So You Want to Do Experiential Marketing? Consider These 4 Things First.

Experiential marketing has become the name of the game for brands recently. This is not just a minor adjustment in allocating marketing budget, it is a fundamental shift in how customers interact with businesses and products. This new dynamic puts the customer and their needs front and center and allows them to have a conversation with a brand rather than just being pushed messages.

While budgets for online advertising are predicted to decline, engagement marketing with experiences for consumers is expecting an uptick in spending. But this kind of marketing doesn’t fit into a neat category or follow a specific methodology. It is unique, creative and should make a connection. According to a study by Freeman, more than 50% of marketing leaders from around the world believe brand experiences can help create relationships with target audiences. Ninety percent of global marketers think that this kind of engagement is more resonant and compelling.

It’s not that easy, though. There are several things that need to be taken into consideration before implementing this kind of marketing. It can cost a significant amount of money to properly execute experiential marketing programs, which can range from unique adventures to interaction with a product all the way to virtual reality tours.

Any program you implement needs to remain authentic to your brand identity. You need to ensure the needs of the customer are met and somehow their life is better as a result. You don’t want to run into this kind of marketing without a solid understanding of how this experience is putting your consumer at the center of what you do, as they will see through anything that is not authentic. One way to understand this is through research that helps brands understand how to connect with a promiscuous consumer — one who isn’t beholden to a brand just because they have purchased it in the past.

A holistic understanding of your customer and their needs is fundamental in implementing an experiential strategy, and that knowledge comes from a solid understanding of your customers’ needs. Measuring the success of an experiential campaign requires a deft mix of hard and soft metrics.

Use Advanced Research Technology

Market research is advancing every day. From programs that track eyeball patterns to wearables that measure galvanic skin response to geo-located survey delivery, there are now more ways than ever to measure consumer response to experiences.

Disney is currently experimenting with facial recognition software combined with artificial intelligence to observe audience expressions as people watch movies and then developing algorithms to predict reactions. Using this combination of technology, Disney is able to accurately predict how a member of the audience will react to an entire film after analyzing facial expressions for just 10 minutes. By tracking these audience expressions and using “factorized variational autoencoders,” the company is able develop powerful algorithms to make these predictions.

As combinations of new technology become more available, it provides a powerful way of capturing sentiment that to date has been difficult to garner. The ability to use this technology at events, concerts and other brand experiences to assess participants’ emotional reactions without having to interrupt their experience is a game changer. Then by combining their emotional response with social media tracking measurements, brands will be able to gain a holistic understanding of their experiential campaign.

Ask the Right Questions

Traditional methodology focused on brand attributes will not work anymore. Each shopper is influenced by several key factors — who they are, what they need, what matters to them and how they are going to solve a problem. We need to focus our research on why shoppers are doing what they are doing, rather than trying to predict their behavior.

Philips Lighting has in-depth conversations with clients and engages them in research. It has Lighting Application Centers that allow clients to tour and see first-hand new lighting experiences. Philips Lighting University offers webinars and training to support clients to get the most out of their lighting products and systems. Important to this is increasing understanding of what light can do to benefit people’s lives. Philips exemplifies the full commitment a brand needs to make, not only to understand its customers, but to constantly challenge itself to reframe the conversation to meet those customer needs.

By cherishing human complexity through research and conversations, Philips Lighting reversed traditional approaches. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques, the company came to better understand its customers’ needs.

Nimble Research

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to research when it comes to experiential marketing. Every brand has a different audience, brand promise, personality and offering. The experiences are so varied that research needs to be just as varied to find the right fit.

Successful research comes from analyzing connections among all the different information sources and finding the applicable insights. When measuring the success of an experiential campaign, passive data is a great source for marketers to identify the “what” — or number of impressions, social media mentions, sales lift, etc. These can be great indicators of the success or potential success of an experiential campaign.

But to really understand the “how’” and “why,” we need to have conversations with our customers, and these conversations can happen in many different formats: focus groups, one-on-one interviews, surveys or brand outreach. This data can then be compared to passive data or sales and media data to see show what customers are actually doing. Once we understand the why of our customers, we can get insight to inform decisions.

Look at All the Data

It’s clear that we now have unprecedented access to consumer. This fact ostensibly should allow us a more complete picture of the consumer. However, it is integrating all the data points that is challenging us as researchers. Data integration has become a primary goal of the market research industry as a whole. In the latest “Greenbook Research Industry Trends” report, it was clear that professionals within the space understand that market research is under immense pressure to change. Emerging methods and techniques are gaining traction, and researchers are being asked to spend more time analyzing the data and making recommendations that align with business goals. Somewhere amid new demands for speed, cost savings and quality, we must find a way to bring disparate data sources together to provide more accurate recommendations.

New technologies are addressing this in part by offering artificial intelligence-based functionality, like machine learning, which is taking care of some of the more mundane tasks of integration — freeing up the researcher for analysis. Somewhere in this confluence of machines and humans lies an answer for current inefficiencies in data integration and a promise of high-quality insights for brands.

About the Author | Phil Dance

With an unrelenting drive to understand how shoppers make decisions, Phil Dance is a proud partner and co-founder of Alter Agents, a respected Los Angeles-based market research firm. With more than 15 years experience in the research industry uncovering intelligent shopper insights, his passion and commitment to forging new brand directions is stronger than ever in the convergence of research in the digital world.