The True Meaning of Experiential Marketing

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two decades since experiential marketing burst on the scene and quickly became a buzzword in industry circles.

With its origins in event marketing, experiential has for years been treated as the marketing world’s fifth wheel. An add-on or an afterthought, brands employed experiential when they had leftover budget. Experiential marketers did not have a seat at the strategic table. Our practice was considered execution or activation-centric only.

Despite its tepid reception, I, along with many others, have spent the last 20 years implementing successful experiential marketing strategies. We caught on early and shared an affinity for its advantages: the opportunity to immerse customers in a brand, to make audiences feel valued through one-to-one interactions, to gather feedback, and to build long-term relationships and customer loyalty.

One thing we haven’t shared? A common or accepted understanding of what experiential actually is. To this day, there has not been an industry-wide accepted definition of the category.

Now, in an era of unprecedented customer control, it’s more important than ever that we all get on the same page.

Seventy-five percent of customers don’t accept advertisements as truth. Up to 26 percent of desktop users and 15 percent of mobile consumers use online ad blockers. People are 71 percent more likely to purchase based on social media referrals. Nearly 80 percent of customers read online reviews before making a purchase. What's more, consumers of all ages would rather spend money on amazing experiences than on tangible items.

This potent combination of consumer skepticism and connectivity has propelled experiential marketing forward. But for all brands to be comfortable with it, in reference and in practice, it must be better understood.

Experiential Defined

Perhaps experiential should have been called experience marketing from the outset? People understand experiences. They want experiences. And all experiential revolves around experiences.

But are all experiences experiential? No.

Let’s use a spin wheel as an example.

A customer steps up, spins the wheel, and wins a prize of some kind. The spin wheel offers the customer an opportunity for interaction. It may also do a functional job communicating some rational facts. But the spin wheel isn’t experiential. Why? Because the heart of the activity has nothing to do with the brand. It is a tool rather an experience in and of itself.

Experiential centers on engagements that are authentic, integrated, human-centered, multi-sensory, and most importantly, that lead to a mutually-beneficial interaction between a brand and its audience.

The Elements of a Good Experience

What makes for a good branded experience?

There are three essential elements. If your engagement doesn't include them all, you are not doing experiential marketing:

  1. Know your customer
  2. Know your brand
  3. Create a touch point that is mutually-beneficial

Know Your Customer

Customer Conversation

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a human’s attention span hovers around eight seconds. Goldfish outperform us. But, if you can capture a person’s attention in the first eight seconds, you have four minutes and 52 seconds until their attention span is exhausted.

For customers to take notice, brands must know what makes them tick. Conduct secondary research to gather insights on audience demographics, interests and behaviors. Survey audiences, study your prospects’ behaviors and customs, habits and differences. Ask questions like ‘What motivates my audience when deciding on brands, products or services?,’ ‘What are the rational reasons for those decisions?,’ and ‘What are the emotional reasons?’

If a customer chooses to spend time with a brand, the opportunity to create a meaningful relationship with that customer results. Getting to know your customers will give you a head start, like a four minute and 52 second head start.

Know Your Brand

Display America Brand Exercise

Your brand must be the key ingredient in your marketing. While the recipe can change, your brand should not.

Why was the company created? What do you stand for? Experiential offers an unparalleled opportunity to showcase your values and brand purpose.

Authenticity and consistency are critical. Present your brand consistently, online, offline and everywhere in between, to prevent feelings of bait-and-switch. Done right, you will establish trust and earn customer commitments for the long term.

Create a Touchpoint

Organic Engagement

The most important piece of experiential is to give your consumer something of value. Note: This must be what they consider valuable; not what you want them to have.

Gratuitous giveaways like t-shirts in exchange for contact info pass little to no value on to the consumer. Marginally interested customers who interacted with you only to win a prize aren't likely to become big buyers or brand advocates. The net result of these transactional interactions is a stack of expensive prospect names.

