As every generation ages, there comes a moment when the younger and more energetic individuals say: “Thanks guys, you’ve been great and everything but we’ll take it from here. We’re hipper, funnier, more attractive and frankly you old farts just don’t get it anymore.”
While the European exhibition market shrinks and we all tell each other it’s just the delayed effect of the recession, and that our industry is by nature a late responder to market conditions, another live marketing medium has firmly cemented its position in the UK. It’s hipper, more exciting and often more attractive. It’s experiential.
For those of you not familiar with the term, experiential marketing focuses on giving the customer an experience by which they remember and identify with the brand. Arguably, the simplest example of experiential marketing is giving out free samples of a product in a public space.
However, campaigns can be as elaborate as you like. Car company Mazda, working with experiential agency Imagination, set-up a test drive area where participants could use the car to knock a giant inflated football into a net. As well as giving participants a sensory memory aligned with the new product, it helps position the brand as sporty and innovative, traits that might be attractive to its target demographic.
While an experiential event may not compete directly for visitors against an exhibition, the savvy among you will have already recognised that it competes for the marketing budgets of key brands and would-be exhibitors. Why pay a premium fee for space at an exhibition when you could potentially sell to 80,000 visitors per day by setting up in a mall? If it’s an average consumer you want to rope in, how can an organiser argue the efficacy of a crowded shopping plaza, sports event or train station?
The risk of losing an exhibitor’s marketing budget is greatest with consumer-facing brands. These include sectors such as popular technology, cosmetics, snack food, energy drinks and vehicles.
However, one of the best arguments in favour of experiential can also be seen as the strongest argument for exhibitions: A targeted audience. Whereas you have limited control over who walks past your kiosk on a street corner or takes samples in a train station, a show organiser can promise a well-selected group of buyers.
Of course, there are statistics that suggest a certain sample-to-repeat-buyer ratio, and experiential agencies argue that in terms of budget, you can hand out more samples per pound using space on a street corner or shopping mall than at an exhibition. If handing out samples is what the client wants, then that’s what they’ll get.The Prosecution
“The exhibition industry is old school,” said Claire Stokes, MD of Circle Agency, an experiential marketing company. “It doesn’t have all the flexibility that modern brands need.
“Most of our brand clients work on the basis that for every engagement we do, we have a certain impact on the consumer. For example, for every 10 demos we have one sale. I look at that and say ok, in order to have this many sales I need x number of demos. We want to maximise that and cut the costs on set-up and site fees. The less money I spend, the more I can engage with the consumer and effect the brand.”
Unfortunately for our industry, Stokes tries to avoid exhibitions where possible.
“I have multiple clients who say they want to visit an exhibition, but we often end up not going because the organiser says ‘Let me get my rate card out’,” she said. “Usually it’s very expensive and you have to compare that to how much that would get in a shopping mall or street corner, or from a pop-up shop on the high street. Often the ROI isn’t there.
“Exhibitions provide a highly targeted audience, but at a premium. If I go into a shopping centre I have got power immediately, I usually have Wi-Fi access and it’s included in my fees.”
What about small companies that just buy a 2sqm stand and maybe can’t afford to be experiential? According to Stokes, these companies are no good for an exhibition either: They look boring, clog aisles and don’t tend to reach out to consumers compared to the bigger brands who can afford more attention-grabbing stands and features.
“Exhibitions hold promise but they have to give me the right audience, and they don’t always deliver. Does the target audience work well and is my brand such a good fit that I can pay the fee?” she asked.The Defence
Media 10 MD Lee Newton agreed organisers needed to move exhibitions more towards the experiential side of things and claimed the right mix is a powerful medium.
“With every show we run, the first thing on our list is the visitor experience. I think we were definitely seen as a company coming in and considering the visitor a lot more,” he said. “For example, we are well-known for putting a tunnel at Grand Designs Live right from the entrance to the centre of the show. It’s all to do with experience and making sure when people turn up at the show, the experience starts right away as it should.”
With Media 10’s treatment of the Ideal Home Show and its other shows, it was one of the first organisers to acknowledge exhibitions as brands in their own right instead of simple empty vessels for exhibitors to fill.
