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Understanding consumer motivation: The importance of listening and contributing

By Simon Callender, Creative planning 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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August 13, 2019 | 6 min read

Experiential can be incredibly powerful. But getting it right isn’t straightforward; there are a number of factors you need to take into account in order to be successful. We recently worked with a variety of partners to develop a whitepaper – Live Amplified – exploring why experiential is so essential to a brand’s authenticity, and how to get it right.


Initials look at experiential marketing and advise marketers to listen to consumers and add to culture. / Matty Adame

Even the most genuine and honest brands are now viewed with scepticism. There is an urgent need for marketers to respond; and experiential is fundamental to tackling the challenge. Why? Because it allows brands to showcase their authenticity. And people are much more likely to buy from brands they feel have genuine integrity.

Listening to your audience and adding to the richness of their experience, are two of the key factors behind truly effective experiential.

Listen up

In experiential, you’re physically taking your brand into the audience’s world. As Adam Clyne, founder and CEO of social media agency Coolr, puts it: “This makes it imperative that you play to their agenda, not your own.”

Or as Paul Drury-Bradey, former business development specialist at immersive theatre company Reuben Feels, told us that: “good brands are good listeners”. They listen to what’s brought people to that place. This enables you to understand what role they’re prepared to let you play. Consumers will reject brands that don’t “fit” or feel like they’re trying too hard. But they’ll buy into it if they believe you’re present for the same reasons they are.

By understanding motives and needs, you can put yourself squarely in the audience’s shoes. Ask yourself, “What are the emotional drivers?” By diving deeper, you can understand audience priorities and how best to appeal to them.

Many experiences are collective; that’s part of their appeal. But our interactions and memories are highly personal. When planning experiences, you need to make sure it feels individualised. This means letting people play an active role and giving them ways to customise and ‘own’ the experience.

Add to the culture

Effective experiential is about ‘doing’ in a way that’s precisely tailored to context. Successful brands work hard to contribute positively and add richness.

The most ambitious brands in experiential are true enablers. House of Vans is a prime example, existing to fuel creative expression in local communities through art, music, skateboarding, BMX, street culture and fashion.

Even if your budget doesn’t stretch very far, your focus must be on enhancing the wider experience. As Jo Bennett, senior brand partnerships manager (Camp Bestival) at Live Nation, puts it: “You need to shift your mindset from ‘What can I get?’ to ‘What can I give?’, whether that’s addressing a consumer need, adding creative value or being socially responsible. Make sure you provide a service or experience that’s mutually beneficial.”

When you feed the urge for discovery, you can help people experience the unexpected. As Drury-Bradey said: “If you can involve people in something they’ve never encountered before, that’s incredibly powerful”. Don’t just show people something; give them the chance to immerse themselves fully in the experience. Active involvement not only drives connection; it also increases recall.

Observation Vs Insight

Observation and insight are easily confused, but they’re far from being the same thing, and appreciating the difference between the two is a crucial first step in the planning process. Agencies need the right insights in order to develop the right executions, but it’s not always easy to source these, or to feed them through in the right way.

Observation is the starting point of course, but it’s the insight that leads to the creative. So, take your observation and drill down. Ask why, why, why? Keep doing it until you establish they psychological determinants behind your audience’s actions.

We put this principle into practice for Naked Juice, with an activation that targeted the brand’s core audience of 25 to 40 year-old ‘dynamic doers’ – people who crave the chance to express themselves and take part in new experiences. Festivals with a creative, inclusive vibe, like Latitude and Wilderness were the right place to find them, and crucially the brand could fit natively into that landscape, with the right activation.

The immersive woodland highway we created leveraged the audiences’ need for self expression and discovery via the cultural trend of adult colouring. Festival goers were able to let their creativity flow, colouring images inside the installation by award-winning illustrators. By listening to audiences, and adding to culture, we were able to deliver a truly effective brand experience.

Authenticity matters

You need to put yourself squrely in the audience’s shoes: identify their emotional drivers, demonstrate you share their passion and ensure the resulting experience feels individualised, by giving them ways to make it their own.

As a channel, experiential is open and honest, it puts a human face on your brand, builds one-to-one connections and shows consumers that your brand walks-the-walk when it comes to the role it plays in their lives. Getting it right leads to powerful engagement, creates meaningful content and ignites your brand in social. As long as you truly listen to your audiences and add genuine value to their experience, you can win over even the most sceptical of crowds.

Simon Callender, Creative planning director at Initials.


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