Experiential ad spend to expand beyond London as UK-wide hunger grows, predicts Identity's head of digital

Experiential ad spend to expand beyond London as UK-wide hunger grows, predicts Shea Bennett, head of digital at Identity

Marketers are looking to create brand experiences. After all, brands that stir strong emotions from the people they target are more effective than any kind of display advertising. That is why agencies, and the brands they work with, are pushing boundaries and breaking new grounds when it comes to experiential marketing.

An Immersive Experience

77% of marketers use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategy [Experiential Marketing Content Benchmarking Report]. Shea Bennett, head of digital at Identity, specialists in live events, explains that experiential billings are certainly on the rise in the UK, what with it accounting for £171.9m in 2016 across the top 30 agencies.

“While the bulk of this spend remains in London at the moment,” he says. “I believe this growth will continue as interest spreads across the rest of the UK and brands become better informed about the benefits of experiential and immersive experiences, and would expect brand experience to account for a healthy percentage of budgets going forwards. Relative to traditional above the line it’s still a new medium but this is quickly changing.”

The demand for experience-led activations and businesses that can deliver on live experiences, is growing. Bennett is certain that the hunger for experiential spend at live events will continue to grow and is likely accelerate in 2018 and beyond.

He adds: “Bigger budgets mean more to spend at the event itself, which will mean new technology. New technologies should lead to a higher overall quality of immersive experience, which should mean great consumer/visitor satisfaction and a stronger brand connection.

According to Enterprise Event Marketing, event tech can help increase attendance by 20%.“It should also (hopefully rapidly) mean less old technology,” Bennett continues. “So, expect to see a decline in photo booths and other somewhat dated tools next year.

“Critically, events teams will need to become increasingly specialist to successfully implement and deliver these improved activations, so experiential should lead to greater training and expertise, too.”

Direct Connection with Consumers

Consumers no longer want campaign messages pushed at them but instead want to participate or create their own experiences. Consider the brilliant Carlsberg billboard in Brick Lane, in London — “probably the best poster in the world”, with a working beer tap where the public could pull their own pints. As you might imagine, it didn't take too long for the queue to grow. The most effective way, according to Bennett, is to let the consumer take control of the owned media part of the equation, by letting them completely dictate how and where the experience is shared.

“Historically this was done with photo booths, Twitter mirrors, competitions and so on, which while dated, did work and the components that made them work are still important.”

Bennett continues: “That is, don’t make the consumer do something for you. Delight them to such a degree that they’ll be thrilled to do so. And today the best experiences are those that are so fundamentally impressive that consumers feel compelled to share those experiences on social media.

“The trick here is that each time we raise the benchmark it takes that little bit more for each of us to be suitably impressed. What’s important for brands to remember is that it isn't always about being bigger or spending more money; it’s often about being clever or different.”

He gives the example of Identity’s recent work with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle — a two-week activation campaign to promote the benefits of travelling to Europe by car with them. The “mystery-tunnel” campaign targeted the younger car owner market through engaging digital, while highlighting key Eurotunnel Le Shuttle benefits like short journey times, the wide choice of available destinations and the freedom to explore Europe at your own pace.

Data Baked In

Meanwhile, different brands measure experiential in varied ways. Bennett says: “This can include the collection of data from delegates at an event, that is delivered back to a system which delivers follow-up information in real-time, such as marketing collateral or product information.

“Increasingly real-time experiences are being delivered away from the event itself, through the use of social media and particularly live video on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. These drive awareness of the event to non-attendees and massively increases reach and engagement data.”

But agencies need to deliver live experiences by catering to the occasion. Less is more, says Bennett, and can pay the dividends.

He says: “It’s somewhat of a marketing truism that the more hoops a user must jump through the poorer the result will be. All that said, the size of the brand plays a key part too, and certainly at an exhibition there’s a competitive, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ element where you absolutely must have a bigger, better stand than your neighbour.

"For a large London-based campaign involving a major brand, there’s almost a need to go big, but there are many instances where a very stripped-down campaign has massively over-delivered.”

Identity are a sponsor for The Drum UK Event Awards 2017, which focuses on the experiential element of the marketing world, as well as traditional events and suppliers.

Tables are available now to book for the awards ceremony at The Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel, London on Tuesday 5 December.

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Danielle Gibson

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