Experiential MarketingShaping the future of global brands

Launched July 2009 Updated September 2009 7 lectures
Mr. Max Lenderman
GMR Marketing, Canada

The Rise of Experiential Marketing and What it Means for the Future of Brands... read more

The role of the individual consumer – the prosumer – has acquired ground-breaking clout. The consumer is now firmly in control of how brands break through the ad clutter to reach them. Because of the growing media fragmentation, and the proliferation of sub-markets and niche consumer segments, mass advertising and marketing can no longer effectively deliver a monolithic brand message. It follows, therefore, that a monolithic brand image is impossible to achieve in the modern marketplace. Brands are too many things to too many people. This desperately worries risk-averse brand managers. In response, forward-thinking marketers are focused on establishing mass consumer cults around experiences instead, which can engender a sense of shared insight and belonging for the consumer.

That’s why marketers are looking at experience providers like Apple, Nike, Starbucks and Harley-Davidson as avatars of building cults around brand experiences, versus “older” companies such as Coke, Microsoft and Nokia who still play the brand image game. Nike allows consumers to design their own sneakers, and consistently sponsors grassroots efforts to reach out and interact with the core consumer. Apple allows consumers to design their own marketing for the iPod brand, for instance, and uses its stores to position the brand through space design and one-on-one interactions at the Genius Bars. Every Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of consumers gather in Milwaukee to celebrate Harley-Davidson and mingle with other like-minded evangelists. Can you think of any other brand that gets tattooed on the bodies of thousands of consumers each year?

These brands are able to build brand cults because they offer the individual consumer a sense of customization, interactivity and community. These elements are all integral to the ethos of experiential marketing.

The most profound impact that experiential marketing will have on brands, however, is on the control of the brand itself. Brands like Jeep, Volvo and Nike have certainly used functional messaging to push their products, but they have also infused their marketing with the goal of building a relationship with their consumers and making them feel like they are partners with the brand. They have taken the brand away from brand managers and opened it up for their customers. Nowadays, many brands have a life of their own, and a brand manager has to just learn to let go, allow consumers themselves to create meaning and communities around their brands. But what allows them to do this?

Certainly the internet provides the tools and access to create meaning and build communities around a brand. There is no other medium out there that does it so well. But it is hampered by its virtual nature. Experiential marketing, on the other hand, is the physical medium to create meaning and communal affinity for a brand. In the modern marketplace, one of the biggest challenges for brand marketers is the ability to truly understand what emotional messaging is internalized by the individual consumer, and how this messaging affects the perception of the brand.

Equally challenging is the ability to identify what changes are required to steer the brand’s defining equity in the right direction, when to do it, and how to ascertain if the new direction is right or not. Experiential marketing campaigns are the forums in which brand equity is tested by the consumer, and where brand marketers can address these challenges through first-hand observations.

The scope of this series is to explore the world of experiential marketing and its inexorable evolution. It will look at:

• What makes the latest forms of XM truly revolutionary?
• What does that mean for the survival of brands and brand marketers?
• How can they succeed and prosper in the new advertising and marketing landscape?
• What is the immediate impact on the future behaviour of brands and their managers?

Why Experiential Marketing?

Experiential marketing delivers results. A recent survey by Jack Morton Worldwide showed that:

• EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING DRIVES PURCHASE. Survey participants rank it as the #1 medium most likely to result in purchase.

• EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING IS MOST ENGAGING. 82% agree that participating in experiential marketing is more engaging than other forms of communication.

• EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING INSPIRES ACTION. Over 50% tried a sample, told others via WOM, went online or contacted the company after participating in a brand experience.

• EXPERIENCES LEAD TO UNDERSTANDING. 80% agree that experiential marketing is more likely to give them information than other forms of communications.

• EXPERIENCES GENERATE WORD OF MOUTH. 85% agree they would tell others about participating in a live event.

• EXPERIENCES ENHANCE MARKETING ROI. 81% agree that experiential marketing would make them more receptive to other marketing from the product/brand.

The business successes achieved by focusing on customer experience is exactly why experiential marketing is becoming increasingly important to any company’s marketing mix. Companies will soon be forced by the consumer to adopt experiential marketing tactics and strategies in order to reach them. Instead of relying solely on advertising, brands will seek out events where the consumer can physically interact with them.

Marketing campaigns will need to deliver clear benefits to consumers (instead of sheer clutter), allowing causal marketing to take a more prominent role in a company’s marketing plans. Consumer engagement and empowerment will become instrumental to driving sales. The internet is already making this a reality. For instance, 80% of Hyundai consumers currently go to the web to choose their vehicle, even before they step into the showrooms.

Marketers will have to find niche markets for their brands, and mass media advertising will not be able to help them. Instead, going grassroots with marketing programs will prove to be even more necessary than in the past.

Communications planning will be taken to the next level. No longer will a network TV spot buy be as effective as determining when and where the consumer is most receptive to marketing messages. Marketing will have to deliver context to its messages. This makes a methodology like product placement something less than the panacea that traditional mass marketers hope it will be.

Marketers can no longer afford a “one-size-fits-all” approach to mass media. Each campaign’s creative will have to be tailored to accommodate the media vehicle television, internet, mobile telephony, word of mouth, face-to-face, etc. Take a look at the gaming industry and its experiments with advergaming. This may hold the clues to the immediate future of advertising where, again, contextual experience is king, because a mass buckshot approach without it is no longer viable.

More far reaching is what experiential marketing holds for the future of our everyday experiences with brands and services: experiential marketing can make brands important again.

Instead of marketers spending their time on new products, line extensions, or new-and-improved packaging, they should concentrate on their existing marketing strategies to see how they are engaging, benefiting and empowering their customers. If they do this, they may just invent a product or service that can actually change our lives.