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  • Alex Cosham

Should we Abandon 'Experience' in Marketing?


To say 2020 has changed the marketing landscape would probably be an understatement. With unprecedented scope and speed of change, many businesses have been left reeling as their prior marketing strategy fails to fit into this new landscape. Digital marketing has understandably become the focal point of many brand’s efforts. So with further enforced pause on events and more audiences consuming messages at home via devices and screens, is it time to abandon the pursuit of experiences entirely?

What is an experience in marketing?


The Aviva Roadshow offers an experience of their expertise and brand values

In its purest form, experiential marketing creates experiences between an audience, consumer or client, and a brand. Good experiences have emotional resonance, relevance and help transform an audience into advocates. Typically this has been achieved through physical techniques such as events, immersive interactions or even basic activations like product sampling. Sounds deceptively simple right? In reality experiential marketing is often misunderstood. An ‘experience’ that has been poured over for weeks by a marketer, becomes a glorified sales pitch. A sampling session swiftly turns to an attempt to close, detracting from the experience the brand has sought to create. As a result, guerrilla marketing, pop-up shops and agile experiences have become confused with a shopping centre kiosk trying to sell you double-glazing or a TV subscription. That’s not an experience. You’re no longer allowing your audience to personally discover you, what you do, how you do it, why you do…you’re just shoving a ‘thing’ in their face. They’re standing on the outside looking in.

But maybe that’s part of the problem, we’ve lost touch with how to define an experience. These days, even the quintessential experiential tactics link back to the wider marketing mix, extending the life of these experiences to a wider digitally engaged audience.

Experiential marketing in the digital world


Burger King's 'Stevenage Challenge' has taken the marketing world by storm

The role of experience in digital marketing has been growing. Partnered with an immersive event or activation, digital marketing can extend reach, increase ROI, heighten awareness, build data and assemble community around your brand. Previously this has hinged on the success of a live event. Building a purely digital experience can be far more challenging. How do you organise an online audience to be in the same place at the same time? How do you deliver personal immersion? How to you capture the essence of an experience when the audience doesn’t even leave their home? Well in short, you don’t. You redefine what it means to experience a brand entirely. Take Burger King’s latest campaign. The ‘Stevenage Challenge’ is fast becoming legend in the marketing world. Why? Because it captures the very essence of what it means to deliver relatable, resonant experiences digitally. Looking at the tools they had at their disposal, Burger King used the naturally immersive media of video games and the FIFA franchise to create a new community. Dubbed ‘world-class marketing’ by many, their use of this innovative campaign highlights the omnipotence of experience when adapted to suit the desired channels.

Adapting experiential marketing


Experiences allow the audience to become part of the story they share

Rather than abandon experiences, it seems successful brands are adapting their definition and delivery of experience. Burger King is just one example of how brands continue to leverage the power of community, connection and storytelling. When done effectively it seems whether it’s online, on-screen or live, fades into the background. What matters is making an audience feel part of something, giving them a story to share and thus beginning their transformation into an advocate. So, far from abandonment, we should strive to capture the experiential in ever more imaginative and unconventional ways. As for physical experiences? Well if the current appetitive continues, much as a Stevenage fan at Burger King's window, we’ll be hungry for more when opening time comes around.



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