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Experiential marketing: The next stage for storytelling

By Simon Long, Creative Director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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July 26, 2019 | 6 min read

Intermarketing’s Simon Long spins a yarn about why brands that are living their stories, not just telling them, have a head start.

Paintbrush hands

Storytelling is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. As humans, we love a distraction and enjoy being transported to different worlds. Everyone wants to be engaged.

The enduring power of storytelling is why poets and writers have been heralded though history. It’s why we hold actors and directors in such high esteem today. It’s what politicians rely on during their campaigns to connect with voters. It’s the reason parents read a book to their children before they go to sleep at night. To tell a story is to share an insight into the world.

Every brand has a story to tell. It’s a clear representation of their values and purpose, setting them apart from competitors. While storytelling is a key differentiator in the saturated communications landscape, it’s still adding to the amount of information consumers are required to parse before they decide on a brand, product or service.

Simply telling a story doesn’t resonate like it did years ago; today’s consumers are connected 24/7. They know more, expect more and have more choice than ever before, all at their fingertips. Brands now need to work harder to cut through the clutter, engaging them on a deeper level to foster long-term loyalty.

In today’s marketing world, there’s a need for a modern approach. Shifting brand conversations into actions, advancing from storytelling to story-living.

Beyond a brand

Put simply, story-living allows consumers to experience a brand, beyond being told about it, giving them a role to play and a stage on which to play it. It enables exposure to a brand’s ethos and ecosystem in ways that cannot be replicated using traditional media: Seeing the brand story as something to live, rather than to tell, offers a framework on which to construct a “living narrative” that’s played out through consumer interactions at every touchpoint.

As touchpoints constantly evolve, with new technologies and devices being introduced, brands can now offer complete user immersion and unprecedented levels of engagement. With a deeper appreciation for what the likes of voice recognition, virtual reality and augmented reality provides, brands can finally go way beyond traditional storytelling into the realm of story-living, where people can fully experience and create their own living stories in virtual worlds.

Advancements in these technologies can already be seen within mobile advertising. 360-degree adverts that incorporate touch and vibration take viewers on a real journey, allowing them to live out a compelling story or transport them to any part of the world. Audiences are responding; it’s proven that VR generates a more emotional response and longer engagement times. For example, Hong Kong Airline’s 360-degree ads were 35 times more effective than the same traditional 2D ad.

The confluence of physical and digital worlds is set to see huge developments over the next few years. The livestream trend has been bolstered by Facebook’s livestreaming function, however, in order to fully immerse consumers, combining livestreaming with 360-degree technologies is a must. By enabling consumers to engage with a live event as and when they choose, in both the physical and digital landscapes, brands have the ability to create a highly personalised, on-demand experience.

Social living and storytelling

For other brands successfully living their story it’s not just the experiences that are rewarding. Just look at last year’s winners at Cannes, where nearly all the accolades went to ideas that could in no way be described as ads. From Diesel to Savlon, Apple to Microsoft, they were invariably about consumer engagement, social movement, acts of empowerment or pieces of drama. They all had experiential activity at their core and successfully encouraged consumers to contribute to their brand narrative.

Empowered by social networks and digital devices, consumers are increasingly dictating when, where, and how they engage with brands. They have become both creators and critics, demanding more personalised brand experiences in order to shape the products and services they consume. As a result, tailored metrics are emerging that measure and capture the return on investment in the digital age.

The interactive nature of brand experiences provides marketers with an impact that is measurable, since ROI from live experiences is driven by the ability to track every step of the customer journey. The ongoing aim is to bring consumer traffic into the physical world, where personal interactions can capture and track valuable insights. These insights enable a two-way conversation, full of actionable insight, across every subsequent engagement.

Significant advancements have been made in the ability of AI to recognise and analyse consumer emotion and sentiment. Evolving deep learning capabilities in combination with natural learning processing and social listening has allowed brands to truly understand the consumer, measuring noise before, during and after an experience to tracking sales.

A positive experience not only captures attention and increases ROI, it creates advocates. This offers a new ROI model that can be used to measure the value created due to direct interaction with consumers through social streams. ‘Return on Interaction’ creates a social currency that’s proving very rewarding for brands who connect with those who prefer to spend their money on brands that stand for more than their bottom line.

All in all, the experiential industry is flourishing. Brand experiences are now seen as an expectation, with key trends from past years evolving and becoming much more focused. With the evolution of content and consumer touch points, brands can extend an experiential campaign much further than the end of an event. They now form the basis of entire campaigns rather than acting as a stand-alone marketing effort, with meaningful and memorable activations living on long after an experience comes to a close.

Modern brands should be looking beyond the narrative and thinking about drama. Don’t just tell consumers their stories. Invite them to live it.


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