Years ago, experiential lived within its own silo, mainly providing a way for brands to get their product directly in the hands of their consumers. It was driven mostly by the need for trial or sampling and thus had an ROI based on quantity. Over the years, however, the industry has shifted and evolved, and brands have started to see the value in establishing a deeper connection with consumers while tapping into their emotions through brand activations.
For many brands today, the best way to keep an open dialogue is by targeting younger generations who place a higher value on memories, are more adventurous, thirsty for knowledge and catalysts for change. But ultimately, what sets experiential and traditional advertising apart is the real life, in-person exchange experiential offers between a consumer and brand—the opportunity to create accessible emotional and physical connections that allow individual perceptions to change in the moment which is often more memorable than traditional advertising.
It's not often that you hear, "Did you see that ad at the bus station?" We all walk past the same billboards every day for weeks and never notice them. However, with experiential interactions, you are significantly more likely to remember the brand or an element of the activation that left an impression.
We're also likely to share these experiences on social media to spark engaging conversations with friends and the masses. Perception is everything. Attendance numbers are not the only metric for success anymore. Social media has become a game changer for experiential marketers to finally have a seat at the broadcast, print, radio and digital table. With a new set of metrics surpassing those of traditional advertising, social media is an integral part of any experiential activation's success when reaching millions beyond those physically present. One helpful component is a matrix of impressions, generally starting with a known quantity, which can be anything from how many people walk past this corner on a daily basis to the foot traffic of the event you're attending.
Once there is a baseline, you can look at the likelihood of shareability, starting with "deep" impressions, which are those who actually try or engage with your experience. Next are the "witnessed" impressions, who saw the activation but didn't necessarily take the time to try it or experience it. Then there are social impressions, which are estimated calculations based on the number of followers your "deep" and "witnessed" attendees have. If it's a wide open space, you start lower; if it's an influencer event, your baseline is higher.
The final piece of the puzzle is word of mouth. Usually it's safe to say each person will tell between five and 10 of their friends, depending on the boldness of the concept, level of engagement and general cool factor. When you add all of these estimates together, you can start to compare the value of experiential to that of easily calculable traditional forms of advertising. Moreover, when combined with traditional advertising and content distribution plans, the reach is exponential.
Trends change quickly in experiential. In the past decade there have been two important experiences off of which many clients base their brief: "Sleep No More" and Refinery29's "29Rooms." "Sleep No More" truly changed the experiential landscape and introduced the word "immersive" as new vernacular. Brands started creating a variety of immersive experiences, keeping them engaging and exciting while providing endless amounts of shareable content. Then came "29Rooms" as the next iteration of immersive experiences, this time creating individual rooms that were a mixture of art installation meets photo opportunity.
Because so many brands want to replicate these experiential models, we now have a "museum" for everything. This fad is on its last legs. Even Refinery29 received backlash for its experiences feeling sponsored and no longer at the crossroads of art and culture. Moral of the story: Have your finger on the pulse of social and technology in order to create something groundbreaking. It takes adventurous agencies with equally bold clients to meet the expectations of current consumers.
One way to meet those expectation is tapping into the wealth of new technologies at our disposal, if they are relevant to the experience. AR, VR, AI and other technological innovations will always be a part of the new experiential scene. Whether it's a large stage presentation, concert, tradeshow, stunt or immersive experience, technology connects everything and everyone. While the latest technologies are often what makes an event stand out among its competitors, they often cost more than analog experiences. In principle, it all comes down to what is the most meaningful way to bring your concept, objective and product to life. Don't use technology for technology's sake. Ensure it's useful, meaningful and foolproof so your attendees have a flawless experience.