Create a touchpoint of mutual benefit for a greater overall return.

Takeaway

Experiential marketing is diverse because experiences are diverse. But if we look at the "why" – the purpose of experiential – we see that it is and always has been about creating meaningful connections between brands and customers.

How we create experiences and what tools we use will continue evolve. But the beauty of effective experiential is that it creates something that a company and a consumer are equal parts of. And now more than ever, that’s exactly what consumers want most.

This post has been adapted from an article written by Montage CEO Mercedita Roxas-Murray for CMO. View the original article.

Experiential Marketing: Defined

Fish

What do humans and goldfish have in common?

(No, this isn’t a riddle.)

Both have an attention span of less than 10 seconds. That's right, 10! 

In fact, if this article hasn’t piqued your interest by now, it will likely go unread.

But don’t close that tab quite yet! There’s a solution – and it’s called experiential.

Often referred to as “experience marketing,” “brand experience,” or “event marketing,” experiential is increasingly being recognized for its ability to create relationships between brands and their audiences. The method isn’t new. But with 91 percent of global audiences regarding ads as intrusive, marketers are turning to experiential as a more effective means to capture the hearts and minds of customers.

So what exactly is experiential? Admittedly, it’s not the easiest to define. But to bring clarity to the term and the technique, we look at four key elements of experiential.

1) Experiential revolves around a human-centered experience.

Harken back to your days of SAT prep. To figure out the meaning of a word, you were encouraged to look at the root. You guessed it – experiential marketing derives from experience.

Frequently associated with pop-ups, tastings, festivals and fairs, experiential activations often happen live and in real-time. Digital experiences are equally important – both on their own and as an enhancement to live events. In either case, experiential revolves around a human-centered experience, one that is a) designed for a particular audience and b) largely guided by audience-members themselves.

2) Experiential is multi-sensory.

Experiential engages audiences on the most elemental level – through the senses. A creative visual widens the pupils. A familiar scent conjures up a happy memory. A hands-on experiment helps a customer understand how a product works.

A multi-sensory experience immerses customers in a brand, making it easier to capture their attention and deliver messages without distraction. Perhaps more importantly, the senses act as a superhighway to the heart and mind. Through experiential, brands trigger emotions, build trust and boost knowledge that customers can wield and pass along.

3) Experiential facilitates dialogue between a buyer and brand.

Let’s be honest: You can’t interact with a billboard. Indeed, experiential boasts a huge advantage over traditional advertising when it comes to communicating with customers.

Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation at a live activation or a post-event opportunity to provide feedback online, experiences organically open up lines of communication between brands and their most important stakeholders. Customers feel valued. Companies gain useful insights. Both become part of each other's stories. It’s no wonder that 95 percent of businesses state that experiences are essential for the development and retention of long-term customer relationships.

4) Experiential is integrated.

Picture a bicycle wheel. At the hub, you have an experience. The spokes? They represent all the other ways to reach an audience – social media messages, display ads, guerrilla street teams, community outreach, and even the lesser-discussed billboards.

Yes, while experiential may revolve around a human-centered experience, it’s most effective when complemented by multiple marketing methods. And by employing them before, during and after an activation, brands have the opportunity entice audiences, enhance experiences and reinforce memories that far outlast an event itself.

Key Takeaway

So what is experiential? Experiential is an integrated marketing method that facilitates dialogue between brands and audiences through human-centered, multi-sensory experiences.

And it’s becoming increasingly popular.

While some companies have prioritized experiential since their founding, more and more are realizing it’s power to reset relationships with consumers. It’s true. In a recent survey, one-third of CMOs revealed that they intend to allocate up to 50 percent of their budget to experiential in the next three to five years.

Want to learn how experiential can benefit your brand? Drop us a line at info@montagemarketinggroup.com.

Keeping Up in the Conference Room: Our Six Picks for Staying Savvy

Can you keep up in the conference room?

