We sat down with Colin Hampden from leading experiential agency N2O, to talk about trends in experiential marketing, how to plan your campaign and the importance of choosing the right venue.
Why should a brand choose experiential marketing over other forms of marketing?
The strength of experiential marketing is the ability to have a real person interact with consumers to communicate a key message that can drive sales and raise the perception of a brand. If you want to physically put something in a consumer’s hand or educate them about a new product or a change to that product, doing this face to face is incredibly powerful.
Experiential marketing involves a lot of moving parts, so there’s plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong. I’d be interested in knowing what you’ve learnt from campaigns that haven’t gone to plan.
We’ve learnt a lot over the years and found that there are certain things to watch out for, issues that have cropped up more than once that we can plan for. It’s important to make sure that you have contingency planning around things like last-minute cancellations, technological dependencies, and so on.
We have a robust structure so that our campaign management team can think through potential issues before they happen. I would say there’s around 10 things that you can prep for, then there’s force majeure – like the recent snowstorms – that you just have to deal with on the day. They’re impossible to predict ahead of time.
Whether you’re doing a campaign in the middle of a muddy field, a shopping centre or a car park, you have to think about the worst-case scenario. If there’s a fire alarm in a shopping centre, where do you go? What’s the best way to deal with that? Practically speaking, you have to leave the stand in a decent state. These may seem small things, but it in a live environment, they’re easily overlooked.
There are always things outside your control, so it’s important to focus on the elements that are within your control and plan around them.
How do brands think about experiential in relation to other channels, and what’s your sense of where the industry is going?
I’ve been in the industry a long time, 20 years now, and what I’ve seen as a major change is the way that experiential is being used to create content by engaging consumers with an experience that is then shared across social media, extending the brand’s reach. What we’re seeing now is the integration between experiential and above the line.
Can you give me an example?
A favourite of mine is the mobile phone company O2. They gave consumers who purchased an O2 product the chance to win an intimate, one-to-one performance with a singer. A few hundred general tickets gave admission to the event, but not every ticket was valid for the whole night – only one person had a ticket to the whole event. As the night progressed people gradually left, until only one person remained for the private performance. The whole thing was filmed and ran as a 30-second TV ad.
So experiential is really driving above the line content?
Exactly. And on top of the major media agencies using experiential, we’re seeing a growth in the number of PR agencies that are using experiential to run stunt-based events. It’s less about the ROI and more about driving awareness and getting coverage in the press and online, trying to get a campaign to go viral. They’re leveraging experiential to generate content to use in other channels.
How else do you think experiential is evolving?
When experiential first came on the scene, brands all wanted to create their own events, but quickly realised that they didn’t have the specialist knowledge to effectively become an events company. They then went to the other extreme and started sponsoring events – like Wireless Festival, for example – so they could leverage that partnership across different media.
Now it’s gone full circle: brands are creating their own events again. The market has changed; consumers value experiences as much as physical products. A good example is the Ben and Jerry’s festival, which the brand could completely own, allowing them to invite people and have a conversation going forward, rather than piggybacking on another event.
These experiences have to take place somewhere. How important are venues in your discussion with clients?
Massive – absolutely massive. The venues are chosen based on the clients’ objectives. It could be footfall, so you can hit the numbers that you need to deliver. Other times it’s about dwell time, so you need a more relaxed environment with the time to talk and communicate the key messages. Whether it’s a shopping centre, train station, supermarket or festival, they all have different executions based on the environment, so it’s vital to be in the right space. Of course, the demographics go hand in hand with that, and are determined by venue and geographical area.
Retailers in particular have a massive opportunity: they have the footfall, they have the dwell time and they have the shopper in their space. In that shopper environment you have both the proximity to purchase and the opportunity to drive awareness with a big brand experience. We see experiential as the overarching channel to tie it all together.
Millennials apparently value experiences over physical products. Does experiential work better with certain demographics?
We do a lot of work within the health and beauty sector, using the power of online influencers like bloggers and vloggers to bring consumers into the retail environment to meet and engage with them. The influencers run online competitions directed at their target demographic and invite, say, 100 to come to the store – so you put a real value on that invite. On the day, consumers are encouraged to take pictures and share on social networks, and we can then share that using the brand’s hashtag. This type of Instagrammable content works well with the millennial demographic.
Brands realise that it’s a lot more credible when your consumer shares content, rather than doing it as a brand. Experiential is an effective and authentic way of generating that sharable content.
People are social, so it’s not just about millennials. We want to share where we are and what we’re doing. Brands need to think about how to create an experience that people want to share.
N2O is the 3rd largest experiential agency in the UK. Clients include Boots, Ben & Jerry’s, Citroën and Unilever. They delivered over 4,000 campaigns in 2017 and over 90,000 activation days.