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April 4, 2008

Nick Adams: Experiential and the need for a longer-term view

Despite the amount of budget currently being directed into experiential, too many companies still view the discipline as a short-term tactical fix to their marketing problems. However, if they are to realise the full value of this powerful technique they need to begin to look at experiential in a longer-term, more strategic way.

To understand why the discipline is perceived in this way it’s necessary to look at where it has evolved from. Although it has developed considerably since its early days, experiential marketing’s roots lie in field marketing, which has always been more oriented toward short-term sales, and used by marketers to achieve tactical gains around very specific campaigns. As a relatively new discipline, we are still very much tarred with this brush, so we need to educate clients into how much more sophisticated experiential marketing has become and what more it can offer.

A long-term investment
The truth is, that to be at its most effective, experiential marketing should be viewed as a long-term investment. If you were to compare it with any other discipline it would be above the line (ATL), as it’s about communicating brand messages effectively and getting long-term buy-in from consumers – although, of course, experiential has an edge over ATL as it allows for deeper and more engaging contact with the consumer. This is not something that you can do effectively with a one-off activity. It’s no use doing a campaign and then talking about next summer’s as a separate entity, clients need to see the link between the two and take a three- to five-year view of how experiential can best be used to build on consumer engagement with their brands.

As with ATL, experiential is at its most powerful when it is being used to create activities that are designed to change consumer buying habits over the long term. To put this in context, taking a short-termist view of an experiential activity is akin to making a TV ad and then just running it over one slot.

How companies evaluate and measure their experiential activity is a good indicator of how they perceive its effect. There are companies out there who are using experiential activities year on year, but are still only evaluating it and using it as a one-off every year. Our historical work with Guinness is a prime example of how a brand should be looking at experiential; the brand measures the impact of its St Patrick’s day activities on customers 12 months down the line.

How do you evaluate?
Another example is the activities we run for Muller Rice. These are evaluated by an independent agency that looks at how the activity has changed the attitudes and behaviours of the consumers and then feeds that information back into the planning process so that the experiential campaign can learn and evolve to be more successful.

While the sophisticated campaigns that agencies are producing are, in essence, aimed at stimulating sales (as indeed is every other marketing discipline), justification in budgetary terms should be looked at in the longer term. If companies want short-term wins they should look at a tactical sampling campaign. Using an experiential campaign as a one off will never change people’s attitudes.

One of the key things agencies need to do is push clients to evaluate experiential in the long term. Continuing to evaluate things is the short term is doing ourselves and our discipline a major disservice.

Nick Adams is managing director of experiential agency Sense

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