A few weeks ago, commuters passing through Waterloo train station were greeted with the site of a miniature Garden of Eden, where they could stop to chat with angels and demons, pick up a toffee apple, and take a picture with a live snake.
This event was designed by marketing agency Experience12 to promote the launch of the television adaptation of Good Omens on Amazon Prime. It’s also a pretty good example of experiential marketing.
This is a marketing channel whereby brands promote something using a live experience. It can be as simple as handing out free samples of a new product, to something much more elaborate like the Good Omens stand.
Another example is Sainsbury’s, which celebrated its 150th anniversary by recreating one of its original stores for passers-by to drop in on, complete with actors in period costume.
It can be glitzy, exciting, and a lot of fun, but clearly this type of marketing has drawbacks. It can be expensive to put together, and compared to web, TV, or print advertising, it is only ever going to reach a small audience of people. In a world of tightening marketing budgets, how is the investment in experiential justified?
This is an issue that PR agency PrettyGreen has been grappling with for some time. When working on experiences, it uses a model called “1-9-90”.
The idea is that one per cent of the target audience will take part in the experience, they’ll then share it via word of mouth or posts on social media to the next nine per cent, while the final 90 per cent will hear about the event through articles elsewhere.
“The model is a really good rule of thumb,” explains PrettyGreen’s managing director Jessica Hargreaves.
“Everybody gets obsessed with the one per cent of people who are going to be at your event, so you want to create the most engaging experience, but in terms of creating the most return on investment, you’ve really got to be thinking about the nine per cent and 90 per cent.”
However, even with this model, she admits that she’s becoming “increasingly frustrated” with having to measure and prove the worth of experiential marketing
“Even with the 1-9-90 model, all you’re talking about is how many people you’ve engaged. You can’t necessarily say ‘that person became an advocate and is therefore going to buy the product’, which is basically what our job is in marketing.”
So what value does experiential marketing generate beyond how many people hear about it? Experiential agency Set Creative decided to find out.
“We’re constantly, and rightly, challenged to justify why a physical experience is a more effective form of communication than more traditional channels of advertising,” says Guy Tremlett, chief creative officer at Set Creative.
“There’s no real data available directly comparing the effectiveness of experience to other marketing channels, such as text, video, and audio – so we decided to conduct an experiment to try and learn more about this.”
This experiment involved creating an experience to promote the launch of a fictional orange drinks brand, where people were shown how to make a mock cocktail.
The report, called “The Value of Experience” and published in April, found that people who took part in the mocktail-making experience said they were around four times more likely to tell friends about it, and five times more likely to recommend the brand, compared to those who only watched a video, read, or listened to audio about making mocktails.
Most importantly, those who took part in the experience were three times more likely to purchase the product, compared to other groups.
“As our findings show, making people feel appreciated and entertained creates a different kind of value and leaves them more likely to share, recommend or purchase your brand,” adds Tremlett.
This evidence that people are more likely to make a purchase after an experience helps to explain a finding by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in its recent Bellweather report that campaign budgets are shifting away from traditional forms of marketing towards live events. But how do you create a good experience?
“Experiential projects work when they really get you to engage with the actual values or experience of that product,” says Dean Rodgers, founder of Rogue Productions. He is a director and game designer who’s created experiences for brands including Capcom, Pimms, and Warner Bros.
“The key is to generate genuine talkability that will keep the brand central to the discussion. I have seen a lot of bad experiential marketing campaigns – many of them have even been good events, but they can make a bad campaign if the event itself doesn’t really make sense for the brand.
“I often think the best campaigns inspire the brand’s loyalists and give them a reason to shout about it. Truly great campaigns are best positioned as a gift to that brand’s fans.”
Ending the experience
Thanks to Set Creative, there’s now empirical evidence that experiential marketing can increase intentions to purchase, but brands and agencies shouldn’t just focus on the day of the event or how many people took part – they also need to look at the long term, and follow up to see if participants actually became brand advocates or made a purchase.
The appeal of experience marketing seems clear, and it makes sense why it works – consumers today are less driven by materialism and more interested in trying new experiences, ones that they can talk about and post pictures of on social media.
Certainly, these experiences can be more fun than traditional advertising, and we could all do with more fun in our lives – especially when passing through a crowded Waterloo station.