It has been a tough 12 months for the Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA). The trade body launched last January with a flurry of press interest and grand proclamations about how it would raise the profile of experiential marketing among clients. Since then, chairman Matthew Bending has learned that snappy sound bites are much easier to deliver than substantial developments.
He admits to a certain 'naivety' when the LBEA 'charged' into its task, buoyed by the enthusiasm of the 150-odd people who attended the first meeting. He also concedes that clients are no more knowledgeable about what experiential marketing is than before the LBEA sprang into being. If he were writing the trade body's report card, it might read 'Could communicate better'. Bending, who also runs the agency Space and People, goes as far as to say: 'If I were an LBEA member, I would have expected more.'
And they do. Some agencies don't pull any punches when giving their opinion on what the LBEA has achieved in its first year. 'The association has underachieved against its stated objectives,' says Wendy Hooper, managing director of Carbon Marketing. 'The sector's growth is running way ahead of any attempts to regulate, control or manage it. In these days of permissive marketing, it is important for the various communication disciplines to have their own robust codes of practice. Yet the LBEA appears unable to control a runaway train that I fear could be hurtling toward a serious crash.'
Paul Cowpland, director of Candour Event Marketing, adds: 'I thought the idea of the LBEA was to raise the industry's profile. I don't think it has done that. If you look at the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) or the Marketing Communications Consultants Association (MCCA), they have well-known faces from both clients and agencies behind them. There's a lot of clout that comes with that, which is missing from the LBEA.'
Even non-members, such as one of the most established experiential agencies, RPM, which ran high-profile summer campaigns for Smirnoff and Strongbow, are sticking the knife in. 'I do not believe the LBEA is singled-minded enough in developing the discipline,' says the agency's managing partner, Hugh Robertson. 'We have not been contacted by the LBEA and have not seen evidence of its work in developing the discipline, yet outside of this, the movement is gathering momentum.'
Similarly, Bruce Burnett, managing director of i2i Face to Face Marketing, says the LBEA did not give his agency a compelling reason to join. 'We felt we'd be giving away competitive advantage in sharing our market research with others involved such as media owners, site owners or start-up agencies.'
So what exactly has the LBEA been doing for the past 12 months with the £750 membership fee from each of its 42 members? Paul Ephremsen, managing director of iD and a board member of the LBEA, is irritated by the criticisms.
Both he and Bending argue that over the course of the year the 10-strong board has been hard at work putting in place the appropriate foundations for the association. This is the boring, unsexy but necessary part of running a trade body, vital for future success, they say.
'We have partnered with the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) to form a proper secretariat. That's a real step forward.
Housekeeping (systems have) been created,' says Ephremsen. 'Agencies are impatient, but they need to understand that these things do not happen overnight. They need a reality check. They joined a new association; I urge them to understand the context. This is going to take time.'
It is in the second year that the body claims its members will start to see the tangible benefits of the LBEA. For 2006, the board has ditched the general proclamations of what it will achieve in favour of establishing three focused objectives based on feedback from members: to research the efficacy of experiential marketing, launch a conference and organise an awards ceremony.
A working party led by Ephremsen and Garry Dods, marketing services director at Octagon Marketing, has commissioned two research companies. Millward Brown has been hired to research the power of advocacy through experiential marketing. It has also been briefed to develop an LBEA-approved model for measuring the discipline's return on investment.
2CV, meanwhile, will quiz media planners and buyers on their views of experiential marketing and identify what barriers may be limiting its uptake. This study has been commissioned with a view to understanding where experiential marketing fits into the marketing mix and identifying a rationale for why it should be considered a priority. Initial research findings will be unveiled at the inaugural LBEA conference, provisionally scheduled for May. The awards ceremony is planned for later in the year.
However, the LBEA's future could already be at risk from members that do not plan to rejoin due to a lack of return in the first year. Cowpland, for example, will 'probably not' rejoin. Scott Knox, managing director of the MCCA, believes that gaining credibility for a new outfit takes time and, more importantly, support from the association's members.