A client questions your strategy – you reinforce your recommendations with latest data. A brainstorming session comes to a close – your colleagues applaud your creative genius. Even at the company-Keurig, you talk trends like you started them.

Staying on top of industry news, innovations and clever ideas takes work. So many sources, so little time! However does one choose?

As a young and growing business, every minute is especially precious. To make sure we don’t waste a moment, we’ve read, watched, assessed and zeroed in on six highly useful sources to keep us up to speed and inspired. 

MarketingProfs

Best for: Easy to digest, actionable insights that you can put to use right away

We discovered MarketingProfs only a few months ago, but quickly grew to love its accessible and super useful content. It’s almost like BuzzFeed for marketers – sharing common-sense practices that we often over-complicate. You'll likely find yourself saying, “ahh, of course!” while reading.

MarketingProfs covers all marketing fields. Skip browsing and sign up for their daily newsletter. Each email contains five headlines for you to absorb or ignore. The weekly SocialSkim is a favorite of our Digital Communications Manager.

Google Alerts

Best for: Tracking topics and trends relevant to your business

Please tell us you have at least one Google Alert set up already. No? Time to get on it.

The easy-to-set-up alerts send news directly to your inbox based on search terms you select. Start with the name of your business and industry niches. For example, we receive alerts for “Montage Marketing Group,” “experiential marketing,” “minority-owned business” and “woman-owned business.”

Alerts can be sent as-they-happen, once daily or once weekly to the email of your choice – no Google account required.

Entrepreneur

Best for: Entrepreneurial advice and inspiration

Never mind that nearly 30 million small businesses operate in the U.S., entrepreneurship is often a lonely road. There’s so much uncharted territory. From writing a business plan to pitching clients, securing funding to establishing a growth strategy, beginners and experts alike can benefit from Entrepreneur’s content.

Articles are often composed by those in the throes. They celebrate the triumphs and offer tips to navigate the trials of business ownership. We especially love the advice of fellow entrepreneur’s on how to stay production, creative and focused.

Creativity

Best for: Innovative ideas that make you say “wow”

Great marketing makes us laugh, cry, engage in or avoid behaviors. Creativity puts the best of the best front and center – sharing ads, experiences and other marketing innovations in a visual format with a quick explanation of why they’re great, in case it isn’t obvious.

The Creativity Pick of the Day sits atop the website. You can also browse Editors Picks for more inspiration. Some selections might strike you as odd, but all are sure to get you thinking, dare we say, more creatively.

AdAge

Best for: Keeping up to date on industry news and issues

Creativity’s parent publication, AdAge, also makes our list. While less rousing than the other picks, AdAge serves as a valuable source for staying on top of industry news and issues.

Expert content provides insights on evolving trends and shifting regulations within the industry. AdAge showcases the winners of the world’s most prominent and renowned marketing awards, while also looking at the profession, and it’s privilege, with a critical eye. We love a good gut check!

They recently added a scan-able daily digest to their newsletter – a handy way to take in the highlights quickly.

Facebook

Best for: Audience listening, current events, and networking

Lest we leave off the social network! Say what you will about Facebook’s recent snags, it has revolutionized the way the world communicates.

Brands use the platform to monitor everything from current events to customer needs and back again. Social listening tools reveal where you’re missing or hitting the mark on customer experience. Even the simplest performance analytics can inform your business about what types of content audiences like most.

And there's more! Facebook is hot on the heels of LinkedIn for the title of 'Most Useful Site for Professional Networking.' Businesses can currently post job opportunities, and testing is underway on a feature that allows users to share their education and job experience via the site.

Takeaway

Keeping up in the conference room isn’t easy, but it can be done through a well-cultivated selection of easy-to-access, not-to-be-missed industry sources. Take our six favorites for a test drive and stay savvy, friends.

P.S. If you rely on any informative, entertaining sources that help you do your job better, we’d love to hear from you. Drop your name and that of your favorite source in the comments below.

