Working with experiential agencies

March 24, 2019

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Why might you use experiential marketing as a tactic?

Experiential marketing is all about putting a brand into the hands of a consumer. This could mean physically touching a brand’s product, or by creating an environment where a consumer can feel or view the essence of a brand through some activity, presentation or event. No matter how hard an advertising campaign may try, only experiential marketing can give a consumer a brand experience that makes use of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste).

Some practitioners describe ‘experiential’ in more general terms as being any visual environment including retail, viral video marketing, and social media. However the word is defined, experiential marketing is now far more prevalent and respected for the power that it can bring to a campaign.

Though more and more creative agencies are bringing experiential expertise in-house, it is most likely that you will work hand-in-hand with an external experiential agency during a campaign. In the same way that your client may already have a preferred PR agency supplier, he may also have a preferred experiential agency supplier. If he does, then he may choose to run the experiential component of a campaign himself, or leave it up to you to liaise with the experiential agency. If your agency has an experiential supplier, then you will be responsible for briefing in and monitoring the experiential activity.

Examples of experiential campaigns:
  • Heineken ran a ‘Departure Roulette’ campaign which challenged airport travellers to head to unscheduled destinations.
  • For the 2012 London Olympics, Samsung created demonstration stations (at various destinations around London) for their new Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note. Visitors could play with Samsung’s Olympic Games app or have their photo taken with the Galaxy S3 which was instantly turned into a personalised badge.
  • Mountain Dew Energy designed a 43-day ‘guerrilla tour’ that targeted consumers at festivals, transport hubs, and in city centres. 15 brand ambassadors drove around the UK in a Mountain Dew truck, hosting various competitions and giveaways and giving out free samples.
  • Google gave away $5.5 million to San Francisco nonprofits, and let the public decide where the money would go. They installed large, interactive posters in places such as bus shelters, food trucks, and restaurants. People could learn about local non-profits, then vote for their favourite (and indirectly learn about Google’s community outreach).

Experiential work doesn’t need to be a full-on campaign. It could simply be a stunt; a product launch; an app; an event giveaway; a half-time activity at a sports game; or anything else that allows consumers to interact with brands.

Does ‘experiential marketing’ mean the same as ‘activation’?

There is no doubt that the two phrases get regularly interchanged. If you ask this question of multiple industry professionals, you will get an array of seemingly conflicting answers. Just to complicate matters, other international terms include ‘engagement marketing’, ‘on-ground marketing’, ‘live marketing’, ‘participation marketing’, ‘event marketing’, and ’special events’.

‘Experiential’ embraces the aim of creating a remarkable and shareable ‘experience’ for a consumer, while ‘activation’ implies ‘doing’ something. ‘Activation’ is also an umbrella term, which can include shopper activation, event activation, brand activation, promotional below-the-line activation, in-store activation, and sponsorship activation.

If anyone ever asks you to facilitate an ‘activation’, it’s imperative to first define what they mean by the word.

Where does ’sampling’ fit into the mix?

Sampling is one tactic of experiential marketing designed to directly influence shopper behaviour and lift sales. It is favoured by brands planning a new product launch so that consumers can taste, use, or try the new product or flavour (such as with FMCG food and drink brands).

Sampling is particularly effective if a client’s core goal is to physically and instantly show that their product and/or brand can be trusted and that their marketing messages are valid.

Sampling could take the form of offering a freshly cooked sample of a food product in a supermarket; providing free shaves in a shopping mall to promote razor blades; or giving away soft drink cans during a beach volleyball tournament. With enough sampling work, a core group of consumers can build a strong, favourable opinion about a brand because of their personal interaction, and will (hopefully) spread that opinion to others.

How is experiential marketing measured?

Client spend on experiential activity is definitely on the rise, in spite of the difficulty in measuring experiential impact. Although still murky, here are five methods of measuring your experiential efforts:

  • Direct brand-to-consumer engagements. Experiential is all about consumers experiencing and interacting with a brand. If you are running the type of activity where you can count (or at least estimate) the number of people who see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the product in a specific location, then you should do so.
  • Social media impressions generated during and after a campaign. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool, and people love to talk about their experiences (good and bad). By using a social media monitoring platform such as Radian6, you can quantify and measure the brand sentiment and social reach generated by an experiential activity.
  • The number of new users. Loyalty is fantastic, but new users are the lifeblood of every brand. Experiential gives people the opportunity to sample or experience a new brand. By gathering data immediately after events, you may be able to correlate things such as sales, sign-ups (loyalty card sign-ups, warranty card submissions, newsletters), or downloads.
  • Sales figures. The ultimate goal of most experiential activities (aside from generating brand awareness) is to drive sales of products or services. Compile sales figures for the days/weeks/months after the experiential activity to determine if there was a sales lift.
  • Surveys. Consumer surveys held during and post an event/activation (e.g. via iPad, mobile app, text, or email), help to ascertain satisfaction and gather usable feedback.




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