Erika Morton (main photo) is the managing director at The Park Sydney and Will Worsdell is the agency’s co-founder and global strategy director. In this guest post, the duo says COVID means marketers need to look at experiential marketing in a whole other level…
For the past year or so, the experiential industry in Australia has been hugely impacted by the lack of live events and large scale activations. We’re uniquely lucky here to be able to see the resurgence of these types of activities – albeit in a new world. Our COVID-19 restrictions have been loosened and our borders are opening up again – well only to New Zealand at this stage but we will gladly take it.
However, we should still take stock of what’s been learnt throughout this “unprecedented” period. One positive in our industry is that we’ve seen brands and marketers explore the true breadth and potential of experiential marketing.
Experiential is often pigeon-holed as just events. Events are just one tactic of experiential marketing, not its sole purpose. The heart of experiential marketing is a belief in doing not saying, in action over words. That has never been more important for brands.
The last year has opened up the true breadth, creativity and effectiveness of experiential brand thinking, and a glimpse of a more central role in brand building. Experiential has proven itself as a creative technique and a philosophy of brand behaviour, as opposed to as purely a media channel.
The dictionary definition of experiential is “involving or based on experience and observation”. We approach every brand problem and challenge from this standpoint. What can we do as a brand that stands up to observation and experience?
Communications thinkers approach brand problems broadly with the start point of what can we say to solve the problem? It’s actions vs words. The disruption of the last year has made actions more important and empty words even more hollow. The value of experiential thinking has never been more valuable or important.
There have been some great examples of brands with experiential thinking at their heart, prioritising actions over words during the pandemic.
McDonald’s innovative approach to the traditional QSR model during the pandemic was a way to help customers in a simple but thoughtful way. Selling grocery essentials to customers through its drive-thru model provided them with a way to show meaningful support to the local communities around its restaurants.
Menulog, a business along with other food delivery apps have naturally risen in popularity. Rather than capitalise on consumer behaviour and increasing profits. They made a move to better the industry by announcing its move into a driver employment model, which works toward a fairer system for drivers.
Visa dedicated all its #whereyoushopmatters resources into connecting urban customers with regional Australian small businesses, who had been suffering terribly post bushfires, droughts and then COVID-19 with e-commerce platforms.
Tourism body, Visit NSW pooled all its resources into showcasing the benefits of travelling locally to help revive the businesses within the tourism industry with a $50 million economic package designed to encourage people to experience NSW travel.
If there’s one sector that best exemplifies the need for experiential thinking it’s financial services. They’ve been the one sector with the biggest opportunity to alleviate the anxiety, hardship and challenges of millions of people. Yet they are the ones most guilty of approaching it with comms shaped solutions. How many emails from a bank with a generic “personal”note from the CEO? How many ads telling you “how much they care”? To paraphrase the old quote about not telling me you’re funny – don’t tell me you care, solve my problems. With experiential thinking at the heart of a brand, this is avoided. A start-point of questioning whether activity stands up to experience and observation means you cannot make brand promises without some proof underneath.
One of the best examples of experiential thinking in the financial services sector recently is the UK based Habito, the mortgage provider. They make a very clear promise of “Mortgages made easier”, similar to many other providers. The big difference is the proof of the experience. It really is easier. From the app interface to the mortgage application process, to the supporting content demystifying the industry, it’s all so easy and so unlike the normal process. Even the brand design feels easier on the eye and less “banking”. It’s no coincidence this experiential thinking is from a new brand that has started with product design before developing comms to promote it. Proof then promise. But does that mean experiential thinking is less relevant to legacy brands?
There’s nothing wrong with talking about what you are doing in comms, in fact it makes advertising work even harder. As opposed to the tired v/o led ads “At *insert name of brand* we believe…” why not ads that talk about the initiatives, partnerships and NPD that prove the point you’re wanting to make. Experiential should not be seen as a media channel separate to others, but a creative technique that can work within them, even drive them. The brand proof that backs up the brand promises. Involving experiential thinking early in the process to help shape strategic brand activity, as opposed to late in the process for purely executional thinking is key.
This has been exacerbated by the enormous number of businesses whose route to market has been turned on their heads by the various lockdowns. Another example of a positive outcome from Covid is the creativity that brands have taken to ensure new ways for people to purchase, experience, and choose. This has become of fundamental importance and a core deliverable for brands moving forward.
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