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November 27, 2008

Mark Bagnall:Experiential evaluation – opportunity or cost?

The managing director of Phoenix Research says experiential marketing has everything apart from a robust method to evaluate its effectiveness, and that this is holding it back from establishing itself as a truly respected marketing discipline. But what’s holding the sector back from proving itself?

A lot of people have been, and still are, talking about the need for evaluation of experiential marketing activity, from agencies to brand owners, but as yet we haven’t seen much in the way of real movement.  This current inertia seems to stem from two points:

1. The need for a robust evaluation tool that offers real value

2. The question of cost and who is going to pay

Taking point one first, for an evaluation tool to be robust it needs to offer much more than simple cost per contact, voucher redemption, or brand ambassador feedback forms. We would suggest that a model of any real value should include diagnostic analysis so that the practitioner can understand why and how the activity has leveraged a change in perceptions, attitudes, or behaviour.

Furthermore, these measures should be based on what people actually did in the days, weeks or months after their brand experience, thus enabling future programmes to be optimised and, as such, offer real value to both brand owners and the agencies.

Who pays?
If we hypothesise for a moment that robust evaluation tools, as described above, do exist, then we are left with the question of the cost… or more precisely, who pays?

From what we’ve been hearing, brand owners aren’t building in funds for evaluation into their overall budget, and agencies don’t want to or can’t afford to pay for it from their bottom line, yet both sides see the positive benefits of evaluation.

If the current inertia remains in place, the old arguments of agencies not being able to prove their worth and brand owners not being able to extend budgets into a medium that has no measurement will remain in place. The result; an industry that doesn’t optimise its potential for growth and brand owners that miss out on the unique benefits that experiential marketing offers.

Breaking free

We would argue that it’s a change in mindset that will break the industry free of this inertia.

Money contributed to evaluation should not be seen as a dead-money cost, as it often is, but as an investment – an investment that more than pays for itself in the short, medium and long term.

As in life, any decision to invest needs a strong justification. The first consideration will undoubtedly be: “Do I feel confident that the product I’m investing in is going to provide a reasonable return for my financial risk?” quickly followed by: “What am I actually going to get as my return?”

A robust evaluation tool has to be able to allay these concerns.
True investment
We have identified four principles that an evaluation model should be able to deliver on to ensure it is a true investment and not a dead-money cost:

1. It has to contain full diagnostic measurement and analysis, so that future activity can be optimised

2. It should report back on the strength of the key desired message take-out and deliver robust information on the success or otherwise of the key desired outcomes
‘Did people absorb the right messages and what did they actually do or believe in the days, weeks and months after the event?’

3. It should provide benchmark scores on key metrics so that campaigns can be compared between brand category and activity type

4. It should include return on investment calculations based on ‘actual outcome’

By integrating these factors, it becomes an attractive proposition for a brand investor and one that can pay strong dividends.

Growing up
If we’re to break free from the current inertia, we would suggest that the time for a robust evaluation tool is long overdue and it’s also time for brand owners to make the investment in measurement and evaluation.

Experiential marketing as we know it is a relatively young marketing sector and is still growing up, but it’s about the only discipline that doesn’t have an integrated strand of measurement.

At any time, but particularly in the current economic climate, understanding how your current marketing spend is working and how it can work even harder would seem to be an investment, not just an added cost.

Mark Bagnall is managing director of market research company Phoenix Reseach.

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