Communicate Online Feature - Experiential Marketing


Strategy that convinces and converts customers: Using Experiential Marketing to grow your business

Depending on what time it is right now, you’ve been marketed to anywhere between 100 to 5,000 times today. Of that, you may be aware of perhaps 86 of those instances of ad and brand exposure. Ultimately, only a dozen would have made any impression. 

But when it comes to choosing one brand over another – whether it’s the juice you drink, the soap you use in the shower or the bank you put your savings in – we almost always have a preference before we even make the decision. You may never have tasted an energy drink in your life, but if you had to pick one, you’d probably go with the one that promises wings. If you’re trying to choose from the flood of mobile phones on offer, you’ll think back to the free GPS map app that was so handy the last time you travelled abroad. If you’re ravenous at the mall, your mind will work overtime to recall the taste of that dynamite shrimp you sampled when you walked around months ago. 

Communicate Online Insert ImageThat’s the power of Experiential Marketing, and it’s transforming how individuals choose and invest in all manner of goods and services. It’s also something you can and should put to work for you no matter what industry you’re involved in or whatever size of your budget.

Put another way, where traditional advertising verbally and visually communicates the brand and product benefits, Experiential Marketing tries to immerse consumers with the product by engaging as many of their senses as possible. And not just the five senses: think sense of adventure, sense of belonging… you get the idea.

Experiential Marketing moves beyond simply offering the right product to the right consumer, and beyond developing clever and memorable messaging. Instead, it focuses on a deliberate, carefully constructed engagement experience that allows customers to experience your brand for themselves, and in such a way that the experience sticks, transforms into customer loyalty and ultimately, influences purchase decisions.

You’ve seen examples of this all over town: Cool interactive family games you’ve played in the middle of a mall; the calm protected beaches that dot the Dubai coastline, fro-yo or milkshake samples that you’ve been handed and indulged in on your way someplace else. Experiential Marketing is not new, but it is taking on a whole new importance and clout, thanks to digital media technologies. Today, every person who interacts with a brand turns into a brand ambassador.


Versatile, scalable, affordable

The critical piece of the Experiential Marketing puzzle is to identify the core of your brand, and bring it to life via the right activity at the right time to the right audience and at the right venue. Whether it’s small-scale sampling in the grocery store or public-facing pop-up interactive booths at a trade show or on a busy street corner, Experiential Marketing is entirely scalable.

Experiential Marketing is also flexible. Any time is the right time to deploy it – pre-launch, at launch, or ongoing campaigns. It can be used to revive existing brands and refresh them for new channels and markets, and launch new campaigns. Ideally, experiential will be integrated into your overall marketing toolbox, running alongside other earned media or PR tactics to achieve widespread notice.

In the United Kingdom, for example, one of the most popular experiential campaigns grew out IKEA’s desire to boost their range of and expertise in bed products and a little-known Facebook group dedicated to people who wanted a sleepover at IKEA. That sparked the idea of staging IKEA’s ‘Big Sleepover,’ with the company offering 100 people the opportunity to spend the night in their Essex store. The winners got manicures, massages, bedtime stories and advice from sleep experts to help them unwind and choose the right mattresses, pillows and accessories.

IKEA got much, much more: In just one week, the Big Sleepover Facebook group racked up 32,000 views, a reach of more than 23,000 individuals, and drew nearly 500 competitors. The event also increased IKEA’s Facebook fans by 100,000.  IKEA likewise attracted a lot of interest from the media, with the campaign netting more than 330 pieces of coverage in the immediate after-effect, including features in national, regional and international media, among them the BBC and Huffington Post. ‘Bedroom products’ became the most searched for items on IKEA’s online store, and IKEA Lakeside in Essex retained the title of selling more bedroom furniture than any other IKEA store. The campaign also bagged a bevy of prestigious marketing awards. 

Experiential Marketing does not entail huge costs. All it requires is a strong concept and an effective strategy that will guide the execution. Costs are relative to the elements required to bring the concept to life, and perhaps the geographical reach required. 

Moolagram, a Chicago-based mobile app company that connects local businesses with people, employed experiential marketing as a strategy after it just launched and the pay off was incredible. An agency was hired and given the objective of engaging customers and persuading them to download the app, sign up and utilise the app. All this was realised during the awareness campaign for the company, which involved “Moolamen” in red morph suits wearing QR code boxes fixed on their chests.  These brand activators engaged people in festivals, concerts, and meetings, giving explanation on the app and helping them register on the spot. Within the first three days of the activation, around 640 users were registered, and over 10,000 interactions were made.


Here are a couple more inspirations:

You might have likely heard of the Adidas campaign involving Chicago Bulls’ basketball star Derrick Rose. Adidas launched a pop-up store in London where fans could win a pair of free D Rose Adidas shoes if they could jump and reach them on a 10-foot-high shelf, the standard height of a basketball hoop – this campaign could have been improvised to be more experiential – by allowing fans and participants to try a pair of the basketball shoes and experience them by jumping to the basketball hoop height to retrieve the prize pair. The experience would be real, with a very strong emotional connect – ensuring their prize winning pair would have a high emotional and sentimental value – building and strengthening a strong and deep rooted brand loyalty! Any sports store in the UAE could pull off something similar for any of their sporting brands – all they’d need is a carpenter, a shelf and an innovative twist!

Similarly, there’s the example of American ice cream legend Ben & Jerry’s. When they arrived in a new town, they just tweet: “We’re in X place. Who wants ice cream?”. Hundreds of people rush out for a free scoop, posting pictures of the event on Instagram the whole time – simple, inexpensive, genius! Ben & Jerry’s has also instituted an annual free cone day, where they serve up to one million free scoops of ice cream at their stores worldwide. On a hot day in the Emirates – and we have plenty of those – how many brands can you think of that could do the same?


Measuring success

Any marketing campaign worth its salt needs measurement as one of its fundamental pillars. Return on Investment is a familiar concept to many – basically, what exactly have you gotten out of this exercise compared to how much you’ve put in – but recent thinking suggests Return on Engagement, or ROE, as an equally valid additional measure.

ROE measures how customers feel post-interaction, how their identification with the brand has changed, the depth of the connection they have formed and perhaps ways to deepen it. In other words, it’s not just about the millions of impressions, added visibility and similar quantity metrics. It is about the quality of the customer engagement, and its success in generating customer loyalty, influencing purchase decisions and acquiring positive word of mouth.

One might say that Experiential Marketing might be easy enough only for those who work in consumer brands and in retail. What if you work in, for example, landscaping or the unglamorous worlds of HVAC or sanitary ware like sinks, tubs and toilets? The same truths apply.

As it is all about transforming nondescript experiences into embedded memorable experiences, there should be a higher level of surprise and excitement at an emotional level to get people’s attention.  Think of installing portable toilets where fairly good loos are either hard to find or can only be proud of their long queues. Keep your portalet average-looking on the outside, but customise it in such a way that when you step inside, you’d find an expanded area outfitted with all sorts of toilet amenities, comfort that people would least expect from a portaloo.  Suddenly you transform people’s expectation into something they will recall and remember for a long time!

There will always be a way to provide a customer experience that helps your brand stand out. You just have to think of it and implement it, and that’s where we at brains at work can help.