“Stop storytelling, start story-living”: Intermarketing X’s Simon Long on the latest trends in experiential marketing

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Simon Long, creative director of Intermarketing Agency, recently spoke to The Drum Network about the reasons behind the the formation of new experiential division - Intermarketing X – and the recent trend among brands towards ‘story-living’.

You’ve just added Intermarketing X to the agency’s offering – what was the motivation behind this and why now? Is there a gap in the market you feel you can plug?

Most agencies specialise in storytelling. We’re one of them. We’ve been telling brand’s stories for the last 29 years. But in an age of super-saturated communication, we’re looking beyond brand narrative and thinking about brand drama. The question we’re asking our clients isn’t “what is your brand saying?”, it’s “What is your brand doing?”. It’s the evolution from ‘storytelling’ to ‘story-living’.

And we’re finding that clients have really latched on to that notion of ‘story-living’. It means they can better bring brands, messages, products and services to life.

What does ‘experiential marketing’ actually mean in 2017? What does the term cover?

In today’s marketing world, when everything a brand does is an experience, experience is everything. It’s why experiential marketing has evolved from simple sampling activity to truly immersive consumer experiences that work across live and digital spaces.

With the evolution of content and consumer touchpoints, brands can now extend an experiential campaign much further than the end of an event. They now form the basis of entire integrated campaigns rather than acting as a standalone marketing effort, with memorable activations living on long after an experience comes to an end.

How has understanding of customer experience evolved in recent years?

In today’s customer-centric landscape people hold more power than ever. They now demand experiences that truly matter. It’s no longer enough to simply create a humorous poster or heartfelt commercial. Brands have to work harder to engage consumers on a deeper level to foster long-term loyalty. Encourage them to like, share, comment on and contribute to the brand narrative. Give the audience a role to play and a stage to play it.

It’s why ‘Story-living’ is becoming so important. It’s one of the best ways to connect with those who prefer to spend their money on brands that stand for more than their bottom lines.

What common mistakes do brands/agencies make in relation to experiential?

If brands have a clear purpose, then telling their story should be very straightforward. But, too often, a brand story is just a back story, living passively in a manifesto. The brand message needs to be authentic, unique, relevant and meaningful. When we start thinking about brand stories as something to live rather than to tell, we can start building a living narrative that can be successfully played out through consumer interactions at every touchpoint.

Can you provide examples of brands who are ‘doing’ experiential marketing well?

Our current collaborations with Adidas are good examples of how they’re transforming everyday encounters into rewarding brand experiences. Allowing fans to customize their own trainers or browse the brands section in Harrods, all within the virtual space, are good examples of how we’re helping them successfully live their stories through innovative and immersive experiences.

For other brands successfully living their story, it’s not just the experiences that are rewarding. Just look at last year’s winners at El Sol or Cannes. Nearly all the accolades went to ideas that could in no way be described as ads. From Harvey Nichols to Vans, McWhopper to Netflix, they were variously about consumer engagement, social movement, acts of empowerment or pieces of drama. Simply put, they all had experiential activity at their core and successfully encouraged consumers to contribute to their brand narrative.

Given that Intermarketing has offices in the Netherlands and Australia, how can brands manage the cultural sensitivities of trading internationally and provide an excellent experience in each target territory?

Brand experience remains intrinsically linked to culture. And in today’s diverse world, cultural sensitivity has never been more important. We’re seeing a hunger for cultural nostalgia as marketers look to humanize brands, as they look to forge meaningful connections between the past and present in a time of social unrest. Bud Light’s Pac-man, Reebok’s relaunch of their Classic range and PokemanGo are all good recent examples.

Practical insights and international analysis now provide good tools to ensure the highest level of cultural sensitively. But just as in the past, the ability to sensitively tap into the drivers of current culture will continue to win hearts, change minds and drive real business results.

Michael Feeley

Michael Feeley is The Drum Network's consultant journalist, advising and assisting member agencies on their editorial submissions and contributions to The Drum.

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