Increasingly, brands in the UAE and across the globe are finding convincing value in using experiential marketing to promote their products and services.
Experiential marketing is about delivering an impactful experience that creates an emotional connection between brand and consumer. It can bring your product and brand to life in exciting ways, deepen the relationship with your audience, and drive sales.
Yet, some brands still aren’t harnessing experiential marketing where it could maximise exposure and the impact of marketing campaigns. Maybe you think it won’t be cost-effective. Perhaps you’re concerned about limited reach. Possibly you’re worried that its impact can’t be measured.
These are the usual concerns, but they have little grounding. As Smilansky puts it in Experiential Marketing: A Practical Guide to Interactive Brand Experiences, “long-term return on investment is likely to be greater when live brand experiences are at the core of the campaign”.
When done right, experiences can be a rewarding and cost-effective channel to promote your brand in UAE markets and abroad, with benefits for long-term customer loyalty and brand growth.
Here are five key insights to help you get it right, with examples from internationally successful brands that are paving the way.
1. Offer value to drive engagement: People are more willing to engage with brands when they feel they are getting value in return for the time they invest.
Experiential marketing is often seen as an impressive way to “show off” your brand. It’s not. It’s a way to get people involved with your brand through positive experiences. It aims to spark excitement amongst your target audience by leveraging the things they care about.
In Experiential Marketing: Secrets, Strategies, and Success Stories, Smith and Hanover emphasise that in order to deliver the true promise of experiential marketing, a brand experience should stimulate the active involvement of your target audience.
Air France’s “Upgrade Challenge” experiential campaign is a fantastic example of this. To support the launch of their new business class cabins in Asia, the airline introduced a mobile game that allowed fliers to compete for an upgrade while waiting for their flight.
The game generated tremendous customer engagement for Air France, and key to its success was an acute understanding of this value equation.
2. Link the experience to your brand story: You cannot fake authenticity. I’ve written before about how authenticity is a critical element in brand messaging. The key here is to link experiences to your brand in an authentic way.
Aim to be consistent with your brand’s heritage and storytelling so as to connect with your target audience in an impactful and memorable way.
Consumers choose to do business with brands they trust. For a marketing experience to resonate it has to be consistent with the consumer’s image of the brand: dissonance can prompt doubt, dismissal and even mistrust.
Without a sense of authenticity, your brand can produce a fabulous, much-hyped event and still not connect. Imagine you invest in an incredible fireworks display for Eid Al Adha. Everything goes spectacularly well and people end up talking about the fireworks for weeks afterwards. But people aren’t talking about your brand.
The fireworks aren’t experiential marketing – just an event. Sponsorship at best. You may get flickers of brand awareness the night of, but you rarely see the long-term benefits of experiential campaigns that build an authentic connection with consumers.
Authenticity doesn’t have to be overt, such as a literal “about us” narrative. Consider the Open University, whose brand promise is all about learning, self-discovery and personal growth. They created a giant mirrored Infinity Reflection Cube in London that tied powerfully to their core message by encouraging people to enter the installation and self-reflect.
3. Maximise impact and impressiveness: Consumers have a limited attention span, especially for experiences at trade shows where there’s ample competition. Your challenge: to tell a compelling story (that packs an emotional punch) in the shortest time possible.
As Soilen notes in Exhibit Marketing and Trade Show Intelligence , you have roughly three seconds to get the attention of visitors walking past your booth, then you have just a few minutes to capitalise on their attention. What’s more, 58% of visitors will not wait more than a minute at a stand unless you’re engaging them.
An exciting or impressive activation can help capture attention. For instance, leveraging technology (AR/VR, 3D prototypes) is a great way to achieve this. Take the British Airways installation at Victoria Station in London for instance. The airline wanted to reach cosmopolitan commuters, but faced obvious challenges in gaining the attention and trust of harried travellers. BA needed a striking experience, which they delivered through iPad kiosks with a flight simulator game in which players could win amazing holidays.
More than 11,000 people played over the week-long campaign, illustrating how technology can successfully capture the attention of even the most time-poor consumers.
4. Immersive experiences bring your brand to life: The main purpose of experiential marketing is to transform messaging into emotion. You want to elevate your brand offering by making the consumer feel something. But people are busy, often distracted, and generally not in the best headspace for a transformative experience. So how can you change that?
You want to elevate your brand offering by making the consumer feel something.
Immersive experiences can be an incredibly effective tactic. They whisk audiences into the heart of your story, allowing them to engage with products or live service experiences.
The Brunel Business School Boot Camp did exactly this. Facing a tough education recruitment market with continued fee hikes, Brunel decided to differentiate themselves from the outdated “open day” model. So they developed a week-long residential mini-university experience. Featuring business games, motivational speakers, group exercises and networking opportunities, Brunel gave prospective students a taste of what their Business School had to offer – and by showing instead of telling, they made students feel what Brunel would be like.
Brunel Business School took “whisking away” literally, but you might also harness immersive technologies. Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) are increasingly being used in experiential marketing. They can empower your brand with maximum exposure in minimum time: the consumer is immediately brought into the exciting virtual universe of your product or service.
International real estate company Harcourts used AR to great effect with their Harcourts Platinum AR App. The app allows users to explore virtual reality tours of properties, “walking around” the property as if in real life, but without being physically on site. This gives consumers an immersive and convenient way to view locations with a much greater scale of exposure than the conventional walk-around model. The result was a more efficient sales funnel with better qualified leads, resulting in higher conversion rates.
5. Social media boosts campaign reach: One of the biggest objections brands have to experiential marketing is a misguided belief that it has limited reach. Yet, the word-of-mouth potential here is huge – and that’s both in real life and as people share their experiences across social media.
For one, Smilansky observes how each person who engages with a live brand experience is likely to tell 17 people.
Smilansky also points out that successful experiential marketing can produce digital brand advocates and user-generated content with reach that would cost you more if it were the result of a social media or direct mail campaign.
It’s important to keep in mind that social sharing around your experience is key to maximising reach. Experiential might be focused on live engagement, but social media allows you to extend far beyond that. In fact, a Freeman XP and Event Marketing Institute study found an average of 1.4 million social touches per event. If you invest in social media strategy the returns can be even greater. Respondents with complete confidence in their viral impact reported 7.8 million touches.
Kia’s Ready to Roll activation for the new Kia Soul is a great example. Tying into the “power to surprise” brand mantra, Kia decked out a shopping centre in the UK with various experiences including the two-storey “dream chute” slide, a makeover station, a gaming zone and fitness area. They then incorporated social media to amplify reach. Features like on-chute photos and “design-your-own-Soul” iPad challenge encouraged shares and created hype, ensuring that awareness and engagement extended far beyond the experience itself.
Campaigns that leverage experiential best practices have helped drive Kia’s steady brand value increase since 2012, and the company entered the top 60 global brands list for the first time this year.
Using experiential to accelerate brand value
In this day and age, brands have to constantly evolve in order to find new ways of engaging and connecting with consumers in a meaningful way. Experiential marketing is a powerful tool that can accelerate your brand value by helping you build strong emotional connections with consumers, amplify your message, and drive sales. In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”