Experiential marketing has incredible potential—but the experience has to be designed and executed correctly. Unlike digital campaigns where interactions with the consumer can be quickly tested and iterated upon, brand activations often only have one chance to perform.
But ultimately, success is about your goals. So first let’s talk about how to measure that.
How to Measure Experiential ROI
Tracking results is a fundamental part of any marketing campaign. As popular as the activation may seem in your eyes, how will you know whether it was a true success and worth the investment?
There’s no denying that it’s more difficult to collect data and analyze results from an experiential campaign than a traditional or digital campaign. An email campaign can be easily measured from standard industry metrics like open rates, clicks, and unsubscribe rates to assess whether you’re on the right track.
Every experiential campaign is different, and many of the outputs are harder to quantify like smiles, laughter, and enthusiasm. Still, if we look closely enough there are plenty of attributes that can be measured, and with careful planning and attention, you can measure the effectiveness of your next activation in a meaningful way.
As with any other marketing campaign, defining the goals of an experiential activation is the first and most essential step to measuring results. These objectives will vary for every brand and activation. Such goals may include:
- Increase brand awareness: are you trying to get in front of a new demographic or market? Do you want to assess how well consumers recognize your brand?
- Increase brand sentiment: are you aiming to assess how consumers feel about your brand?
- Lead generation: are you looking to capture more names, emails, and phone numbers?
- Building relationships: do you want to strengthen relationships with existing customers establish a connection with new/potential customers?
- Heightened product interaction: do you want to get more consumers physically engaging with your product?
- Verification of target audience: do you need confirmation that you’re targeting the right audience?
- Increase social engagement: are you looking to reach a target number of followers on Instagram, Facebook, or another channel? Are you trying to prompt user-generated content?
- Increased sales: do you plan on selling the product during the experience?
- Creating memories: how do you want consumers to feel when they remember the experience? How can you reinforce these memories?
Don’t try to achieve all of them, or you won’t achieve any. At most, pick 2-3 that are most relevant.
For best results, these goals should be defined as specifically as possible. For example, if you’re seeking to increase social media engagement, set a benchmark for the number of photos you’d like to see shared from the experience. That way, not only will you know whether you’ve hit your goal, during the planning phase, you’ll understand that brand representatives must find a way to encourage picture taking and sharing.
Measuring Objectives with KPIs
Once you’ve identified objectives for the activation, establish clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for each are easily measured and can serve as proof of achieving the corresponding objective.
Some will be obvious. If your objective is lead generation, then tracking the number of participants that opted-in with their email address will work perfectly. Others, such as gauging how well relationships were built or strengthened, may require more creativity to quantify.
Land your KPIs and get buy-in from your team well before the activation launch because some will require before-and-after measurements to yield useful information. Let’s take a look at X possible KPIs for an experience. Different metrics and ways you can measure them.
1. Number of Participants
Tracking the number of attendees or participants in your activation is a great starting point, even though it may not tell the full story of whether it was a success. It can tell you if you attracted as many people as you needed, and also form the top of a marketing funnel. From there, you can measure the percentage of people who progressed to deeper levels of engagement (like sharing a photo from the photo booth) for helpful benchmarks on future activations.
2. Social Media Engagement
Choose a unique hashtag for your campaign that doesn’t get a lot of existing posts on social media. Promote it during the experience. Then, you will be able to measure how many people shared with that hashtag as a result of your campaign, the number of followers those people have, and how many interactions the posts received. You can also interact with the posts to keep the excitement going in the days following.
Your brand ambassadors play a critical role in the success of your activation and can be integral in measuring it, too. Train your reps to keep track of the number of engagements they have, the nature and tone of the conversations, and write down any notable compliments or complaints. Tracking meaningful interactions like this can help assess brand sentiment, awareness, and long-term value creation.
Measure participants’ awareness or perception of the brand after the experience. Using yes or no questions or rating the experience on a 1-10 scale helps to standardize answers and make clear comparisons.
You can either conduct an onsite exit survey, or send one after the experience if you collected contact information. The benefit of having an onsite survey is that you’re likely to get a higher number of responses, and the memories are fresh—the downside is that the consumer might feel that it takes away from their experience.
A survey sent in the days or weeks following the activation tends to have lower response rates, but you can offer an incentive to help boost them. One benefit is that you may get a more accurate picture of how long the experience lingered in the participant’s mind and how it impacted their awareness or feelings about the brand, and whether they’ve made a purchase since the experience.
4. Press and Media Coverage
Prior to the activation, invite the press, media, and social media influencers to come out. Then track how much coverage the activation receives. If you have the budget for it, use a brand tracking provider to stay on top of mentions across a range of sources. Not only is this a measurable KPI, but it has tons of promotional value in its own right.
5. Sales Conversions
Sales often come into play if you are having a pop-up store and the point is to generate revenue from providing a great shopping experience. In other experiential use cases, online sales can be attributed with UTM campaign codes embedded in on-site QR codes or post-event emails.
Onto Planning Your Activation
Now that you have a good idea of your goals and KPIs, make sure to incorporate these 5 elements to ensure you’re on track for a successful activation:
1. Authentic storytelling
Storytelling is an ancient art and one of the most natural ways to communicate. That means it is crucial to any marketing campaign. Stories help consumers to internalize important messages and tie them back to the brand. Businesses most commonly communicate their stories through written content, photos, or videos, because it’s easy to package and distribute.
