An In-depth Look at Experiential Marketing
One only needs to read the books that are amassing from industry players like Burnt Schmitt and Max
Lenderman and the like to understand what has evolved, and what we are facing in today’s – still very
much evolving – global marketing arenas.
Today’s research is showing that consumer engagement or attention to traditionally executed
consumer messaging is at an all time low. Are we to just accept that a 1% return on a direct marketing
campaign is considered great?
Surely we should not be settling for these dismal figures and should be asking why. What is wrong
with the way I am communicating to consumers that they are not listening. Maybe that’s just it. Who
on earth likes a dictator? So, we never say “I am talking with my markets” which would imply what we
are having a two way conversation and the other person feels included – the definition of
communication. As marketers we continue to talk “to” our markets and hardly ever stop to find out just
how these consumers are feeling about being dictated to.
When facilitating training workshops I often refer to a relationship with a brand being very much like
the relationship of a newly formed couple. How would you feel about your other half if they talked to
you nonstop for 3 months, and then disappeared for a while, and then jumped back in your life
expecting your full attention again. Yet this is exactly how we treat them though, designing annual
plans that create spikes at chosen times of the year. The rest of the time we show contempt by our
By our own doing we have conditioned consumers not to trust us, in fact, this has peaked so
prevalently of late, we find bastions of our industry like AC Nielsen and Golin/Harris Research
having to release finding of the Consumer-Generated Media Index and The Consumer Trust Index
(yes Trust Index – and advertisers and marketers rate at minus 39% at last count) as consumers start
taking things into their own hands by using their own “broadcasting studios” (as Martin Lindstrom
refers to our web connectivity in his workshops and book – Brand Sense) and are fighting back. 76%
of consumers don’t believe that companies tell the truth in advertising – so says research conducted
So what we are seeing at the moment are campaigns that are neither traditional nor experiential. We
now know that consumers are weary of our traditional methods and think we are a CON. And as
marketers get increasingly desperate to connect with more return, they are eliciting clever technology
and dabbling in some aspects of experiential thinking with limited understanding, creating a sugar-
coated FUSION of the two. As true Experiential operators, we refer to this “middle ground” at the
moment as, well yes, THE CONFUSION.
I will use the example involving the holographic use by Lexus in New York in second quarter 2007.
For those who don’t know: Lexus used holographic displays in Time Square and other locations
around New York. These were placed at sidewalk level in shop windows creating an animation of a
Lexus IS in motion as it turns, drives and seemingly effortlessly does what cars do best as you move
down the street. Interaction kiosks allowed visitors to control features like the colour of car etc. If you
Google this campaign you will be informed that “this display drew substantial attention and shut down
street corners successfully as onlookers jammed busy sidewalks.” You would be quite easily excused
for thinking that this was an experiential campaign. Fresh new idea, audience participation, and on the
surface, looks like a great experience. Not for one moment would it cross your mind that this was
merely an awareness campaign in its simplest form eliciting the clever use of fantastic cutting edge
modern technology. And why would you? However, one statistic you can’t find on the web is just how
many, if at all, Lexus IS’s were sold as a result. All the people crowding round are mostly pedestrians
of all ages, are they all target market? Are they all in the market for a car, after all this is New York –
everyone commutes? The people in their cars now stuck in a traffic jam because of this, would that
make them jump out their cars and run and buy a Lexus? Other than changing the colour, where am I
(car consumer) experiencing the smells of new car, the engineering genius of design, the thrill of
trying one out? As you can see, although it has been expressed by many as experiential, this
unfortunately was a Confusion Campaign. Traditional marketing awareness with some interaction
aspects for the passer by – someone forgot to invite a potential luxury car buyer – oops.
Similarly, creating a restaurant/environment that looks like a rain forest (Rainforest Café) and then
waiting for people to come experience it, is not experiential, but just clever décor in keeping with the
restaurants theme. What would be experiential would be for a restaurant to get consumers to create
the menu and constantly get involved in the menu changes.
