The perfect threesome – social media, mobile and experiential?

Consumers are no longer passive spectators of marketing activity – they expect to be active participants in brand conversations and campaigns. Experiential marketing fulfils this demand by taking engaging, interactive and memorable brand experiences directly to consumers – driving awareness, trial, conversations, content and generating a strong impact on purchase propensity.

Yet despite the many benefits of the discipline, one big challenge remains for brands – reach.

Social media could however provide the answer. Rather than being limited by footfall, the integration of experiential, social media and mobile can greatly extend reach and improve engagement, but how easy is it to actually implement and what do brands need to consider?

As with all successful marketing channels and brand-consumer conversations, you must understand the audience, the role your brand or product plays in their lives and involve the consumer in an experience that they want to share and talk about positively with their network – real or digital.

The key to achieving significant reach and impact from brand experiences is to generate natural talkability and endorsement within your target group, rather than channeling a consumer through an experience towards a social ‘output’ that is designed. The goal should always be comments or content driven by the consumer’s own emotional engagement with you. And its smartphones that have been the real game-changer in this area; uniquely personal, it has opened the door to the real-time sharing of information, photos and that all important positive WOM. Designing a social media mechanic should be an integral part of experiential planning, creative and execution, but the output of these mechanics will never be as powerful as content created and spread organically.

Think about the social media platform, don’t assume that all are the same and are used in the same way. If you want to have impact through Twitter then ensure that your campaign and messages are tailored to how it is best used; the same goes for the other major platforms such as Pinterest and Facebook and the more interest-specific platforms such as SoundCloud or niche forums.

Think regionally. Real and virtual social networks are a mixture of local concentration and national/international spread, depending on your audience. What can you do to engage consumers in their region or city? Expecting interest and engagement from consumers geographically detached from your activity is a big ask.

Democratise your event or experiential campaign through social media. Engage the audience and ask them what they’d like to see and do and where you should activate. If your consumers have given their time and energy to giving you their thoughts, they have a vested interest and will want to see what actually happened. They will be more inclined to talk about it and share it if they feel they are part of the brand’s creative and strategic journey. Events and experiential activation are the ultimate manifestation of a brand’s personality and being able to influence that through real and digital social interaction is a powerful tool for both brands and consumers to work with.

Revisiting the method of using a mechanic to produce social media content, innovation is occurring in the area of automated status updates and check-ins. This can take the form of consumers pre-registering for events or registering on entry and using either RFID or mobile technology to tell the story of their experience automatically through one or several of their social platforms. Their friends/followers can see how they are interacting with your brand experience in real time. Again, this must be accompanied by a consumer generated piece of content that has their personality and energy behind it to really have impact and resonance.

There are many statistics and debates regarding how much reach an individual social media post or comment can achieve – in terms of reach and impact. Whilst the emergence, development and adoption of social media monitoring tools have certainly improved over recent years, the fact is that at the moment there is still no robust and comprehensive way of measuring this. Average models are almost irrelevant due to the almost infinite variations and nuances of people and groups within the communities. We all behave differently, have different attitudes, different levels of engagement with brands and platforms, different spheres of influence…which are diverse depending on what we are engaging with, when and who else wants to listen. The way forward would seem to be in brands and agencies developing bespoke experiential-social media evaluation models specific to their brand(s), audiences and campaigns; building an ever-evolving model to inform future campaigns. Wider benchmarking needs to follow, but in a way that embraces endless variation.

This challenge of robust and meaningful evaluation is not unique to the experiential-social channel (it should be viewed as one); it is a key focus because it has reached maturation quickly and does not fit the long established and long accepted measurements of traditional media. All media need to evolve more sophisticated ways of evaluating reach and impact, but as the experiential-social channel operates at the coal face of brand-consumer conversations, it is the area most likely to lead the way in understanding and responding to future consumers.

Experiential marketing is an exciting, inspiring and powerful channel, but to be truly effective it needs to be social by design.

Benoit Cacheux, Head of Digital and Direct, Haygarth

Main image bigstockphoto.com