Guest Blog: The role of measurement within Experiential… one size does not fit all – Paul Stanway – XYZ Agency

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Why do brands continue to invest multi million pound budgets into flagship stores and retail sites when respected e-commerce surveys and forecasts suggest double digit growth of online purchase in the next few years? Many brands have flinched at this prospect, downsizing or closing their large stores, yet some of the world’s most successful and trusted brands have increased investment in their flagship stores, developing the in-store offering to be more than just a transactional one and more of a brand experience. The reason that they do this, is because they understand the value of context. By controlling the circumstances in which their products and services are experienced gives brands a far more powerful way to tell the stories and develop a more empathetic relationship with consumers that will transcend purchase and lead to a more meaningful, longer-term, and more profitable engagement. Context is everything.

But what does this have to do with the role of measuring the effectiveness of experiential activity? Just as in retail, context here is a crucial element. The terms experientialand eventcover such a hugely varied spectrum of different types of activity It’s this range and diversity that makes any single, rigid metric for demonstrating effectiveness doomed to failure. And that’s the mistake most experiential agencies have been making, in our ever more important quest to find parity with marketing channels such as PR, digital and Social Media. And yet, the eventis possibly the oldest and most enduring form of storytelling known to civilisation. How does one go about measuring what an experience even is, let alone how effective it has been? We need to focus on the context, choose from the most appropriate measurement metrics for that context, and map those against the client’s goals. Only then are we going to get a meaningful measure of success that is relevant. What we need to measure for a social media-powered product launch may well be fundamentally different to what constitutes effectiveness for an immersion into a brand’s service proposition for a specific consumer group. Does effectiveness look the same for running shoes as it does for financial services? Sometimes it may, but on many more occasions it won’t, and if we’re going to be serious about instigating a measurement mindset then we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that one size will fit all.

One of the reasons we prefer to use the term brand experiences at XYZ is because we see that these take place across digital and real-world settings, and it is brands that understand this fluidity that are successfully navigating the dynamically evolving marketplace. Integrating technology into the heart of live experience design process gives not just amplification opportunities to increase reach and engagement beyond the event’s physical location, but also provide insights on the actions and reactions of those participating too. Yes, you can provide additional content that reinforces what participants are experiencing in real time, but you can also understand what they do with that content if you design with that in mind. The convenience of instant and frictionless participation via digital cannot and should not be a point of competition for experiential. The whole point of experiential is that it has depth, requires active engagement and by doing so, unlocks emotionally rich rewards that make an impression and live with us for longer. They resonate, and that is why they become social currency – which we can enable participants to share using digital platforms, where it’s relevant and beneficial for our clients as well.

This merging of the online and offline experience is reflected in the earlier reference to the reframing of what a flagship store’s purpose should be in the future. When products are more readily, and often more cheaply available from an online retailer, the raison d’être of a brand’s physical presence must become as much about delivering the reason for purchase than facilitating the purchase. When you drill down into it, we are both being tasked with changing consumer behaviour – establishing new purchase behaviour or rewarding existing purchase behaviour. The experience design must focus on triggering that, just as the in-store experience must. The latter is taking cues from the former to ensure it survives in the new world, the irony being that it’s using one of the oldest forms of communication to do so.

How do experiential marketers compete against platforms that naturally lend themselves to measuring interaction, and can provide audiences in the hundreds of thousands? What’s our argument to a client who, could divert their experiential budget into Out of Home ads or a social media campaign that reaches hundreds of thousands, with the statistics to prove it? For years we’ve offered up metrics of activity. How many people came to the event, how many samples were handed out, how many people saw what was happening. These are all measures of the event taking place, not its effect. If the goals of the experience were to get people to attend, to hand out samples or provide visibility, then these metrics may be of use to the client. But what about those experiences that are intended to offer more than handouts? The continued growth of the experience economy in both volume and range shows an appetite for not just more, but better experiences that redefine relationships between brands and consumers. What makes experiential so powerful is what makes it so complex and difficult to quantify, in many ways echoing what it’s like to be a three-dimensional person rather than a stereotype. Experiential’s ability to work across senses and the nuances of culture is part of the reason is remains a cornerstone of human interaction beyond marketing, in the arts, education and even social care.

As active and committed members of the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM) we wholeheartedly agree with them that the experiential sector should adopt a measurement mindset. We must ensure though that we’re not just measuring what’s easiest or most measurable. If we are serious about proving our strategic value then the groundwork must be done to understand what should be focused on and designed for, so that we’re not just measuring more but measuring better.

Typically, experiential measurement only covers what happens on the day of an event, so how many people saw, how many people directly engaged with an activity and how many samples or vouchers or collateral were given away.  However, this data driven measurement is actually only measuring the activity itself, not the longer-term effectiveness of the activity.   Working closely with IPM, the key tenet of their approach is that experiential effectiveness works in a similar way to that of TV advertising, and as such effectiveness measurement should be approached in the same way.  There are then 3 key factors involved in measuring effectiveness.  Firstly, setting the right objectives for the activity being delivered.  As with all measurement, it’s important to be clear and open with all stakeholders on what your experiential objectives are.  Objectives can be a mix of strategic goals – such as increasing awareness, improving brand image as well as delivering engagement – and tactical, to increase sales in the short-term as well as data collection based on a certain activity.  Secondly, such measurement must be planned and pre-defined before the event, not afterwards, again for complete transparency and to ensure action will be taken from the measured outcomes.  Thirdly, it’s fundamental the right data is collected to measure the pre-defined objectives.  The ‘right’ data is there to inform and define customer attitudes and their associated behaviours which an experience can have had a huge impact on.

Looking in more detail at the measurement channels that could be applied, these can fall into 3 channels: Spatial, Content Engagement and Qualitative.

Spatial:Let’s look at what people at our experiences actually do, not just what they say that they do. This will lead not only to greater insights into which elements of the events attract attention, we will be able to then use those insights to input into improved experience design, creating physical spaces that trigger the behaviour we’re looking for in consumers that helps to deliver the targets we have agreed with our clients.

Content Engagement:We firmly believe in digitally-enabled live experiences as the most potent form of event activity. Considered and deliberate use of content to not only build on the in-the-moment experience, but to provide an opportunity to create data points that will allow you and your clients to see how the content is consumed and shared.

Qualitative:Putting flesh on the bones of data is crucial, using tools like the IPM’s Brand Affinity Measure to understand the impact of the experience is key to unlocking these insights. By ensuring you understand you’re looking to find out through qualitative research, it will be possible to conduct it in ways that don’t need to interrupt the experience flow at the event. As experience designers we should be able to find engaging and creative ways to integrate this into our events, as it’s too important not to.

These channels will help to provide us with a suite of tools to choose from, dialling up the most relevant ones depending on the type of activity and the client’s version of success that is being sought. Because the context we’re referring to here are the business solutions that we’re tasked with providing for our clients. We forget this at our peril.

We think of it as a kind of metrics mixing desk, but instead of music genre dictating the output it’s the context of the experiential activity.

When we founded XYZ five years ago, one of the central tenets of the agency was that we wanted to play our part in elevating experiential from a tactical tool to a strategic one. If we’re going to ask clients to involve us in campaign level decision-making and helping them to write the experiential briefs as much as respond to them, then we need to demonstrate that we are capable of operating at that level. By actively engaging in the search for genuine solutions to the issues that face experiential marketing is at the heart of this.

Paul Stanway is Creative Director at XYZ Brand Experience.

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