Experiential in the Era of End-to-end Customer Experience
Remember when experiential meant stunts and sampling? Often overlooked as a strategic tool, the experience economy ushered in a new era for what used to be the science of events applied to brand communications. It was dominated by sampling roadshows, shopping centres and festival activation. Strategically, it was a channel.
You buy your space; you buy your audience. Just like you’d buy media space next to X Factor to get the best TV audience, in experiential you’d buy your media space at a high footfall location: Westfield, Bestival, Tesco. The experiential agency’s work was to define the experience, book the space and produce. The creative work sat with the specialist agency, when a client asked for sampling or face-to-face. Or there were stunts (or and one more thing in presentations), which were often conceived by PR or ad agencies, then tossed to a specialist to turn around in a matter of days.
But there has been a paradigm shift, and with this always comes a change in the problem and a change in the solution.
Firstly, we’re in a post-truth world. Facts aren’t facts. Politicians and governments aren’t trusted; celebrities are. Brands are taking more responsibility for society and the planet: they’re prototyping products and telling the world about their efforts to solve human challenges. In this world, brands are trying to identify a role for themselves. A role in the real world that people notice. While agencies are chucking all manner of cool stuff to help clients walk the walk to bring to life brand purpose, too often they’re tactical and short-termist.
Secondly, people are becoming accustomed to a complete brand experience. They are buying connected environments, high concept immersive experiences and even entire experience belief systems. From Tesla’s prime retail site showrooms, to Apple’s open, expansive stores, to fast-fashions immersive apps (Zara, H and M, ASOS) Experience isn’t a component, it’s what we’re buying.
Thirdly, engagement is trumping interruption. Digital impressions are being questioned: digital media budgets are being slashed with no impact on the bottom line (P&G). Meanwhile we’re overwhelmed with media and content. We can’t keep up with original content, let alone the ads. Engagement isn’t something BTL agencies do, it’s the bedrock of comms.
Fourth: out in the real world urban development and public space usage are undergoing a renaissance. Leaps of design, playful architecture and creativity within the built environment are creating spaces and places that demand interaction and exploration. The mindful approach to life is cascading throughout the real world as people and brands get more creative with empty, derelict space. The world is full of opportunities for brands, far beyond hoardings on stadia.
So, what role for experiential this this time?
Role 1: Defining a brand’s place in the world.
The solution here is to extend brand purpose into brand behaviour. Walk the walk in a way that makes corporate sense and fits within the rest of your ecosystem. Maybe prototype something, but more than that, define your CSR pillars and align that with your sponsorship program. Then activate the lot and make some relevant content that is emotive, useful or entertaining.
Role 2: Cultural experiences to engage audiences
There is more and more demand to put brands into culture. Building on #1, the solution is to create natural, positive, relevant affinity with a specific audiences. Less interruption (sampling) more curation and creation. Red Bull do this well. Identify your verticals (as in #1) then host events and experiences that people want to attend. If you’re really good, you may be able to monetise this and sell tickets - but take it one step at a time.
Role 3: Applying technology to the real world
Tech for tech’s sake is boring. Finding ways to entertain people using tech is fun. Immersive done well. Or using tech to solve a real world problem. A football pitch powered by footsteps. A light powered by gravity. A prosthetic leg made for swimmers. Real world inventions that are created by practically minded creative and design thinkers.
Role 4: Placemaking
The next generation discipline of experiential: Placemaking is based on the Latin “genius loci’ or the spirit of a place. It’s a fundamental rule of architecture that any design concept must have “genius loci”. If you’ve nailed #1, consider a permanent or temporary spatial installation. Arcelor’s Orbit at its grandest, Thailand’s Unusual Footpath (Grand Prix) Fearless Girl (Grand Prix) at its smartest. Consider a space, its environment, its cultural meaning then create something that builds brilliantly on what is already there.
Rich, rewarding opportunities; not quite sampling and stunts.