Montage Honored as a Top 100 MBE®

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The Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC) named Montage Marketing Group a 2017 Top 100 MBE® winner. The award recognizes owners of minority business enterprises in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia who have demonstrated exceptional entrepreneurial accomplishments, a high level of professionalism, and have made substantial contributions to their community. 

The Top 100 MBE Awards® began in 2007 and evolved through a need to recognize and celebrate the creativity and innovation of regional MBEs who are role models and inspirations to the entire community.

This is the first year Montage has received the award. A marketing solutions company, Montage provides government and commercial clients with the opportunity to achieve increased results, engage audiences and create passionate advocates through experiential marketing. Montage’s agile workforce offers marketing communications, events, training, program management, mobile event teams, and brand experience services.

"As a business and as individuals, the Montage team is driven to do more for our clients and our communities," said Montage founder and CEO, Mercedita Roxas-Murray. "Being recognized as a Top 100 MBE® honors that commitment and acknowledges our success. We’re thrilled to receive the award, and congratulate all our fellow MBEs."

Last year, Montage was nominated and recognized by CRMSDC as a finalist for Supplier of the Year Class 1 award.

The Top 100 MBE Awards® will be presented at the CRMSDC’s 36th Annual Leaders and Legends Awards Ceremony, on November 2nd at the MGM National Harbor.

Sharon R. Pinder, CRMSDC’s president and CEO, commended this year’s winners: “Our board of directors and our members congratulate the 2017 Top 100 MBEs® on their stellar accomplishments.”

CRMSDC is celebrating its 45th anniversary as a not-for-profit economic development organization supporting growth in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Northern Virginia through programs and services that help corporations enhance the diversity and innovation of their supply chains. CRMSDC connects corporate and government members to well established, certified minority-owned business enterprises.

This is accomplished through a rigorous process of certifying that MBE suppliers are at least 51% owned, controlled and operated by ethnic minorities; providing education and advice to certified businesses; and finally, creating strategic opportunities for corporate members and certified MBEs to connect for the purpose of doing business.

CRMSDC, established in 1972, is one of 23 regional affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the only nationally recognized MBE certifying authority. CRMSDC is headquartered in Silver Spring Maryland.

Welcome, Liz!

Liz Ayala

Montage is thrilled to welcome Liz Ayala to our growing team.

Liz took the leap into experiential marketing following 10 years in the administrative field. Her honed ability to spot potential weaknesses and offer solutions made her a natural in the industry. When she crossed paths with Montage, we were eager to scoop her up. Liz is a team player –committed to modeling the passion, creativity, ambition and responsibility she hopes to instill in others.

Hailing from Peru, Liz’s parents gifted her with a love of travel starting at an early age. She’s visited 27 countries to date and is always on the lookout for her next adventure. Liz attributes her motivation to get up every morning to her kids. She also enjoys very filling breakfasts and Cuban espresso. You decide which is more compelling.

In her wildest dreams, Liz aspires to be a competitive powerlifter. Her favorite quote serves as inspiration: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome."

Eight Essential Steps to Make Your Brand Experience a Success

Skyscraper Construction RS.jpeg

Have you ever seen a skyscraper under construction? Cranes balance heavy beams. Concrete fills the floors and walls. Panels of reflective glass rise skyward. But before any building begins, a solid foundation must be laid. The stability of the skyscraper depends on it.

So it is with brand experiences. Beneath all that meets the eye, audience research underpins a successful event. Skillful design then creates the frame. And testing completes the construction.

We’ve been in the experiential industry for over 30 years, and in that time, have honed eight foolproof steps for building engaging, effective and enjoyable live experiences from the ground up.

Audience Research

Your brand experience should revolve around your audience – not the other way around. Conducting early research on your prospective attendees will help you anticipate their reception of your program or event. What are the motivating factors when deciding about brands, products or services like yours? What are the rational reasons for those decisions? What are the emotional reasons?

