Why experiential is essential to your brand and how to get it right

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.

Initials look at the importance of experiential and provide marketers with a step-by-step success guide.

Experiential is the most honest communication channel. First and foremost, brands are built on trust: the belief that they’ll deliver what they promise and behave with consistency, commitment and responsibility. In recent years, this trust has started to fray. Excessive re-targeting, data abuse, undeclared influencer strategies, hidden product downgrades, tax avoidance – they’ve all played a part.

To forge a real connection with their audience, brands must behave with conviction and authenticity. They need to come out of hiding and show what they stand for. That’s the true power of experiential. It proves that a brand is willing and eager to meet consumers on equal terms and start a two-way conversation.

Done right, experiential has unparalleled potential to drive interest and involvement, strengthen or re-shape brand perceptions, and create trust. The problem is… too often, this potential isn’t realised.

In order to avoid this trap there are numerous components you need to get right: how to define its exact role and set clear, measurable objectives; how to develop compelling ideas that cut through and provoke precisely the actions required; how to find the right partners to deepen the story and drive reach; and, critically, how to ensure the channel is integral to the overall brand strategy rather than standing in isolation.

Crucial factors for effective experiential

  • Listen up: In experiential, your brand is entering people’s worlds in a direct and highly physical way. If they’re to accept you, you need to show you understand their motives and have their best interests at heart. Your behaviour must prove you respect their needs and share their passion. To arrive at this point, brands must understand consumers on an intimate level and establish true audience insight.
  • Add to culture: You need to give to get. Be generous in contributing to the surrounding culture and deliver a service or experience that is highly relevant to time and place. Feed people’s desire to discover the new and encourage active participation.
  • Build partnerships that spark: Deep collaboration with preferred partners such as event or event series owners, media or social publishers is critical. Take the time to understand your partners’ agendas and trust their insights. Work together to build a compelling creative story that will resonate before, during and after the experience.
  • Know your playground: Brands must not only identify the right place, but the right point within it, if they’re to maximise cut-through and consumer response. Once you’ve found the most relevant places to play, commit over time in order to become an integral part of the experience.
  • Tell a powerful story: Consumers want brands to step into the daylight and reveal their true selves. Experiential shows you’re willing to stand up and be counted. Capitalise on the time available to create a dynamic, multi-step narrative; and maximise involvement by using proven storytelling techniques.
  • Embed rich memories: Our brains are hard-wired to remember real-world events of high intensity. Design your experience to deliver a series of emotional peaks that build to a climax. Touch all five senses, encourage playful behaviour, and don’t be afraid to take people out of their comfort zone.

Experiential has unrivalled power to change people’s attitudes and behaviours. To realise its potential, you need these six factors, alongside high-quality insights, a great creative idea and strategic and executional rigour.

New rules of engagement

These factors are all of equal importance, but placing the audience front and centre will ensure the delivery of authentic experiences which build brand trust and brand equity.

Brands need to be prepared to relinquish their traditional role as “lead”, in both the context of partnerships and the way they engage with their audience. Collaboration in both contexts is key.

Doing so means inviting your audience to play an active role in the experience, giving them ways to customise and ‘own’ the experience. Our interactions and memories are highly personal, so with a laser sharp understanding of your audience, you can put yourself squarely in their shoes and change their hearts and minds.

This also rings true with partnerships. We’ve worked with amazing partners from LadBible to Global, Tough Mudder and Live Nation. What’s key is moving away from a standard partnership mindset, traditionally very transactional in nature, towards truly collaborative approaches that focus on mutual objectives and shared vision of the outcome. That requires an acceptance that brands aren’t able to exert the level of control they used to – and that new rules of engagement now apply.

Looking to the future

According to the 2018 IPA Bellwether Report 2, spend on experiential has risen continuously for the last five years. It’s now taking a much larger share of brand budgets.

As experiential grows in importance within the marketing mix, so does the need for companies to take a more strategic approach to it. Rather than developing one-off initiatives, the focus should be on how the channel can help build deeper relationships with key audiences over time.

The factors for experiential success outlined above will hold true in the future. They are elemental: the need for relevance, human connection and rich, emotionally resonant stories is only going to grow.

If you want to become the brand of choice for tomorrow’s consumers, you need to step up now and show your true colours by delivering unforgettable live experiences.

Rachel Bateman, head of experiential at Initials.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.