For decades, the primary tool to measure success of a branding campaign was consistency. Brands delivered similar experiences across all retailers in an effort to build brand equity through recognition and reliability.
Now, with changing consumer preferences, brands are questioning the fundamental assumptions behind marketing success. They are increasingly deprioritizing brand consistency in favor of disruptive, hyper-local, experience-based campaigns.
We're seeing that with Apple, which is complementing its one-size-fits-all retail locations with more custom and curated expressions. Its new Brooklyn store, for example, brings the brand's aesthetics and ease-of-use brand promise to life in an architecturally unique and localized experience. And we're seeing it with smaller, more nimble companies that are much younger than Apple—forward-thinking startups and digitally native brands that are flipping the script, with no small success.
Might disruption be the new consistency?
Disruptions can be discreet or overt, at every budget level, with companies turning everything from product to packaging to events into more interactive, shareable extensions of their brands. In our digital and social marketplace, smart brands may find that the success of a campaign should be measured by how disruptive—i.e., shareable—an experience was.
But disruption by its very nature creates division. In that environment, marketers at more established organizations are finding that historical expectations and established performance metrics are standing in the way of investing in a multitude of engaging touchpoints for consumers.
Today's marketer faces the not-insignificant challenge of convincing management that experiential moments are critical to the success of the brand. Experiential marketing in most organizations is an ancillary part of the marketing plan and often comes to fruition as an afterthought—if and when there is remaining spend and bandwidth.
The legacy marketing program can be challenging to modify. Using historical budget allocations of the traditional media mix of TV, radio, Web, etc. leaves very little funding for experiential moments. That's in stark contrast to how newer brands that came of age after the birth of digital operate: They are able to plan for industry disruptions far more nimbly.
What's more, marketers in organizations that are looking to cut costs in the face of stagnant growth—and we've seen a recent upswing in zero-based budgeting in the US—face an even greater challenge. With pressure to do more with less, the challenge is to entertain a conversation about increased spending on marketing activities that are less familiar and harder to measure. There's not a lot of money to explore those new avenues, particularly if your executive team expects a hard ROI in sales for marketing dollars invested.
In that environment, drumming up support and resources to execute shareable brand experiences can be challenging. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success.
1. Talk about it!
To your peers, to management, to whoever will listen. In your day-to-day activities, make small decisions in this direction, focusing on those decisions you have power to effect. Experiential marketing is not a trend that will pass. Be on the front end of the conversation so that, when your cost-focused organization is ready to talk about experiences, you'll have been having that conversation all along.
2. Start small
So you don't have the budget for a $4 million buildout for your brand at SXSW. Just because you can't play in the major leagues yet doesn't mean there's nothing to be done. Small gestures, executed seamlessly, can go a long way.
In your brick-and-mortar stores, incorporate a branded GIF photo booth with a tablet that can be shared on the spot, complete with your brand and hashtag embedded in the content. Or identify social influencers that appeal to your target consumer. Consider sponsoring or sending free product, and you may be rewarded with the awareness and loyalty of many target consumers. If the big influencers aren't in your budget, micro-influencers are far more affordable and sometimes more effective.
3. Determine which metrics matter most
How many impressions were made? How many people engaged with your content? How many people clicked through to your website? How many people posted on their own accounts and # or @ tagged your brand? How many people interface with your brand via social influencers who represent you? If an influencer posts about a specific product, track the sales of that product in the 48 hours after the post. How many of your target consumers did your experience reach? Can you track an increase of sales of a product or line to a specific experiential campaign?
Yes, those metrics may not be as quantitative as you might like. But they are the questions that need to be asked in order to build loyalty—not just the one-time purchase dollars—of a consumer.
4. Act as if your company were founded this year
Instead of building off your historical marketing mix and trying to adjust, imagine how you'd approach the market as a new entrant, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Ask yourself: In today's world, are we putting ourselves on a platform that attracts and creates value? Are we creating content that's incredibly intuitive and easy for our audience to consume today?
5. Show interest in your customer
Historically, brands would drive awareness and sales by being the most interesting, the sexiest, the coolest. Today, we're seeing brands succeed by showing authentic interest in the customer.
Notice the recent trend in personalized and customized marketing messaging. For example, Coca-Cola's Share a Coke campaign placed popular Millennial first names on bottles. Or check out any digital platform that tailors content based on consumption history, such as Spotify's "Discover Weekly" playlists. Those efforts are effective because they add to the brand experience in a way that feels personal.
Find a way to speak directly to each consumer instead of to your consumers as a whole. That goes a long way toward building brand loyalty, and it's a starting point you can infuse in all facets of marketing that may lead to a bigger conversation about personalized brand moments through experiential marketing.
* * *
Today's leaders are questioning the very nature of how they think about marketing campaigns—and which metrics matter most. Doing things the way they've always been done might seem the safe way to go, but consumer interests and the industry of brand marketing are undergoing a fundamental shift. Brands that don't start to step outside their comfort zones to disrupt marketing plans and spends will ultimately see the demise we've seen in so many long-standing retailers in recent years.
It might feel like a risk to forsake the trusted measures of success and ROI that marketers have come to rely on, but the greater risk is losing today's savvy consumers to competitors that are willing to blaze the path of shared experiences.
Shift your measurements of success to how deeply you affected your consumers, which will translate into shared social content. That shared content matters most: because, if you create an experience that consumers are engaged with enough to share, they're contributing to your marketing efforts for you.
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