Chris Norton

Experiential Marketing Needs to Get Social

By: Chris Norton | December 30, 2013 | 

Experiential MarketingBy Chris Norton

Experiential marketing has always been charged with the creation of an experience that results in some kind of emotional connection with an idea, campaign, or brand.

Ten years ago, this was mostly in-store promotions and events, but now these activations have to be much bigger in scope, and reach with many more touch points, enabling the consumer to like, share, or comment on their experience with their friends or peers.

This is about encouraging organic conversation around an event and then amplifying the chatter through online and offline channels.

Social media is increasingly playing a fundamental role as a determining factor in an event’s success.

The ubiquity of smartphones has driven this as consumers’ web habits move increasingly towards mobile. Never before have they had more opportunities to talk about and share their real-world experiences, and the nature of a clever experiential activation lends itself to this perfectly.

It’s this interplay between the social web and the real world that really captures my imagination. The very best experiential activations are increasingly social in nature.

Experiential marketing agencies that want to have a lasting affect — and continue to deliver good results — have to look to social in order to stay relevant.

Traditional vs. New Experiential Model

One of the limitations of the traditional experiential model is, once a consumer or audience has connected with your particular event, and hopefully developed some kind of emotional bond to your brand or campaign, the story ends there.

The chatter of social media continues to propel event legacy, taking on a life of its own as it moves through various online networks and communities.

Every person engaged with your event who likes or shares some aspect of it on a social network increases its potential to be talked about, shared, and changed as it travels from one person to another online.

Where a traditional event may achieve, say, 5,000 impressions, amplifying the same event through a social layer could increase that by many, many multiples.

Leveraging a clever event through social media also means consumers have a much more meaningful relationship with that event. We already know consumers landing on a brand website through a social network referral link show stronger purchasing intent, and the same can be said for an event.

By encouraging consumers to engage with the brand post-event through social media ensures an ongoing relationship, making them more likely to organically advocate, talk about, share, and purchase from that brand.

Next Generation Measurement

Another game-changing way in which social media is affecting the experiential marketing industry is when it comes to measurement.

Again, the traditional model to measure ROI for an event is relatively sophisticated, covering a number of industry standard metrics such as redemptions, footfall, engagements, reach, and so on. However, social media listening – where the thousands of conversations around a brand or category can be tracked in real-time – allow for a much more insightful, meaningful analysis.

Specifically, how is sentiment and human behavior changing as a result of your particular event or activation?

This approach also allows you to track what is perhaps the Holy Grail of an event – driving buzz and ‘talkability’ around an event.

Who’s Getting Experiential Marketing Right?

The Core Tour from Ben and Jerry’s launched in 18 countries, taking an ice cream van around and handing out free samples at various stops.

The old experiential model would have stopped there.

Embracing social media, the brand was able to amplify the events and bring in a new dimension of engagement and reach. They did this by using Facebook and Twitter, encouraging consumers to ‘demand’ where the van stopped off (home, office, or school) during the course of its six-week journey, and making that crucial link between eCommerce, social media, and the real world.

Beer brand Carling is also one to push the boundaries.

In 2011, the brand launched a brilliant experiential campaign in South Africa called Be the Coach that was aimed at tapping into the country’s huge passion for football (soccer), frustration with the beautiful game, and high mobile device penetration.

Fans were given the opportunity to ‘be the coach’ of one of two teams, giving them the power to select line-ups, call for substitutions, and ultimately dictate the dynamic and outcome of a live game.

According to Carlsberg, the campaign delivered more than 10 million votes cast via mobile devices, and three fold online community growth. Eighty-five thousand fans attended the sell-out game live.

Finally, we’re seeing brands gaining an understanding of the power and importance of video seeding. Events are now crafted with an end-of-campaign YouTube video in mind.

With an effective seeding and outreach strategy in place, an event now has the potential to have a life of its own, many months after the activation itself.

There are numerous examples of this approach, from Carlsberg mapping projections on the White Cliffs of Dover to The Nivea Stress Test and the Coke Zero open challenge to unlock your inner 007 for a chance to win exclusive tickets for Skyfall.

Experiential Marketing in 2014

As we move toward 2014, we will see even more convergence in the marketing sector. As SEO shifts even further towards PR, experiential will shift towards social media in similar fashion.

