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How to use digital to drive experiential engagement

How to use digital to drive experiential engagement

By Matt Clugston, Creative Director, Clusta.

The £200m experiential marketing industry has experienced huge growth in the last ten years, driven by the intrinsic link between emotion and experiences.

Providing emotional attachment between brand and consumer, unrivalled dwell time and enviable levels of engagement, experiential marketing is now recognised as a strategic tool for sound brand positioning, driving brand recall and creating customer loyalty. In leaner times, while experiential activity is arguably even more important it risks being sidelined simply as an add-on if it fails to adapt and become integrated into a campaign.

Experiential is most effective when the experience is wrapped up into a campaign that raises awareness and engages with consumers prior to and following an event, in order to prolong and build on the emotional attachment generated. Scratch the surface and, despite their differences, digital marketing in particular has a key role to play in embedding experiential into the core media mix.

Consumers of experiential and interactive digital communications share many characteristics, making the two channels a natural fit. Brand engagement for both is centered on discovery and consumer interaction - pull marketing at its most compelling.

While certain elements of digital have been commonly used as part of a push strategy (with pop ups and banner advertising for example), digital is becoming far more sophisticated and brands have quickly realised that consumers are at their most engaged with any medium if there’s an element of discovery, such as finding something new like a new Facebook group that they are interested in.

And consumers choosing to engage with brands at events and in the digital world are also doing just that – they are choosing. They are active rather than passive and like to feel in control, making experiential and digital perfectly matched partners.
Crucial to the success of any experiential campaign is audience recruitment to an event and this is an area where digital can provide unrivalled support. Audience recruitment can be done through a number of online tactics, such as microsites, alternative reality games, social networking etc.

And creating content that can be passed on or talked about encourages consumers to take control and drive interest and buzz prior to an event, making viral a particularly potent tactic. Diesel’s Dirty 30 birthday parties are a great example of this.

To help raise awareness and sell tickets to its XXX parties, the brand partnered with The Viral Factory to create a viral film which, with over 14m views, created huge buzz and drove attendance at a string of parties around the world.
Digital media can also be a great way to achieve high levels of interaction and brand stand-out at the event itself, allowing brands to showcase their grasp of cutting-edge technologies. For example, our recent partnership with CBS Outdoor, which saw the development of smartphone-enabled interactive advertising screens, highlights how technology can help brands to engage more deeply and on a more personal level with consumers in an experiential environment.

By using digital to follow up event-based marketing brands can also continue their conversation with consumers, prolonging engagement well after the event has finished.

Successful experiential marketing followed by engaging digital can result in a brand ‘owning’ regular events, enabling them to reward consumers for their loyalty and align themselves with the event messaging on a long-term basis.

Take Orange Rock Corps as an example where Orange has capitalised on creating free entertainment for its youth audience, rewarding long-term brand ambassadors with free gig tickets. The website provides a platform for its audience to continue interaction with fans and keep them updated with and engaged by the annual brand-owned experiential activity.
Lastly, a digital campaign run after an event reminds the consumer of the emotion they felt during the event and also presents brands with an opportunity to utilise UGC to prompt emotional recall and even nostalgia as consumers share their experiences.

A key thing for both experiential and digital teams to remember is that a branded event often creates brand-owned content that can be distributed digitally. This is free to use and, since it showcases consumer involvement, is often more engaging than other brand messaging.
In summary, the communications channel created by integrating digital and experiential not only allows the continuation of a brand-consumer conversation but also encourages advocates to relay their experience to friends and colleagues via digital word of mouth.

Word of mouth is what grows a community, much like becoming a ‘fan’ of something through a social networking site. As an industry we must stop treating online and offline as marketing silos.

By stepping up to the challenge of beginning to integrate the two channels, brands can create powerful, lasting emotional triggers for their target audiences. Digital media is full of opportunities to enhance a consumer experience. If any two areas of marketing should be aligned together it is digital and experiential.

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