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April 4, 2008

Joss Davidge: It's good to talk

These days, it seems everyone’s talking about experiential marketing. From brand owners and their agencies to consumers themselves, there’s a growing recognition that an engaging brand experience is one of the most persuasive forms of marketing around.

Actually, experiential marketing is as old as humanity. The first markets were gathering places for buyers and sellers to interact face to face – talking, trying and experiencing products and services, building relationships with each other.

Over the ages, however, technology gradually eroded the human dimension of marketing. Print, radio and TV enabled mass broadcasting of brand messages and the idea of personal interaction became sidelined.

But now growing media fragmentation, information overload and commercial clutter is all making it harder to reach and engage consumers. People are simply choosing which brands they want to interact with and filtering out the rest. With so much choice and availability, the desire for tangible information, guidance and personal reassurance has grown.

Getting personal
Little wonder then that we’re now seeing such a surge of interest in more personal, interactive forms of marketing, where conversation and personal experience is key. Brands are realising that if they want to develop more than a transitory relationship with consumers, they need to talk ‘with’ them, not ‘at’ them. Dialogue, not monologue, is the key.

Experiential marketing is the art of creating face-to-face opportunities for that dialogue and emotional connection. It’s about delving deep into a brand’s objectives and strategy, using key insights to develop big creative ideas, and bringing those ideas to life through powerful live ‘engagement moments’. It’s about putting across a human side to a brand, taking consumers on a voyage of discovery and realisation to build knowledge, trust and advocacy.

Pampers, for example, is a brand with a wealth of knowledge about baby development, which has long been central to its product development. Then it hit upon the idea of sharing those insights with parents through a memorable live experience, helping them discover and learn more about their own babies. By forging a stronger emotional connection with consumers, Pampers was confident the desired rational connection to brand quality would follow.

The basic idea behind Pampers World of Babies was simple – shrink parents down to view the world from their baby’s perspective in an oversized, walk-through touring exhibition. Trained brand ambassadors (who were mums themselves) guided visitors through the interactive experience, successfully enabling Pampers to share knowledge and build trust in an incredibly powerful 15-minute personal connection.

Right place, right time
The skill in experiential marketing lies in understanding how to strike up credible conversations with consumers in ways that are relevant and appealing to them. Brands need to be in the right place at the right time, with the right language and the right topic. Like any engaging conversation, they must find and demonstrate a shared interest. It’s no good any brand just heading to a music festival unless it’s really going to add something to the party. And once brands have opened up a dialogue, it’s vital to keep talking if the relationship is going to grow and blossom.

Indeed, it’s wrong to think of experiential marketing purely in terms of the moment of live engagement, central though this is to everything else. Experiential marketing is an on-going process surrounding and encapsulating the moment of live interaction. It’s also the platform for sustained and lasting customer relationship management programmes, using information willingly given by consumers at an experience to build meaningful relationships in follow-up conversations via digital and direct channels.

Interestingly, though, technology originally eroded the personal touch in marketing, now it is really empowering the growth of experiential marketing by amplifying the word of mouth effect. People love to share new-found knowledge and experiences – good and bad – with others. The big difference today is that they have so many digital channels through which to do this, from emails to mobiles, blogs to forums. And there’s little doubt that this online network of shared brand experiences can have a profound effect on people’s brand choices.

Sharing the experience

Technology is massively extending the reach of today’s live brand experiences. Whether it’s a guerrilla stunt, a sampling drive, an educational roadshow, a live event, a branded destination or any other form of live face-to-face experience, experiential marketing now enables brands to target the few, yet broadcast to the masses through word of mouth.

Research by Pampers, for example, found that a single mother moved to talk about a great brand experience sets off a chain reaction that will eventually reach a total of 1,000 mothers. Similarly, Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) brewery has seen a massive word of mouth effect from its Biggest Round campaign, where brand ambassadors chat to people in pubs about what they’re drinking, before persuading them to try something different from the S&N portfolio.

That’s the real beauty of experiential marketing. It has the power to turn inquisitive consumers into devoted brand advocates, through a potent mix of dialogue, sensory engagement, trial and shared knowledge. Properly integrated with other media, experiential marketing looks well set to remain the talk of the town for years to come.

Joss Davidge is marketing and business development director at BEcause Experiential Marketing.

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