closer, says traditional media had failed to do the brand justice and that consumers needed more of a flavour of the experience.
'The ships are out all the time so we couldn't use them. We decided to visit events where we'd get an older, more affluent consumer,' says Evans.
At Goodwood horse races, Closer set up a stand complete with butlers serving champagne and canapes, and a section where visitors could have head and shoulder massages. They could also pick up a leaflet or watch a DVD on-stand.
As well as brand building, experiential campaigns can boost sales. This is often because consumers have harboured misconceptions about the product or service, which are changed after experiencing the brand. When Times Newspapers relaunched its Saturday edition at the end of 2003, it wanted to show readers it was a different proposition from the more formal weekday versions. 'For a newspaper, the hardest thing is to get consumers spending time going through the product,' says R-J Stratton, events marketing manager at Times Newspapers.
CPM devised an experiential campaign to place the product into consumers' hands in the environment they would usually read a paper - at home. More than 300 staff were enlisted as brand ambassadors to knock on doors in target areas to talk people through the new sections, while vouchers were distributed as an incentive to trial. 'People have perceptions about brands, but if you give them something that has real value, then hopefully the next time they make a purchase decision, they remember that brand experience and what the staff were saying to them,' says Stratton.
Volvo is also using experiential marketing to overcome perceptions that it is a boring, boxy car. Dealership marketing manager Maureen Laws argues that experiential marketing resonates particularly well with consumers in the automotive sector because they don't feel pressurised while testing a car, as they often do in a showroom. 'With busy lifestyles, we don't expect consumers to visit a dealership, but we want to make them aware of the changes in Volvo, and we've identified experiential marketing as a key way of doing that,' she says.
Volvo is putting its wares on show at a series of concerts over the summer.
'People find it quite hard to walk into a dealership, particularly women, but this way they feel really relaxed and can sit in the cars, touch, feel and ask questions,' says Lindsey Gilmour, head of events at Volvo's agency JJ. As an added pull to the stand, JJ is running a competition to win a Volvo. Entrants are then added to the brand's 'nurturing process' and prepped for a sale.
Picking the right spot
As well as changing perceptions, another reason for high sales uplift is often the proximity of the experiential campaign to a retail outlet.
Closer ran a campaign for Impulse last year in support of its 'Free your arms' TV advertising. A mock aerobics team set up in shopping centres and gave out samples. Stores that would usually sell an average of 20 to 30 units per day, sold between 960 and 1000 during the campaign.
But many believe current measurement techniques are inadequate and don't take account of the full impact of an experience. ID's Ephremsen does not believe marketers will give experiential marketing the credit - or budget - it deserves unless more research is done to prove its effectiveness.
'We need to look in more detail at why consumers like specific elements. The sector as a whole needs to move up a level, with more consumer understanding, so we can compete on a level playing field with other media.'
EXPERIENCE THE NUMBERS
- 64% of the 1,097 adults surveyed had participated in experiential marketing.
- 46% of people exposed to experiential marketing could recall the brand, compared with 32% of newspaper ads in the last paper read.
- 43% of people that have experienced experiential marketing purchased the product following the exposure.
- 43% of people have bought a product at a supermarket sampling that they would not have otherwise purchased.
Who and where
- Women are more likely than men to respond to experiential marketing: 71% find it memorable and 64% find it encourages purchase; for men the equivalent figures are 59% and 51%.
- Time and location influence the success of an experiential campaign, but not as much as staff.
- Friendliness of staff was listed as important by 98%, with 97% citing staff's ability to answer specific product questions, 95% listing quality of staff, and 93% the staff's ability to explain complex product information. 80% wanted to have the opportunity to ask staff questions.
- Younger consumers (aged 18 to 24) were the mostly likely sub-group to be attracted to experiential activity by seeing large TV screens; 30% said they would find this appealing compared with the average of 17%.
- The daytime at weekends is best to reach a spread of consumer groups, but a greater number of women are more likely to be available mid-week during the day.