Start with secondary research, gathering insights on audience demographics, interests and behaviors. Then dive in deeper. We often survey audiences, study people behaviors and customs, habits and differences, and/or conduct benchmark research, comparing one's business’ processes and performance to industry bests.

Cultural Review

In addition to audience research, you’ll need to anticipate potential attendees response to the experience. Are they likely to be receptive or skeptical of brand messages? Are they historically brand loyal or do they prioritize other attributes of a product or service, such as price? How might certain imagery, words and body language be interpreted? Consider the appropriateness of chosen colors as well as how you position elements within your brand experience. Allow potential sensitivities inform how your experience takes shape and how you frame messaging.

Awareness Assessment

Has the audience seen a product or service like yours before? We had to be especially mindful of awareness issues when working with our client NanoTouch Technologies. Their product, a self-cleaning surface, is as desirable as it gets. It’s also new, different and sounds too good to be true. Because awareness was low, we opted to market the NanoTouch product through trusted influencers who could demonstrate its effectiveness to consumers. Determine how you can overcome low awareness or differentiate your brand within a saturated market.

Topic Literacy Evaluation

Topic literacy is equally important. If participants have difficulty reading, writing or speaking about a specific topic area, opt to present information and instructions in a visual format. Infographics, videos and simulations can communicate messages that may otherwise be missed.

Language Testing

Follow up your topic literacy evaluation with this question: Are we addressing low literacy or a language barrier? In 2016, nearly 58 million Americans self-identified as Hispanic or Latino. That’s 18 percent of the population. While presenting all your information in English might be easiest, it’s not always the most effective – or the most inclusive. Develop your experience to speak the language(s) of your attendees, including translations, multilingual brand ambassadors and opportunities for engagement in their first language.

Engagement Review

An engagement review examines the points of interaction between the brand and the audience. The goal? To make sure both parties benefit.

Prioritize building long-term relationships with participants by extending the life of the experiences you create. Offer attendees an elevated experience in exchange for their email address. Introduce a hashtag to ignite social sharing. Encourage brand ambassadors to ask questions that yield customer feedback. Then, follow up. Who wouldn’t love to see their Facebook post shared by your brand? Or feel that their input influenced the development of a new product? Consumers who feel heard and valued are far more likely to stick with you. An engagement review will help ensure your experience leads to customer relationships.

Mock Events

Will your brand experience be a success? The time has come to find out.

Mock events invite real people to experience your program or event in real time. No controlled environments here – your mock event should allow participants to engage with your experience on their own terms and provide feedback on what they liked (and didn’t).

Before launching our ongoing All of Us mobile tour, we hosted 2 mock events: one with a healthcare provider and their patient community; the other at a community center. During the provider event, a large proportion of senior participants noted the high degree of technology involved in the experience. They suggested including further explanation in order to help their peers navigate the experience comfortably. At the community center, a high percentage of participants indicated a lack of email access. We therefore needed to identify alternative communication methods.

The feedback enabled us to make tweaks before the program launched, increasing our likelihood of success. Better trial and error than no trial and failure.

Accounting for the Intangible

There are some things you just can’t measure – animated conversation, laughter, a smile. Be sure to pay attention to these intangibles during your mock events, too. When your experience triggers emotions, attendees are more likely to remember your brand and engage in the future. Lacking a fun factor? Ask what's missing and adjust accordingly.

Takeaway

During our 30 years in the industry, we’ve seen a lot of awesome, impactful brand experiences achieve sky high results. We’ve also seen many fall flat. Now, our blueprint for success follows the eight essential steps detailed above. Dig deep in audience research. Lay the foundation of your engagement around the needs, abilities, emotions and prior experiences of your prospective attendees. Then, build upward and extend your activation through complementary touchpoints. And no matter how impressive your experience architecture, always put it to the test.

Interested in learning more about exceptional brand experiences? Contact us today.