Experiential marketers know better than most that the world of experiences has shifted away from happy-go-lucky, gut-driven design to a more predictable, results-driven model. Results are everything. It’s become a high-stakes competition, with every marketing dollar spent on experiences closely evaluated and measured directly against the performance of other channels, from print to TV ads.
As a result, brands often resort to numerous complicated and costly methods of measuring the outcome of an activation or experience campaign in real-time or even after the fact. This unknown element of the experience industry always seemed strange to me: why would a brand risk investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an experience without a general expectation that it should hit any of their key objectives or performance metrics?
Experience experts should be leveraging what others do across industries, from tech to automotive; places where the idea of beta testing and prototyping before a product hits the market has been standard protocol since the very beginning. Experiential is just late to the game. There’s plenty to learn from their approach, allowing more brands to improve predictability and test the outcome of their activations before rolling out a single event or experiential campaign.
Learning from the best
Most industries take advantage of some form of testing. The tech industry, for example, is known to exist in a constant state of beta. Developers use the beta phase to eliminate software bugs and crashes while improving the overall technical performance and usability prior to launch while also gathering initial reviews and testimonials.
By comparison, the automobile sector has an incredible arsenal of next generation prototyping toys to help them test their ideas - from computerized milling robots and large-scale 3D printers to virtual reality setups and specialized design software. Some also still use clay, preferring car body modifications that can easily be adjusted, added or subtracted in real time and scale while preserving human collaboration and artistry that machines and CAD programs simply can’t replicate.
All of these tactile and digital approaches contain lessons that can be applied to testing experiences. You can use physical experiences as a test and fundamental collaboration tool that fires up beautiful human intuition in a real-world context. Combine these with advanced digital tools to add rigor and precision and you have a template for how to prototype any brand experience.
A new experiential testing framework
But how do you unite and activate the testing methods from the tech and automobile category toward creating a framework for brand experiences? The answer is Experience in Beta (EIB), not to be confused with ROE (Return On Experience) which measures brand effectiveness during and after physical brand experiences. In its most simplistic form, EIB proactively measures and forecasts in a controlled environment the potential positive or negative impacts various brand experiences can have on a brand before launch. This means making an investment: building an experience and testing it on a smaller scale first using a pop-up or similar activation to gauge the response and reaction with a real audience in a real setting, but via a limited scope. While this seems to sacrifice time and money, the resulting data can actually mean the difference between experiential success or failure.
To prove the value of this thinking, Set Creative launched our own Experience in Beta study. Called The Sevillian Experiment, we created a fictional brand and then crafted a brand experience to show what a small, low-budget pop-up can do for a brand in the testing phase. Over the course of the study, we learned from across 1000+ participants that providing a hands-on experience drove three times higher brand recall, share out, and recommendation, as well as double the likelihood to purchase than the same experience in video, print or audio. Overall, participants felt more engaged and expressed more enjoyment when completing tasks themselves as a part of the experience. Based on our objectives, the testing environment provided crucial evidence for using physical experiences as part of a launch - insights that will guide our approach to experiences for years to come.
Don’t leave it to chance
Instead of relying on chance and luck, Experience in Beta can mitigate the risk of overspending and lead to better guidance in reaching brands’ desired objectives. While it may seem unusual, a finite investment at the beginning of the journey will grant early access to rich data that in return can inform a brand’s decision-making based on real-life experiences and compatible population samples.
Just imagine the possibilities. Brands can take advantage of an experiential testing environment and measure physical experiences against a multitude of business, marketing, and consumer objectives. From our Sevillian experiment, for example, we learned so much about our audience’s emotions. how they approached and interacted with our space, how they reacted to the scents and sounds, and how much they enjoyed interacting with our staff ambassadors.
Why should tech, automotive and countless other industries be the only ones banking on more than just a hunch? It’s time to stop pretending that crossing your fingers is a marketing strategy. Brands should motivate their internal teams and agency partners to take the time and initial investment to implement Experience in Beta as part of the planning phase for experiences. Experience in Beta can become a category-wide standard and, in conjunction with ROE, showcase the power of physical experiences.
Stefan Tauber is an experience strategist at Set Creative.