Experiential: what is the ultimate ROI?

Experiential: what is the ultimate ROI?
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I like a healthy debate. That’s fortunate because in every marketing discipline, there exists a lively hotbed of opinions and views into how to best measure a campaign, and more importantly, how to effectively demonstrate ROI. And rightly so, this is what drives forward our industry.

From the relatively intangible disciplines – at least from a measurement perspective – like branding or PR, through to highly accountable channels like digital, everyone has a view. It’s certainly a topic I’ve had more than a few, shall we say ‘lively’, conversations about.

Experiential marketing has a relatively sophisticated, and long-established model in place for demonstrating ROI, based around certain industry-standard KPIs such as engagements, redemptions, actions, reach and so on.

However, there’s one crucial metric that our industry has not yet nailed and that’s ‘buzz’. That might sound a bit of a woolly term, but what I’m talking about is how, beyond traditional KPIs, an activation has generated buzz and talkability in the wider community.

And while we can track metrics such as online conversation frequency and share of voice, to me, the next logical step of this process is to track what I believe really is the ultimate ROI from an activation: when someone gets to hear about the event – via word of mouth, via a tweet, via somehow else – through someone who’s not connected with that event at all.

Let’s look at how this could work…

Experiential event takes place in X city
Jono visits the stand, talks to promo staff, is entertained, delighted even. He then tells his friend Gus about it.
Gus tells me about it.

Essentially what I’m talking about is when someone – or even better, many people – completely unconnected with the particular event or activation hearing about it organically, and – this bit is important – is so impressed and enamoured with the concept that they’re compelled to tell others about it.  That to me really is the ultimate ROI from an event and one that shows I’ve done the best job possible.

You may think this is just old fashion WOM, but it is not. WOM and recommendation comes from a known source. What I am talking about is this could come from a relative unknown source but still within your network.

Let’s assume we can easily and clearly measure this metric (more about this later), what does it mean for those people creating activations and events? I believe the challenge becomes, more than ever, about creating events and brand experiences that empower our audience to engage and share a brand message way beyond the realms of the event itself. And while we’re increasingly looking to social media to amplify events, and this remains important, the focus more than ever comes back to the concept and the content itself.

The challenge, of course, is now how we measure this.  Just as the traditional advertising industry has a number of models to measure unaided ad recall, we need an equivalent model in place. Here at Rinsed we’re dedicating a fair few hours of brainpower to this, and suffice to say, the model will inevitably involve the mass of conversational and analytical data available on consumer behaviour.

But while I could chew the fat all day on this issue, one thing’s for sure, designing and measuring such event experiences that have the ability to demonstrate this ultimate ROI will require expertise, and an understanding of planning and strategy more akin to ad agencies. However, this approach simply reflects the growing recognition of the high value and impact of experiential among our top brands. Constantly challenging ourselves when it comes to measurement and KPIs is the only way we’ll continue to evolve and grow as a discipline, and continue to justify our fees.

 Simon Micarone is founder and managing director of Rinsed.

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