'Trade bodies only work through the strength of their membership,' he says. 'If any member of the LBEA says it's not working, I would ask them what their contribution has been. It's a start-up. It is only going to work as well as the people who contribute. That's why the Direct Marketing Association and ISP work so well; people give up their time for free to work on projects. The only way the LBEA could be powerful is if they all work together and get on with it. Power comes from unity, not from handing over a couple of quid and sitting back, waiting to see what happens.'
Knox believes that the problem may lie in one of the LBEA's key objectives, as laid out on its website's home page. This is its declaration that the LBEA will 'significantly grow business for all stakeholders of the association', creating a misguided culture for a trade body. This goal sits alongside two other objectives: to position live brand experience as a mainstream medium that can be deployed strategically and integrated into all other forms of marketing activity, and to promote best practice among all members through communication and knowledge-sharing.
'To have new business generation as an objective from year one is wrong,' says Knox. 'Trade associations are not about quick-fix solutions. If members believe they are, they are showing a naivety as to how new business works.
For members to think the LBEA would raise the profile of experiential marketing in 12 months is also mad. My fear is that the LBEA has set out its stall with some really greedy expectations.'
Because the LBEA cited new business development from the outset, when agencies handed over their £750 membership fee they were already thinking about the immediate return on this investment, rather than investing for the greater good of the discipline.
So what does Knox think the LBEA should do to make a real difference to the industry? 'Get agencies and clients together to develop what is brilliant about brand experience. Having agencies on their own smacks of raising the profile of experiential marketing purely as a new business route, not about a credible marketing communications vehicle,' he says.
There are numerous clients who believe in the effectiveness of experiential marketing. Tom Freitag, vice-president and senior marketing executive at Nestle, has overseen experiential campaigns through agency Innovision, and understands that there is a significant difference between experiential and general field marketing skills.
'Experiential marketing is an overused and underutilised term,' he says.
'Too many people consider it to be sampling, which is an ignorant and lazy approach. The right team will deliver real, measurable results to create a real, live, long-lasting and emotional connection between brand and consumer.'
Lucy Giffen, senior product manager at Del Monte, an iD client, agrees: 'We found that non-specialist agencies with a field marketing offering seemed to focus more on the implementation of the activity, rather than the how, why and what we could say to consumers to ensure they would participate.
We felt only a specialist agency could offer us an experiential solution and then think bigger. Because iD had been involved in the strategy it was able to identify sponsorship, third-party and amplification opportunities, which a traditional field marketing agency would not have been able to do.'
COI Communications has recognised the importance of the discipline by renaming its dedicated roster 'field marketing and experiential marketing agencies'. 'In a world where there are ever more virtual communications, what is lacking is the brand's physical presence,' says Marc Michaels, director of direct and relationship marketing at the COI. 'With experiential marketing, you can make it come alive - that's why the industry is growing. There is a backlash to the virtual.'
COI campaigns have showed promising signs that experiential marketing can deliver better channels to a target audience than other mediums, such as door-drops. However, Michaels thinks the discipline has a big hurdle to overcome in the form of its lack of evaluation, and for this reason he is very interested to see any work the LBEA does on metrics and models.
He further believes the industry needs a trade body for more than just research. 'Just look at the Radio Advertising Bureau and see what a huge amount a good trade body can do.'
Certainly, the industry needs a guiding hand. It is seeing phenomenal growth and agency launches in the sector, but these are coupled with a concern over the quality of service and personnel delivered in campaigns.
Bending believes the LBEA can be that guiding hand, but implores the industry not to cast judgment on the body after only a year. The LBEA may have got off to a slow start but this year will be different, he resolves.
'If by this time next year we haven't delivered on our three objectives, then this association will not be running - 2006 is crunch time.'
THE ADVOCATE - SHARON RICHEY managing director, LoewyBe and LBEA steering committee member
The creation of the LBEA has generated fresh interest in experiential marketing, both in the media and among senior clients.
