A lot has been said about why brand experience has become so vital to marketing today. It includes the rise of Instagram and the need to showcase aspirational content publishing your best life, the mind-set of millennials where experience is currency and, of course, the ever changing and fragmenting media landscape.
They’re all true, but what’s the hidden driver here? Like CO2 and climate change, or Trump’s tweets and the news cycle, the rise in experiential marketing is directly linked to the pace of digital innovation.
Digital media and global connectivity have given rise to countless start-ups and product innovations. Digital innovation gives consumers more choice, more information and more inspiration, all at the touch of their fingertips. Exciting new brands and longstanding market leaders, at risk of losing relevance, are all competing against infinite inspiration at the end of a thumb scroll. This means consumers are more demanding; hungry to see, learn and understand, but most crucially to experience more with increasing speed.
Competition between brands is fiercer, which demands marketing to be all the more impactful. Marketing must do and mean more to win the attention and appreciation of consumers, with brands having to work harder to engage and re-invigorate their audience than ever before. Let’s take the tonic water category as an example. For years, there was only one brand to speak of. The market was a low interest category until Fever-Tree innovated and set out to educate the world through brand experience, teaching consumers to expect more from the three quarters of the drink that isn’t gin – enter masterclasses, tastings, pairing evenings, festivals and fast-growing communities of mixologists. Suddenly, we have a revolutionised multimillion-pound category.
For a more direct link between the increase in digital and an increase in experiential, look to Hearst Media. Proliferation of digital media online meant traditional magazine readership and digital subscriptions were in decline. Hearst used events to galvanise readers, to bring brands, experts and communities together and in doing so, returned their business to profitability and relevance. For the brands that had traditionally relied on media buys in Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health, creating memorable experiences at Hearst events is now key to engaging their audience.
Digital innovation and technology have been crucial in making immersive marketing more effective. One of the long-time criticisms of experiential has always been: “great, but how do you scale it?” This has largely fallen away and, interestingly, it’s been the tech sector: creators of digital technologies, that have proved the model successful. They are paving the way - staging even greater keynote events with supporting immersive experiences that can be livestreamed and hyped through the immediacy of social media and spread around the world.
It’s also new digital technologies that are going to make brand experiences more effective. Scannables and innovation in mobile browsers now offer seamless connection to endless information, communities, sales and sharing. 5G will bring an immediacy, depth of content and connectivity previously unattainable. AR and VR will continue to offer more interesting ways to enhance experiences and immerse consumers. The barriers of high costs, connection, app downloads and the pitfalls of novelty are being removed rapidly.
Brands will be able tell their stories in ever more interesting ways and instantly capitalise on the engagement created within an experience. In the not-too-distant future, email data capture for follow up will be seen as an archaic experiential KPI, as it becomes possible to facilitate sales instantly and as reconnection with consumers initially engaged via events becomes frictionless.
Has digital (especially Amazon) killed the high street? Yes, but its Brand Experiences are going to save it. A future where the high street is filled with new things to do, try and experience, where it beckons you out of the house is much more fun and worlds more exciting than walking past trading stores, piled high with products and plastered with discounts. Retailers are sitting on untapped potential, considering the multimillion spend collectively by brands who buy media space at events, shopping malls, festivals and pop-ups, just to activate for a few days. Retailers with a store estate have an incredible opportunity if they upskill staff to become true ambassadors, reconfigure spaces to allow for events and turn the stores into environments where people can try, experiment and fall in love with their products.
Marketing directors are choosing experiential to meet shifting consumer demand, compete fiercely when launching new product developments and to realise the potential of their store estate. They are doing so in ways that are fast becoming more effective because of digital and technological innovation. This is why experiential is on the rise today and will continue to be tomorrow.
Carlo Montemarano, head of experiential at Haygarth.