Storytelling without experiential, that’s a book. Experiential without a story, that’s a cocktail partyHelen J. Stoddard, Head of Global Events at Twitter
Creating a compelling story in which the consumer plays a starring role is one of the biggest challenges in experiential marketing. It’s also one of the most important. The story should be simple, relatable, and authentic. But it must also translate into an original, actionable experience for consumers.
How do you plan your experiential marketing campaign in the context of a compelling tale? It starts with the basic elements of a story:
- Character: The participant is your hero. Who are the other characters? Is there tension?
- Setting: Where does it happen? What kind of an environment can you create?
- Plot: What happens with a beginning, middle, and end. Is there a conflict? How does it escalate and what is the resolution?
- Theme: What is the consumer supposed to take away from the story?
- Style: There are many ways to deliver the same story, how does your style emphasize it?
Of course, you can always dive deeper.
2. Multi-sensory engagement
Every experiential activation should stimulate the senses. After all, it’s through our senses that we perceive the world, recognize importance, and create memories.
Stimulating vision is the most intuitive way to grab attention. We are naturally drawn toward things that please the eye, such as beautiful or colorful displays, larger-than-life objects, movement, and bright lights. Most marketers are aware of the extraordinary power of visual marketing and take care to incorporate strong visuals into an activation.
A live marketing event allows you the exciting opportunity to engage consumers’ other four senses. Studies have shown that pleasant ambient scents can play a significant role in capturing attention and strengthening brand recall.
Music and sound are a powerful tool to impact our moods and change our purchasing choices. Researchers have noted that touch can positively alter consumer perceptions, sometimes at the level of visual input.
And of course, if your company makes food or drink, you have the opportunity to create a memorable taste experience for consumers.
Successful experiential marketing activations will engage with at least two or more of the senses. The more senses, the better.
3. Interactive elements
The best way tell a great story and engage the senses is to allow your audience to lead the way. Whether it’s at a megaconference or in the metaverse, experiences are more memorable, surprising, and delightful when we discover something new for ourselves.
For example, Unilever, the world’s biggest ice cream manufacturer, made waves when it created a smile-activated vending machine in 2010. As a consumer approached the machine, it measured their smile using face-recognition technology. It then took a photo and (with the consumer’s permission), shared the photo on Facebook. The consumer could then choose a free ice cream through a touch-screen interface.
Coca-Cola ran a similar campaign a few years later when it created a vending machine that dispensed Coke in exchange for hugging the machine. In these cases, the activation worked despite the absence of a live representative because the consumer still physically engaged with the brand in a unique and creative way and received an immediate, desirable reward.
Great interactions with brand representatives can also build trust and foster an authentic emotional connection.
4. Emotional impact
Scores of studies show that consumers’ purchasing decisions and loyalty to a brand are largely driven by emotion. Consumers care about their emotional link to a brand and frequently value the brand narrative over the individual features and technical attributes of a product.
They may forget what you said–but they will never forget how you made them feel.Carl W. Buehner
Consider the market power of brand-name products. Generic products might have almost identical components, style, and function, but consumers continue to prefer the brand-name, even paying significantly more for it. Why? Usually, because these brands have invested in developing their brand identity in a way that consumers trust and connect with.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences), rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts).Psychology Today (reference)
Successful experiential campaigns will guarantee that participants feel something. Usually this is a positive feeling, but creating controversy can be effective with a higher risk tolerance. The emotional goal may vary depending on brand goals, values, and mission. It’s most common to make consumers feel happy, excited, relaxed, inspired, or motivated.
One simple way to evoke emotions is through association. You might demonstrate how the latest consumer technology works with your brand. Consumers will be excited to try it for perhaps the first time and associate your brand with this ground-breaking and novel technology. Another way is to take a stand on a meaningful societal issue—this will be sure to raise emotions, but requires extra intentionality because it can potentially alienate part of your audience.
All the other elements come into play, too. Story-telling, sensory engagement, and unique interactions can all work together to stimulate feelings.
The problem with experiential marketing is that, by nature, only a limited number of people can participate directly and still have it be unique and memorable. This is where shareability comes in.
If you have implemented all the other keys, people should be eager to share what they just experienced. You just have to make it easy for them. You can bring in a photographer to take high-quality pictures, offer dedicated selfies areas with Instagrammable backdrops, or even set up automated selfie stations that deliver digital images or videos to the participant with your branding overlaid on it. Signage can include the event hashtag as another sharing cue.
You can also create ancillary media for the activation, like a behind-the-scenes video for YouTube to post in the days following.
It can also be highly effective to invite social media influencers for early access to your activation. That way, they can get the social sharing started, boost interest and hype, and increase your chance of trending on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Beside the five key elements above, here are a few more factors to take into consideration:
- Know Your Audience: Be sure that the brand activation reflects your audience’s needs, desires, and values. If you don’t nail this, success is impossible.
- Environment: Choose the location and venue of your activation wisely. Consider whether it’s in a convenient spot for your target group, sets the right tone, permits ample foot traffic, and can fulfill any space or technical requirements.
- Brand Ambassadors: If you will have people on-site, make sure they are trained with the appropriate message and goals in mind to interact with participants.
- Measurable Goals: If you don’t set clear goals for your activation, it will be hard to show within your organization that it was a success.
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