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Brand Strategy Events Experiential Marketing

Design for the now: how to create experiences that generate ‘return on experiential’

By Laura Mignott, Global Chief Experiential Officer



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July 10, 2023 | 9 min read

VMLY&R Commerce’s Laura Mignott makes an impassioned case for experiential as a channel where brands can tap into the piping-hot ‘now’.

People in silhouette, at an experiential light show

How can marketers create experiential moments 'for the now'? / Cosmin Serban via Unsplash

What’s wrong with this picture? Over 90% of consumers say they would be more likely to buy from a brand after an activation or event experience, yet less than 30% of marketers include experiential in their plans.

Crazy, right? People love brand experiences, yet most marketers remain oblivious to that fact.

The obvious question is: ‘why?’ Perhaps it’s easy to dismiss experiential as ‘sampling’ (it’s a lot more than that), or to question its value (it’s proven). Perhaps it’s a result of operating in siloed organizations where ‘that’s someone else’s budget or task’.

It’s time to get with the experiential program. Spending on experiential in the US is forecast to outpace overall advertising and marketing investments by up to 6% through to 2026. Post-pandemic, physical is fashionable again; stores are back, live events and festivals are booming, and consumers want to get out from behind their screens and immerse themselves in amazing experiences.

The challenge is, how do you do it in a way that’s culturally relevant, builds your brand, genuinely connects with consumers, and results in conversion? How do you create experiences for the ‘now’, that generate quantifiable returns?

First, find your ‘now’

‘Now’ means knowing what’s hot and trending in culture – through music, arts, or entertainment. ‘Now’ means brands responding in a timely manner, because culture moves fast. ‘Now’ is immediate gratification. It’s what matters to a generation that knows the world is spinning faster than ever. It’s energy and confidence. It’s what’s next, not what was five minutes ago.

To find your ‘now’ is to identify a cultural moment that perfectly fits your brand and isn’t ‘try-hard’. You need to be constantly on the lookout. Stay on social media, pay attention to what’s going on, leave your home or office, talk to folks, touch grass. Often for brand owners, it’s a matter of trusting your experiential agency partner, because we have our team out constantly. To some extent, brands need to get out of their own way, and be prepared to move fast.

Be bold

People aren’t looking for an everyday experience. It must be extraordinary; the kind of one-time-only event that makes you decide to leave your house, and spend time with people you don’t know, to experience something you don’t know about. When you get there, the experience needs to be magnetic, so you want to stay, share it on social media, and give your friends serious fomo. To achieve all that, you need some boldness. It’s important to be loud and proud.

Tell me, don’t sell me (and be mindful of who I am)

When I feel good about an experience, I want to use that brand. When I think you’re trying to sell me, I’m not into it.

Our job in experiential marketing is to be storytellers and magic makers, not salespeople. Every event experience should be welcoming and engaging when you walk through the doors, encouraging you to explore and feel like you belong – a catalyst for people wanting to be a part of your community, and do more.

This requires sensitivity and awareness, particularly towards under-represented communities. That’s why I believe in building experiential teams with diversity at their core – in age, race, location, gender, and gender identity. As individuals, we all have blind spots. Together, we can be mindful and knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world and apply that knowledge to the experience.

Social is experiential’s best friend

I think of experiential and social in terms of a virtuous circle; one feeds the other. Social media can kickstart the flywheel and get people to your event experience in the first place. More importantly, its role is to amplify and extend the reach. And in an age of social commerce, it can convert the sale. If you’re launching a limited-edition product, why not give your audience the opportunity to buy on social and have it shipped home?

As social and experiential have grown in stature post-Covid, why are these two not conjoined in a way that ensures a full-funnel experience? Now more than ever, consumers are living on TikTok, Instagram, and Discord, while also experiencing the world with all their senses. Give them something to talk about while feeding their need for immediacy with an ‘I love it, I want it now’ moment.

A word about budget

The word is ‘more’. (Which simply means having a contingency). Event experiences can be relatively affordable to create; less than the average cost of one 30-second prime-time TV spot. (I often think of it as a media buy, in fact – the event is the vehicle for the content.)

And, while accessible, experiences are also dynamic. You need to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances, or to invest when opportunities arise to make something that little bit more special.

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Proving return-on-experiential

Events are both racehorses and workhorses. They need to be successful right out of the gate, but also perform as an essential part of your brand and shopper marketing programs. To do so takes care in setting the right objectives up-front, and discipline in tracking results.

For our clients, we created Event Mark: a proprietary tool to report on key metrics in real-time. Depending on what brands are setting out to achieve, we’ve seen measurable lifts not only in sales, but also propensity to buy, and brand affinity. Build it, and they will buy.

Today, we may live on our devices, but we also live for experiences. If the experience is the engine, social is the turbocharger, and technology is the enabler of conversion. Designing for the ‘now’ will make your brand not only fly… but grow.

Brand Strategy Events Experiential Marketing

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