“Consumer trust in advertising can't get much worse. Across traditional and emerging channels,
advertising lacks both trust and influence. However, marketers can still use advertising to connect
with consumers by tapping into preferences of interaction and control. To regain trust and influence
purchase decisions, marketers should take a customer-centric approach to advertising by ceding
control and facilitating brand experiences.” So says Peter Kim in his document reflecting on
advertising tactics in 2006. And that is exactly what we have to do. Consumers today are engaging far
more with messaging that is consumer-centric and has a consumer benefit attached than the
traditional methods of intrusively ramming brand features and benefits down their throats. There are
companies right now that are experimenting with messaging that doesn’t even have their logo’s or
brand message attached, but consumers are making the connection and are engaging in volumes of
numbers. All we need do is give consumers the tools to advocate the brands on our behalf and if
done correctly, we can sit back and watch our new brand ambassadors spread the word while
constantly refuelling their tool-box.
An experience had is not experiential by mere virtue of its name sake. If that were so, then a bad
experience had at an event would also constitute experiential. It is important here to note that
Experiential Marketing is NOT a medium, but a methodology. So it is a way of application that can
be applied across all mediums. One still needs to get formally marketing trained. However, you have
the choice; do you illicit traditional marketing application methods, or do you apply pure experiential
methodology across all mediums including CRM and CEM?
What we are seeing globally from companies that are focusing experientially is a complete revamp to
the 30 second ad with a consumer-centric messaging and a benefit, print advertorials are becoming
less brand-centric drivel and are more and more interesting to consumer, even neutrally biased and
many are dropping the logos completely off the ad so that the consumer radar does not need to block
it out. According to research by McKinsey; 54% avoid buying products that overwhelm them with too
much advertising. Experiential marketers are aware of this and other vital statistics.
Experiential does not only constitute live visual activities, in fact this only comprises a very small
percentage of the whole pure experiential offering. One of the biggest focuses is measurement &
evaluation, enabling brands to manage their consumer relationships more honourably and personally
and not just concentrating on sales figures as the end all and be all. It’s all about maximising on that
one chance you get when you come face to face with a consumer and you have their attention.
Depending on the impact of this touch point to engage the consumer, will decide whether that
consumer becomes your brand user or not. It’s no use just stopping at placing it in front of them and
hoping for the best. With competition as it is, this just becomes a buffet prompting the consumer to
have a choice and “shop around” – correct experiential application eliminates this prompt and affirms
the consumer in their purchase decisions.
We divide these XM offerings into 4 segments when workshopping to make it easier to understand,
Four segments of XM:
1. Smash your Brand (trademarked practise by Martin Lindstrom – www.martinlindstrom.com)
2. 2ndLife – online consumer driven viral communicating.
3. Sensory – environment, 5 senses, emotion
4. one2one – this includes CRM; CEM; Word of Mouth and live visual activities
Traditional Marketing Application Experiential Marketing Application
Buy Impressions Create Experiences
Grab Attention Give Attention
Talk TO Consumers Listen
Communicate Features & Benefits Build Relationships
• A methodology not a medium
• The development of ongoing relationships with consumers.
• Major focus on sustained emotional connection, committing to a journey with consumers.
• One to one communication creating a breakthrough connection.
• INSPIRES ADVOCACY/Opinion Leadership – ADVOCACY IGNITES WORD OF MOUTH
• Advocacy can be measured.
What XM is not:
• a medium
• mass marketing
• mass awareness
The trick is to pay close attention to detail when designing a campaign. Always keep all messaging
consumer-centric and worthwhile. But above all, consumers are expecting respect.
With competition as it is in today’s crowded market place, just fitting in is failing.
Excerpts from Unlocking the Power of XM workshop 2007 by Zane Van Rooyen – National
Strategic Director – JIGSAW Experiential SA.