Newton believes organisers need to stop worrying about square metres and stand yields, and begin thinking more closely about visitor experience. Although the former are fast and easy revenue generators, it’s the latter that will elevate your show to a must-attend event for both exhibitors and visitors. In fact, the Ideal Home Show is cutting its square meterage in favour of more features.
Where does this leave the potential exhibitors? True, treating the show as a single experience from start to finish will embed the event in the visitor’s memory, but how does this come across to individual brands? If the show is the brand, is it also its own experiential marketing campaign riding off the backs of exhibitors?
With a successful show comes droves of spend-ready visitors, secure in the knowledge that the products on offer will accord with the brand values of the show. Newton claimed any visitor who has already paid the ticket price will want – consciously or subconsciously – to come away with something to show for it. Whereas many consumers will not buy anything after participating in an experiential campaign, visitors to a show are there specifically to see what’s on offer and to come away with something new.
Done properly, a consumer exhibition could become the shining light of consumer experience: Unlike any single-brand experiential campaign, Gadget Show Live, the Ideal Home Show or the world-famous American video gaming show E3 could establish itself as the definitive event for a given sector. Being part of that would be worth more to the exhibitors than sitting in a shopping mall car park or handing out samples on a street-corner.Self-selection
At the end of the day an exhibition offers something an experiential brand cannot: An audience specifically self-selected for what’s on offer. In fact, Media 10 is now in the fortunate position of being able to turn away exhibitors from Ideal Home Show that it judges aren’t attuned to visitor experience.
Taking this a step further, Newton has introduced a system where Media 10 staff sit down with would-be exhibitors to make sure their stands are exciting and inviting enough to keep visitors interested.
“A big thing to remember is that you can turn it completely on its head: You could put in as much experiential content as you can but it will be outweighed by exhibitor stands,” Newton said. “At the end of the day, visitors will remember the exhibitors more than the features, you just have to have the right kind of exhibitor. A lot of exhibitors need to look at how they are presenting themselves.”
Don’t underestimate the significance of this offer. Not only is Media 10 promising a targeted audience, it is also somewhat fulfilling the role of experiential agency by helping design a stand that will draw in and connect with consumers.
As for the competition presented by experiential agencies, perhaps in this world of aggressive marketing it isn’t such a big deal. An experiential agency may get so many Facebook ‘likes’ or deliver so many samples, but as soon as the individual walks away they’re straight back into the boiling pot of public advertising.
Despite what agencies say, exhibitions by their targeted nature can offer a return on investment that is possible to measure and a dedicated audience that actively chooses the brand.
Instead of ignoring the experiential threat, learn from the consumer experiences these experiential agencies create to improve your visitor proposition and ensure your shows continue to be the live marketing medium of choice.
CASE STUDY: Ford Focus goes live
Imagination and Ford worked together to design and create the new Focus Cam innovation, which was the centrepiece of Ford’s UEFA Champions Festival stand. Inspired by the camera technology in the new Ford Focus, the feature allowed fans to perform stunts captured on 40 cameras in 120 degrees, similar in effect to the iconic ‘bullet time’ scene in The Matrix where the camera appeared to zoom around a character suspended in the air.
Normally the domain of film studios or advert production companies, this was one of the first times consumers had the chance to interact with such technology. People could upload their scissor kick, goal celebration or any other action video and share it on Facebook, Twitter and email with the help of hosts carrying iPads. According to Imagination, more than 3,000 YouTube videos were created during the week and by 6 June they had been viewed more than 61,000 times.
“By giving fans a fun and engaging experience, we aim to encourage them to share some great content inspired by our camera technologies,” Ford European sponsorship manager Mark Jones said. “Having real people talk about our products is far more effective than big brands just telling consumers direct.”
What they say about us
Trade marketing manager for Monster Energy Alex Armstrong shares his view on live marketing with EN.
“Because of our target market and the kind of brand we are, we believe it is much more important to create fans than just customers. If you are a young kid who is into skateboarding, you are not likely to get any brand relationship at a trade show. We will do shows but we will do it with a difference. It won’t just be a stand, it will be a replica of motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi’s bike, for instance. We also have a Chevy Silverado (pictured) customised and branded, with two chest freezers full of stock. We have the speakers on the outside and they drive around and take our products straight to the consumers.
“Shows aren’t necessarily old-fashioned, it comes down to what you do with them. We need to bring them closer to better target consumers and turn visitors into fans of the brand.”
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