Measuring Experiential Marketing: Finding Tangible KPIs In Ephemeral Experiences

Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer’s point of view.

Today’s column is written by Emily Ketchen, regional head of marketing, Americas, at HP.

For experienced marketers, reaching consumers has often been about the numbers. The basic strategy is to develop a product marketing plan and then observe related spikes in revenues.

However, it is much different today, because consumers – especially millennials – are driven more by experiences than by consumption [PDF]. One in three CMOs is likely to spend up to half their budget on experiential marketing in the next five years, according to 2017 Freeman Global Brand Experience Study.

The shift toward experiential marketing certainly makes sense given changing consumer attitudes, but the emergence of this trend also begs the questions: How do you measure return on investment (ROI) from the experiences you create? And what do you do with that information once you have it?

While some organizations might say you cannot measure ROI from something as intangible and fleeting as experiences, the truth is that marketers from companies of all sizes – from the largest to smallest boutique brands – are becoming adept at creating lasting experiences for their consumers.

They are hiring qualified researchers to identify the right kinds of metrics, applying learnings to ensuing activations and delivering experiences that are authentic to the brand philosophy and consumer desires.

The value of qualified researchers

When planning any experiential marketing project, brands should establish clear goals and metrics that elicit measurable, actionable results. They can certainly manage this work themselves using online consumer polling tools, such as SurveyMonkey.

But savvy brands typically bring in qualified researchers with deep expertise in identifying true sample sets or panels, structuring questions to evoke meaningful responses, asking questions before, during and after an event, and assessing how opinions about a brand may have changed throughout various points of an activation.

For example, through our experience at festivals, we used pre- and post-surveys to determine how the brand experience drove a shift in the consumers’ perception of HP, brand affinity, HP buying potential and then level of engagement with our actual activation. Sample questions included:

  • What do you think of our brand?
  • Has your preference for the brand increased?
  • What is your propensity to buy an HP product?

In selecting a qualified researcher, it is important to know whether they can customize tools to an organization’s needs and which tools they will use to engage with consumers. Some old-school vendors still prefer using direct or email campaigns. In most cases, these techniques will not be as effective as using mobile tools since younger generations constantly use their smartphones. Nearly two-thirds of millennials spend more time with smartphones than with their partners, parents, friends, children or co-workers.

Outside researchers also help with two other important elements of measuring experiential marketing: scaling feedback mechanisms and eliminating bias in the results.

It is important that brands work with qualified researchers to customize tools that allow them to scale the results in tangible and actionable ways. For example, leading up to an event, researchers could identify attendees through registration lists, offer gift cards to incentivize survey participation and conduct a pre-survey to establish baseline sentiments that will be highly useful following the event to gauge how much the needle has moved.

Researchers can also eliminate any degree of bias that might be present when a brand attempts to measure its own success. Given that even the order of the questions on a survey can reveal bias, brands should feel confident about the veracity of their results and ensure they are free from personal preferences. Contracting a neutral, third party, whose methodology is respected in the industry, enables organizations to report their numbers internally while being confident in their accuracy and the ability to make these results actionable for future decision-making.

Applying learnings to activations

Beyond demonstrating activation results, it is also important to build on the insights collected about an activation to improve future efforts.

For instance, most marketers know by now that brand investments in festivals or other events should never just be about connecting with the hundreds of thousands of people on the ground each day. Ultimately, you want attendees to get excited about brand experiences and share them publicly.

Coca-Cola, for example, has updated its popular “Share a Coke” campaign each year since its kickoff in 2014. The brand noticed many images on social media featured their soda bottles with personalized names. So, during the latest iteration of the campaign, it premiered the Coca-Cola Share Chair, an oversized armchair that doubled as a “shareable” vending machine.

When two people sit together, personalized mini cans of Coca-Cola and Coke Zero Sugar popped up from the chair’s arms. A nearby camera captured the moment and provided fans with a photo and video of their experience to share on social media, thus amplifying the activation to potentially millions of online viewers. The Share Chair made stops at several marquee summer events – from the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., to the BET Experience in Los Angeles.

This is a prime example of how iterative approaches to experiential activations can extend the lifespan of a brand’s campaign and get more mileage out of consumer-engaging moments.

Authenticity is the only option

We live in an era where young people see straight through inauthenticity.

No matter the activation, it is important to tell stories in authentic ways that demonstrate brand values, credibility and ethics – and to gather data to gauge how well you’re doing that.

For example, at its Coachella activations, attendees used HP technology to custom-design sustainable Klean Kanteen bottles they could fill with water onsite. This went beyond just gifting attendees with flashy, functional items to win them over.

Rather, this decision was inspired by research showing that Coachella attendees care about how technology affects the environment. Instead of plastic cups and bottles littering the festival grounds or crowding landfills, HP gave attendees an environmentally conscious way of staying hydrated while also interacting with its technology. As a result, attendees spent an average of 15 to 20 minutes interacting with the brand and shared their experiences through photos and videos on social media – the best form of authentic storytelling.

Such activations can be highly effective. To be successful, brands must have a firm commitment to delivering authentic and measurable experiences. They must be diligent in efforts to continually learn from the data they collect and willing to bring in the right outside support to execute on these insights.

Follow HP (@HP) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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