Now is the time for experiential marketing agencies to embrace the social web and integrate the work of social media strategists.

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition, a UK-based digital PR firm. He recently co-authored Share This Too and is a regular speaker and lecturer on the subject of online communications. His blog on the evolution of communication is listed by Brand Republic as one of the top 20 most influential marketing sites on the planet.

  • Really enjoyed this post Chris. Some of the stuff from your Bazaar Voice link (who used Business Insider) I don’t actually believe. Some points like ‘will you recommend a brand after talking to a person who works for them’ holds true off line as well so to me it has nothing to do with social as much as the human interaction via a Comm Channel.

    But the other stuff you discuss regarding events is great if the event has ‘value’ to the customer. All your examples showed that. But so many events don’t give value. Best Buy fell on their face on Black Friday. They assumed waiting on line to get a deal equaled loving best Buy so much you would take a vine video and post on twitter in return for them to retweet it on their twitter channel. They had 20 videos uploaded. because 1] no one cares about best buy (just the deals) 2] no one cares about Black Friday (just the deals) and 3] the bribe wasn’t enough.

    But as Chris Norton mentions for Nivea these events are not cheap. Even an in store event for a small business relative to their revenues is pricey. I mentioned with peers ‘What if Best Buy offered a $1000 or $10000 shopping spree for entering the Vine contest?’ Chaos. people would be going bonkers taking videos hoping to win. But they went cheap and the event flopped.

  • Howie Goldfarb Thanks for your comments Howie. I agree that the human interaction is just as important. Social has become a part of human interaction my friends son and his FIFA 2014 friends are testament to that.

    The Black Friday example sounds pretty terrible and some brands just have to realise that they are about price such as them so good example.

    The Nivea event won’t have been cheap no and I really do think as a brand you have to commit to these things otherwise like you say they just won’t work.

  • I wonder if people are getting “experiential’ed out”, Chris. Or, conversely, if the big boys with the big money to pull off stunts like the recent airline Christmas gift giveaway, or the aforementioned White Cliffs of Dover stunt are simply out playing the little guy, and creating a league of consumers who now expect “go big or go home”…? I would love your thoughts.

  • belllindsay Thanks for that, I don’t think people are getting sick of them or people expect big stunts. It just seems to be the really big ones or the clever executions that get people talking and that’s what we want.
    You don’t need to do things on a huge scale, although it helps, you are better to have a very strong and clever idea that you believe will work and then you need to make sure it is executed well as some ideas that have started out great have been executed badly.

    So I don’t think you need to go huge – you just need to think smart. This is still all about a clever idea that will capture the imagination.

  • chrisnorton2 belllindsay That’s a really interesting question, Lindsay, and I think you might be on to something. Experiential marketing — at least the stuff that gets people talking — is usually reserved for brands with deep pockets, but that’s not to say that a group of savvy marketers and the right event couldn’t pull off something big with smaller budgets.

    If anything, it makes us all better marketers to think creatively about executing great event coverage and promotion within the confines of a SMB’s budgets.

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  • chrisnorton2 belllindsay But I think you nail it in execution. Even if you do things on a smaller scale proper execution takes people and/or money power. Often smaller brands don’t have the people to be able to devote completely to the experimental campaign and so they are stuck and fall short. 

    And as you mention the power really lies in the transmedia aspect, but here again this takes precise coordination and human resources. 

    Do you have examples of small brands on moderate budgets that have had success?

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  • LauraPetrolino chrisnorton2 belllindsay  Hi Laura – many thanks for your
    question. Sorry I have been with my family away for a couple of days.

    You’re absolutely right, transmedia
    campaigns can take a large investment, but there are examples of clever,
    creative campaigns delivered on smaller budgets.

    One fantastic example we came across
    was delivered in Australia for stationary brand, Avery. To leverage the brand’s
    association with National Breast Cancer Foundation, Avery created a designer
    swimsuit made out of pink Avery labels, each of which had an online
    crowdsourced message of support from someone who had been touched by cancer.
    The dress was then auctioned for charity online post-launch.

  • We have a listening platform, so I’m absolutely in agreement about how it can be used pre/post event to do a lot more analysis on the brand mentions and sentiment of those mentions. You can also identify the influencers who are driving the chatter, so you can continue to engage them pre/post event to continue the discussion.

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