Master Class: What experiential marketing areas are crucial to build brands of the future?

Tomorrow's big brands will be the ones that create and sustain experiences that make a difference for the people who matter most to them.

Britt Bulla
VP and director of strategy, Jack Morton

Tim LeRoy
Consultant, Lyman PR

Mandy Levings
SVP and partner, Fleishman-Hillard

Scott Moller
Cofounder, managing partner, Marketing Werks

Christina Smedley
Global chair, consumer marketing, Edelman

Britt Bulla, VP and director of strategy, Jack Morton:
Tomorrow's big brands will be the ones that create and sustain experiences that make a difference for the people who matter most to them. The challenge is in making that difference.

The rise of mobile, digital, and social channels of interaction means consumers have access to more information than ever before, they're better at filtering it, and they already have habits, expectations, and routines in place for investigating and connecting with the brands, topics, and people important to them.

Consumers will choose how, when, and where they interact with brands. In addition, how they do that interacting will often change from day to day. As marketers, we talk about the customer journey as if it's something monolithic - but we're already at a point where each consumer has his or her own intricate and unique journey that has been developed for interacting with brands.

Successful brands will earn a place within that journey not through a focus on what type of experiential marketing to pursue, but by being able to define a unique role within the customer's life and journey. It's key to create a consumer experience that is useful, compelling, desirable, and worth sharing.

The brands that get it right will consider, design, and deliver an experience across media and channels, including physical spaces, live interactions, digital and mobile, considering interplay, interaction, and amplification.

The brands that succeed will make sure the customer has the same caliber experience no matter where or when. They will also be sure to align all of their employees for experiences that occur over the Web, in the store, or on the phone.

Tim LeRoy, consultant, Lyman PR:
In travel and tourism marketing, creating a sense of place and an emotional connection are vitally important. As the sophistication of consumers has increased along with the bombardment of information, it's become more challenging to create the type of sensory experience that leads to a purchase decision. Thanks to advancements in the cost and quality of video equipment in particular, experiential marketing is no longer a concept that carries a large price tag.

For many years, the familiarization visit was a tried-and-true tactic for travel and tour-ism marketers. It involved inviting media to your location and providing them with an experience that spoke to the resort's or destination's best qualities. Then things changed. For many outlets, the resources necessary to send someone out for several days to participate in a trip were no longer available.

If you can't bring media to your resort, bring the resort to the media. But why stop there? Bring it directly to the consumer as well. Video and social media aren't new to the experiential marketer's kit. What has changed is that they're now so affordable to use, everyone can do it. All you need is a flip cam and some basic video-editing software. From there, you're limited only by creativity.

Offering the video as contributed content to bloggers and online publications meets their continuous need for fresh content and has obvious publicity and SEO benefits. Think of it as a VNR for the digital age, only without the stigma. Posting video to your Facebook page or YouTube channel provides direct engagement with your core audience. Creating an experience has never been easier, or, perhaps more importantly, cheaper.

To develop a successful experiential video, be sure the content is entertaining, informative, brief, and not overly promotional.

Mandy Levings, SVP and partner, Fleishman-Hillard:
Consumers are exposed to thousands of messages per day, so what will shine a light on your brand? How do you cut through the clutter to deliver lasting impact?

Brands that will win in the future will put their eggs in the experiential basket. It is not enough for consumers to just see and hear your products and messages - they must feel them. This helps them build a relationship with your brand and each other. It's all about extending and enhancing the brand experience by tapping into their passions.

Our client Hallmark Cards has embraced this as a way to connect with consumers through a "live" experience. At BlogHer 2011, consumers visited Hallmark's Card Corner, where they sent cards off-site or to another blogger on-site. Bloggers received a tweet from Hallmark letting them know they "Got Carded." Then, they picked up their card at the Hallmark booth and talked with brand representatives.

This experience reconnected consumers to each other and reminded them of the emotional lift of sending and receiving greeting cards. With more than 90 brands sponsoring BlogHer, this experience helped Hallmark cut through the clutter.

What are the critical success factors of experiential marketing?

  • Create a sensory experience. What can a consumer experience in a physical or emotional way and how can they take it with them when they leave so the experience serves as a relationship builder rather than a "one and done?"
  • Evoke emotion. When emotions are triggered, it sparks thoughts we want to share.
  • Stimulate thought. What does the experience mean to the consumer and why would they change their behavior as a result?

Challenge your brand to make consumer experience a primary focus.

Scott Moller, cofounder and managing partner, Marketing Werks:
Today's consumers expect meaningful, relevant, and transparent connections with the brands they value. Experiential marketing - customer interaction - has proven uniquely strong at establishing and fostering that relationship. Key criteria for experiential marketing success include:

  • Engaging communities. Offline and online, people with shared passion points gather to engage and inspire each other. Through experiential marketing you become relevant to communities. Whether you have a presence at hyper-local community activations or on a nationwide tour, experiential marketing lets your brand be in places your consumer might or might not expect you to be.
  • Fueling word of mouth. Recognizing that experiential marketing can generate the fuel needed to power word-of-mouth campaigns, live marketing now works hand in glove with social media. Experiential marketing can produce the authentic, passionate conversation and content that brands of today and tomorrow want and need.
  • Generating buzz. One-off stunts and mo- bile tours have become solid platforms to build buzz to launch and rejuvenate brands.
  • Creating an integrated concept. Brand experiences should be so impactful that they can be integrated into marketing efforts for the brand's other constituents: b-to-c, b-to-b, and internal and external stakeholders.
  • Generating measurable outcomes. Today, you must report measurable results. Among the metrics experiential marketing produces are traditional and social media impressions, high-touch consumer impressions, product sampling numbers, coupon redemptions, and even sales and customer conversion metrics.

Experiential marketing will continue to grow as the trusted approach to building brands of the future, core to campaigns that PR, advertising and digital agencies and others in the marketing mix construct their own brand-building executions against.

Christina Smedley, global chair, consumer marketing, Edelman:
In an increasingly digital world, the most compelling and differentiating way to build a brand of the future could be by returning to our roots: shared customer experiences - offline - and multi-faceted experiential events. As counterintuitive as it might seem, there was something compelling and dynamic about the early days of technology adoption when we still enjoyed the authenticity of "real" experience.

When we turn off our computers, put away our smartphones, and spend quality face-to-face time with people - thus allowing them to talk directly with us, touch and try our products, and experience what our services can actually do for them - a special feeling settles in.

As a guiding principle, experiential marketing events should act as an extension of a brand's core values and the day-to-day brand experience, regardless of the focus or the target. Experiential marketing events should serve as a participatory platform that the brand owns. At their best, these offline experiences give the consumer a deeper perspective of a brand's core identity and purpose. As marketers, they provide us with an understanding of how consumers respond to that identity and purpose.

Experiential events of the future should offer consumers a stage to share their opinions and participate in an ongoing community experience with the brand. In experiential parlance, this means clustering around common graphics, interconnectivity (think food festivals with intersecting activity like music), and, most important, participants who are event curators and creators.

The Takeaway

  • Memorable experiences that stimulate thought and evoke emotion will generate buzz and fuel word of mouth.
  • Bolster consumer relationships by building experiences that tap into their passions.
  • Create experiences for consumers that are useful, compelling, desirable, and worth sharing.
  • Videos can be a useful way to provide an experience if an in-person visit is not possible.

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