Marketers expect to allocate up to 50% of their budgets to brand experience, study finds

From pop-up shops to virtual reality, companies are investing more heavily in executions that engage the senses, according to global research from Freeman.

It’s been widely believed that most consumers—not just millennials—value experiences over things. In fact, there’s even evidence that those people live happier lives.  

A global study from experiential agency Freeman is showing that marketers are also subscribing to the idea. The 2017 Freeman Global Brand Experience Study found that more than one in three CMOs expects to set aside 21% to 50% of their budgets for brand experiences, including "events, trade shows, sponsorships, exhibits, permanent installations, virtual, or augmented reality experiences or pop-ups."

"Audiences have fragmented, and it’s become more about narrowcasting—like finding your exact audience that you’re needing to market to and getting to those folks—versus a broadcast message," said Freeman EVP and CMO Chris Cavanaugh.

The findings of the study show greater investment plans for experiential programs than recent research from the Event Marketing Institute, which predicts that experiential marketing spending will increase by 11% in 2017. 

The study also discovered that 59% of global CMOs recognize brand experience as a way to formulate ongoing relationships with their core audiences, and 90% of marketers worldwide think that brand experience delivers strong face-to-face interaction and more compelling engagement.

When drilled down by industry, b-to-b marketers are more likely to invest in brand experiences (28%) compared to 18% of their b-to-c counterparts. "B-to-c has always had broadcast to rely on, but from a b-to-b perspective, they came to the party early," hosting demonstrations at trade shows among other hands-on experiences, explained Cavanaugh. Plus, 54% of B2B marketers and 53% of brand managers saw experiences as an effective method to generate leads.

"Audiences spend more time with the brand at live experiences versus a 15-second commercial," Cavanaugh said. "As a result, it’s really an opportunity to deliver the company’s point of view on the market."

But not every experience is as robust as it could be, the study revealed. Only one in four marketers is engaging all five senses in its experiential marketing and just 22% of those surveyed said they’re using some form of touch screen technology.

Marketers in Asia are at the forefront of the practice. The research indicated that Asian marketers were early adopters of immersive, interactive technology, like virtual reality (31%) compared to their North American (9%), and Western European (7%) counterparts.

"Much like how Asia-Pacific adopted the smartphone technology ahead of the rest of the world, I see the same analogy with North America and Western Europe," he said. "I do think it’s coming, but I think Asia is leading the way."

And 32% of Asian marketers said they will spend more than one-fifth of their total budgets on experiences, versus 23% of their European colleagues and 27% of North American marketers. Together, more than 50% of both Asian and North American marketers agreed that experiential marketing helps increase sales.

CMOs from every continent surveyed believe that brand experiences showcase thought leadership (48%) and increase advocacy (58%). But brand managers and event planners don’t agree. Only 33% of brand managers and 28% of event planners said their companies’ point of view is expressed adequately through experiences, and 13% of brand managers and 18% of event planners think experiences build brand advocacy among consumers.

"They’re the practitioners of the events. They’re there on the ground as it’s unfolding, and it seems like there’s a different point of view," Cavanaugh said. "My expectation is as CMOs see the value and are putting more money behind brand experiences, I would expect that gap would shrink over time."

Survey firm SSI conducted the online survey November 2-16, 2016. More than 1,000 event planners, CMOs, and brand managers from Asia, Western Europe, and North America participated in the study.

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