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September 4, 2006
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The rise (and rise) of experiential marketing




Just as digital media stole the marketing headlines in the 1990s, so experiential marketing has crept up to become the marketing buzzword of the millennium. Experiential agencies are springing up at a pace, and existing agencies, particularly from sectors such as media and PR, are opening up experiential arms.

What remains to be seen however, is which agencies proffering experiential as a skilled discipline will survive and which will fall in what is becoming an increasingly competitive and cluttered market place.

Experiential marketing, or live brand experience, first became apparent in the early 1990s when field marketing branched out to encompass small-scale events. It has since become a fully-fledged discipline in its own right with hundreds of millions of pounds allocated to the channel. The sector now even has its own trade body, the Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA).

For industry insiders, the success of experiential is obvious. Hugh Robertson, managing partner of experiential agency, RPM, states media saturation and fragmentation as an integral factor in the loss of traditional media’s ability to cut through and reach people at a deep emotive level. Experiential marketing on the other hand, “creates a powerful emotional connection between a company and its customers that not only creates a relationship but ultimately a rational response of product purchase”, he adds.

Robertson cites as an example a 2006 Friends of the Earth’s advert for climate change which had minimal impact, yet its live ‘Big Ask’ gig left a deep impression with those who attended, many of whom were moved to tears.  Indeed, such is the impact of experiential in shaping consumer behaviour that clients are increasingly turning to an experiential partner to fulfil the role of lead agency on strategic campaigns.  

Nick Adams, managing director of Sense, concurs. “Experiential marketing used to be considered as one of the last components in the marketing mix and a tactical add-on if sufficient budget was left over.” That has now changed and Adams is seeing more and more clients “making experiential their central focus”.

So what of the increasing number of new agencies in the experiential marketing field? Adam’s argues that only those agencies with in-depth rounded marketing expertise will survive in the long run. “Experiential agencies not only have to be specialists in creating and managing events, they also need to understand how to amplify the scale and value of a live activity by leveraging fellow marketing disciplines,” he states. “This expertise needs to straddle press and poster advertising, direct mail, radio, PR and digital.”

Some marketers still remain unconvinced about the sector, arguing that because the discipline is difficult to evaluate, it cannot be considered a truly strategic discipline. Geoff Howe director Simon Marjoram counters this, saying: “Experiential has developed its own set of robust planning and evaluation metrics. A standard benchmark would be impossible simply because each experiential campaign is unique, but using in-depth research combined with clear and specific benchmarks ensures that experiential marketing is as accountable as any other marketing discipline.”

It’s clear that experiential marketing is a discipline that will continue to grab more than its fair share of marketers’ budgets over the coming years. And what advice would one of the UK’s leading experiential marketing agencies give to any newcomers? Robertson of RPM believes passionately that any successful experiential campaign involves a combination of “in-depth customer lifestyle research, great planning, strength of the idea and of course excellence in execution”. Get these right and “the rewards will dwarf the original investment”.


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