Inevitably some companies may feel it does not adequately serve their commercial goals. Most associations face this challenge and all rely on the active involvement of members. Things might not be moving quickly enough for some, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes to lay the foundations for the future.
THE NEUTRAL - ANDREW EDWARDS European president, Arc Worldwide
As an industry, experiential marketing does need to have its own body to represent it, there is no doubt about that. I was chair of judges for the Australian Direct Marketing Association; it was a lot of work, but I was doing it to promote the DMA, not to promote myself or my company.
I wanted to put something back into the business and I would do it again.
An association just needs to involve the right people. If members are just in it for themselves, then forget it.
THE CRITIC - ANDREW DOUGLASS founder, Innovision
The phrase 'brand experience' has become diluted over time. To me it is now simply a jazzed-up blanket term covering field marketing, guerrilla marketing and sales promotion, upon which the LBEA's business model and membership appears to be based. The LBEA needs to be much more selective with its membership. Experiential marketing needs to be better promoted and understood, but the way the LBEA is going about it will only further confuse and disappoint.
CASE STUDY - DISNEY'S BABY EINSTEIN
In May, Disney appointed LBEA member agency LoewyBe to use experiential marketing to promote its Baby Einstein range of infant development products.
The campaign targeted baby shows that took place in Birmingham in May and London in October. The agency also created a roadshow that visited shopping centres in Bristol, Kent and Manchester for two days at a time during the summer.
The brief was to design an area in which babies and toddlers could play and learn with Baby Einstein products, and where parents could find out more about the product range from experts.
To achieve this, LoewyBe built a play area that included circular fibreglass 'discovery pods'. Inside these pods children could watch Baby Einstein DVDs and get their hands on the products. Real mums were trained to talk to the parents visiting the stand and explain how the products could be used to stimulate young minds.
With the stand at the baby shows, Baby Einstein tripled its sales compared with the previous year. In the case of the regional shopping-centre roadshows, the stands were placed close to Mothercare and Disney stores, where Baby Einstein products were on sale.
The main objective of the campaign was to raise awareness of Baby Einstein products as a learning tool for children. Results were measured in terms of how much time people spent interacting with the products at the events.
In total, more than 15,000 people were reached in the three shopping centres.
These contacts were not people who simply walked by the stand, but consumers with whom a member of staff had a conversation about the brand. About 10% sat in the pods and watched the DVDs.
Nikki Whiston, senior account manager at LoewyBe, says: 'Experiential marketing was the way forward with this brand because it wasn't particularly well known before, but it is the kind of product that has a real "wow" factor when you see how clever it is. Some people may have the perception that it is expensive, but when they see it in action, they are hooked.'
Baby Einstein senior manager Adam Reed adds: 'The value of our products is never more in evidence than when a child watches one of our DVDs; this is the reason why a roadshow was the perfect forum to communicate the brand's attributes to parents. The discovery pods allow parents to view a baby's reaction to the DVDs immediately.'
TIMELINE - LBEA
2005: January - Official launch.
February - Unveiling of logo and branding, brochure designed and printed.
March - Launch of website www.lbea.org.uk.
April - The board links with the Association of Exhibition Organisers to act as its secretariat, headed by director Austin Hawkins; 42 members have signed up.
May - Newsletter launches; networking event takes place.
October - Legal telephone helpline launches; guidance issued on Disability Discrimination Act, maternity and paternity law, national minimum wage, industrial action and trade union recognition and the Civil Partnership Act.
November - Research partners 2CV and Millward Brown are signed up.
CONFERENCE Bringing Your Brand to Life Date 21 March 2006 Venue The Dorchester, London Tel 020 8267 4011 Experiential expert speakers include Jason Paris, senior marketing manager, Nokia; Helen Jones, head of marketing, Ben & Jerry's; Marc Sands, marketing director, The Guardian. Web brandtolifeconference.com