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April 4, 2008

Hugh Robertson: Making sense of experiential

Experiential marketing, brand experience marketing, live marketing, event marketing – however you choose to refer to it, if you’re reading this column you’re probably already aware of how it can add value to any live event. Indeed, many of you are probably already using it. Your reasons will differ, ranging from proving the more refreshing nature of your beer or wanting a truly engaging PR event, to needing to motivate internal stakeholders or create a brand-owned retail/exhibition space.

If you read the marketing press, you’ll also be aware of the hype surrounding experiential marketing. It’s the latest marketing discipline that is going to solve the problems of the proliferation and segmentation of traditional media, and help you communicate effectively with a more media-savvy consumer.

Nothing new

While much of this may be true, the reality is that experiential marketing has been around for years. In 1800, Winchester rifles embarked on a frontier roadshow that allowed people to really get to grips with the company’s guns before parting with their cash. In the 1930s, Henry Ford introduced the concept of taking people for test-drives in his cars. Both of these can be argued to be experiential techniques.

Contrary to what some might have you believe, we are not witnessing the emergence of a whole new marketing discipline – experiential is not an alternative to other forms of marketing that corporate marketers must be seen to be ploughing their whole marcoms budget into… a sort of emperor’s new clothes for the marketing sector. It is, however, a powerful marketing tool for the modern marketer that should be considered at key times within the brand/product lifecycle.

As marketers, we still need to rely on all the other elements at our disposal – digital, direct marketing, above the line, etc – and experiential marketing should be considered alongside these as another integral part of the mix. For example, if you were wanting to drive awareness for a new product, you may choose to continue to use traditional media channels at the outset, then later aim to convert that awareness into action by taking a live experience out to the public and, literally, putting the brand in their hand. What we need to communicate to marketers is that a live experience can enhance any campaign, in any sector, if it’s used at the right time and in the right place.

The meaning of experiential
So, what exactly does ‘live’ mean? Put simply,we believe it is the point in time where a person interacts directly and physically with your brand, product or service. By giving consumers a tangible live experience, it allows you to “prove the truth behind the brand claim”. Essentially, you are creating an environment where people can discover for themselves that your brand tastes better, washes whiter, feels softer or really does want to make a difference.

For the brand manager of a drinks company, this could be a sampling event. For the marketing director of a major IT company, it could be a B2B conference communicating a new strategy or a product launch. Furthermore, if you have a barrier to market or a perception challenge, a live experience can address this by giving you the opportunity to deliver your message directly to your target audience.

The list is endless, yet the fact is short: ‘live’ fits somewhere within every campaign and every communications strategy.

No limits
Over the past decade, experiential marketing has matured. Some brands use it as the centre of their marketing communications, some use it to enhance the effectiveness of other media and others will use standalone events to achieve specific objectives along the product lifecycle. The secret is to know where and when experiential marketing fits into your campaign or customer journey. Importantly, unlike with traditional media, we are not restricted by the media itself – the quarter page, the half page or the 30-second slot. With experiential marketing, the only limits are imagination and budget.

With the opportunities experiential marketing offers to enhance existing campaigns, the need for a partner that understands the strategic role that this powerful marketing tool can play for a brand, and at the same time has the capability to deliver everything from a conference to a product launch or a sampling campaign to an exhibition, has never been greater.

Hugh Robertston is managing director of RPM

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