Why fight Mother Nature? Believe it or not, our minds are predisposed to the mechanisms of experiential marketing. People learn by doing and then by sharing these insights with others. Putting it simply, people remember experiences; not logos. But if it’s really as straightforward as that, then why do so many folks in our industry (both client side and agency) still struggle with experiential marketing?

Well, there’s no denying that everyone seems to have their own name and interpretation for it. Consider ‘engagement marketing’, ‘event marketing’, ‘on-ground marketing’, ‘live marketing’, ‘live communications’ and even ‘participation marketing’! Could our industry’s penchant for jargon as a differentiator be the problem?

Perhaps, but more likely is the fact that experiential marketing is a lot easier said than done. Its basic premise is to create a closer bond between consumer and brand by delivering an enjoyable and memorable experience. Unfortunately that’s the point where most practitioners set aside the handbook and rush off to create fun experiences. If only they had turned the page, they would’ve learnt that the essential ingredient is not enjoyment, but rather engagement.

Too often a slick advert makes a brand promise that falls flat on its face in actual consumer interaction. A marketing campaign is effectively a vow – fail this pledge, and consumers swiftly pass judgement. If people’s experience of your brand is a poor one, then it doesn’t matter how great your content or how many marcomm dollars you spend – your marketing, in the long run, is worthless. Nada. Zilch.

Does this make me fearful for the future of marketing? Not at all.

Just think back to the last time a product delighted you, a sales rep wowed you, or customer services went that extra mile. How did it make you feel? Did the experience align with the brand promise?

This is the future of marketing. Don’t believe me? Consider this: Consumers don’t want to hear marketing messages. In fact they do their best to block out the hundreds of messages we bombard them with each day.

However, when a consumer is using a product, talking to customer services, or considering a new purchase, they are at that moment infinitely more receptive to the brand. We have their attention; they want to listen. I’m not suggesting we hit them up with marketing messages, but this is the perfect opportunity to reinforce the brand promise by delivering a great experience.

In other words, brands must first invest in perfecting their product, sales and customer service experiences. Only then should marketing raise awareness and communicate the brand promise. “Google” any brand and the majority of results will be people on social networks, blogs and websites busily sharing their consumer experiences. This is effectively the brand’s reputation – and a new reality for our craft.

What we’re seeing now is change. Winning brands will be those that embrace it. And those who understand that product, sales and customer service shape consumer perception much more than any marketing campaign. What truly matters is the experience you offer consumers at every touchpoint.

Does any of this scale? Absolutely. But it’s a cultural and organisational challenge, not just a marketing one.

Consider Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber or any other company that has been labelled disruptive, innovative or nimble in the last decade. Buying from them is easy. They have fantastic customer service. And their products are category-changing. These wonderful consumer experiences have driven growth and created engaging brands that will thrive long into this century.

In contrast, the challenge for many established organisations is breaking down self-created barriers that inhibit delivery of promised brand experiences. Narrowing this gap between what they say and what they do is increasingly a matter of survival.

A brand is the reality of what people experience; not what the campaign tells them. This isn’t the end of marketing. On the contrary, the definition of marketing is broadening and our whole enterprise just needs to adopt an experience-led approach.

The Holy Grail of experiential marketing is to create natural, participatory brand experiences that cut through the clutter and genuinely engage – rather than just interrupt to amuse. And that ladies and gentlemen, is what brand experience agencies do. It’s all about capturing the moment!


Adrian Bell

Co-founder and Executive Director