Good experiential marketing will give your brand an unfair advantage, writes Madeleine Preece, so what are you waiting for?

Brand experiences, real life experiences that reach audiences at any touchpoint, are having their moment. It’s certainly not a new thing with applications dating back as far as the 1900s when Harry Selfridge opened his eponymous store in London.

Back in 1909, Selfridge completely redefined the retail experience of the day. Shopping was once an exclusive pursuit where only the wealthy were allowed in the stores, but Selfridges welcomed everyone. The display cabinets were open so people could touch and feel the products and the department store was the first in Britain to provide women’s toilets.

Successful brands have long been advocates of brand experience but the current advertising climate and the demand for more effectiveness and ROI for marketing dollars are putting it in the spotlight like never before.

Today brand experience is often viewed as consumer-facing activations such as an interactive installation at a sporting event or in a shopping centre – commonly known as experiential marketing. But that only takes into account one touchpoint.

A true brand experience is a business solution rather than a marketing channel. It could be designed for an audience such as shareholders of a business, employees or dealer and franchise networks. Its role is to give people an experience of the brand and instil a sense of passion for it.

This is important because, without this level of brand understanding, your key stakeholders won’t be able to deliver on the brand promise.

Pull don’t push

Given the tsunami of digital advertising, and the transition in the way we consume entertainment and media, traditional forms of advertising – push rather than pull – are becoming less effective. As we gain more control over when, where, how, and what we consume, being bombarded with advertising messages is the last thing any of us want.

So experiences that draw us toward a brand, that look to delight rather than harass, are naturally going to be more effective.

Research supports this. The US Event Marketing Institute’s annual event and experiential marketing industry Forecast and best practices study EventTrack found 93% of people see live experiences as being more effective than television advertising with 98% of people who have a great experience at an event more inclined to purchase.

With 94% of Australians having attended some form of live event experience in the past 12 months – according to the Eventbrite Live Experiences Survey – brand experiences can give your brand a distinct advantage.

Because an experience invites us to engage with the product by choice, the approach moves consumers through the purchase funnel more quickly. It puts us face-to-face with the brand in a more intimate way than if it was coming from a one-way piece of communication, shouting from above a freeway or popping up on a screen while we’re trying to watch a video.

 A richer experience for the brand and the consumer

The power of brand experience and experiential marketing comes from more than simply the fact people are opting in. When they choose to engage with the brand, they get a much richer experience. The brand does too.

Brand experiences ask people how they feel, what they think, how they want to spend their time and whether they would buy a product. This leads to rich qualitative and quantitative data that allows for nimbly adjusting tactical responses in real time.

Brand experiences provide insights traditional data sources such as Roy Morgan can’t offer because they give you the ability to hear straight from the source. A brand experience can act as the greatest focus group for your product, even as it’s being launched.

This information can then inform your marketing strategy down the line, which is invaluable, particularly for a new brand or a smaller player in a crowded market.

While social channels offer the consumer a much greater share of voice and a more genuine two-way dialogue, the ability to be at the coalface with a brand’s audience is something brand experience has mastered. No matter how hard it tries, traditional advertising will never be able to offer insights in the same way.

A business-wide approach

Experiential marketing has the power to turbo-charge your marketing efforts, particularly when they include internal communications. The Towers Watson report tells us that companies with high levels of employee engagement have a return on assets six times higher than those with low engagement levels.

In the words of author Simon Sinek,

“When people are financially invested, they want return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” It makes good business sense to create brand experiences with a business-wide approach.

It’s not simply about making employees feel warm and fuzzy.

More than a fad

As marketers, we’re always after that quick fix. The silver bullet. We see lots of brands looking to get into brand experience but they’re not viewing it as a sustained, integrated approach. Often it’s a flash in the pan such as sponsoring a one-off event. The best results come from long term, slow burn, business-wide, always-in-market activity that’s married with other marketing and internal communication strategies.

I’m certainly not saying brands should ditch all of their other marketing efforts in favour of creating brand experiences. It’s a great supporter and an essential foundation to the overall marketing mix. It’s not the be all and end all – just as digital can’t be the be all and end all – it has its limitations.

Yes, brand experience is having a moment. No, it’s not new. But what is new is that we’re naming it, owning it and insisting on it being consistent through every aspect of a business – because all you need is one weak link for the brand experience chain to break and the closer that gets to the point of purchase, the more likely it is to snap.