How do you solve a problem like... convincing clients to spend on experiences again?

The Drum 14 Sep 2021 06:30


Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

Consumers have been getting back in recent months. That must mean there’s potential audiences for marketers willing to spend on IRL experiences and activations. So, how are they persuading your brand roster this is a viable option again?

Are clients still reticent, or are they champing at the bit to get back out there? Have experience-based marketing activations seen much of the ad spend deluge reported in 2021? And how can agencies talk them through the contingencies and concerns involved?

How do you solve a problem like... convincing clients to spend on experiences again?

Our clients are as keen to get back to real experiences as anyone. Interacting with customers IRL really can’t be replicated digitally. We started planning our Barclaycard festival activations for Latitude and Isle of Wight many months back, and before it was 100% clear they would go ahead, which really proved Barclaycard’s commitment to getting back to live experiences.

Fortunately, we work with brands that have heart and soul. The safety of their consumers is the priority. As such, viruses and variants are villains.

As long as safety is at the forefront of our thinking, it’s not difficult to get our clients excited about getting out there and connecting with their audience, and they trust us to guide them through it. See you soon.

Our clients recognize the need to get their products back in front of people through live experiences. These engagements are paramount to driving meaningful consideration. That said, the uncertainty of conditions has led them to take a cautious approach to returning to the market.

I can’t say that I am persuading clients to spend on IRL activations at the moment. We’re still very much facing a pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that brands should stop creating experiences for their customers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They should focus on creative, innovative pandemic-friendly experiences, with fun spins on getting back to life. Right now we are living through the most critical, cultural moment of our lifetime. If you continue to cultivate relationships, you will see positive long-term loyalty.

Events and experiential are typically executed more in London/major cities, and footfall, particularly from tourists, is still down. If you’re trying to reach that market it can feel cheaper and less risky to do it with other routes.

We have created physical experiences for a range of clients since things opened up. The data so far indicates higher engagement, dwell time and brand favorability versus pre-Covid.

The interactivity of experiential advertising is a welcome tonic after 18 months of sitting indoors. In OOH we’re seeing clients invest in real-life experiences and activations like never before as ad spend on the channel is forecast to grow by +43.7%. This return in spending means we can now go bigger and better than before, with increased data insights making OOH even more targeted.

With the return to packed stadiums and a semblance of normality for live sport, this sector can be driving the continued recovery for brand experiences (BX). Sports marketing and BX go hand in hand because of their combined power to create authentic, personal and lasting connections through consumers’ passions.

A global client recently tasked Barbarian with creating an interactive digital experience for an upcoming trade show tour. As the world slowly opens up to IRL experiences, we encourage our clients to consider gesture interactions versus touch to reduce Covid concerns. We’re also contingency planning for possible event cancellations and maximizing budgets by adding versatility, building the execution to live digitally beyond the trade show floor.

As with all good relationships, it’s about openness and honesty – helping clients understand a balanced picture of opportunity, appetite and potential challenges in returning to ‘live’. We’ve seen a fantastic appetite from brands to create live experiences again, but what’s been equally positive is that we’re not simply returning to the status quo. Lessons learnt through the pandemic, in terms of breaking traditional formats and creatively challenging what experiences can be, both for IRL and remote audiences, now inspire how we collectively more forward.

As the effects of the pandemic fade, we need to understand the changes in consumer behavior that have taken place – such as the dramatic pivot to digital – and react accordingly, offering clients the best solution to boost reach and engagement.

Surprisingly, we haven’t had to do any convincing on experiential and have continued to work on multiple consumer experience projects throughout the pandemic.

We don’t need to convince clients to back live experiences, they are eager to return. That said, we don’t believe in ‘back to normal’. Events are about agility, in response to changing health considerations and consumer preferences, as well as huge technical innovation.

We’re also identifying ‘parachute points’ to determine if IRL can work or if the event needs to be virtual. And it’s vital to measure everything to understand what works so we can evolve our offering.

We’re seeing demand rise across every sector. There is still reticence – compliance with health and safety laws, once assumed, is rightfully a key topic on every agenda. However, nervousness from brands is now more emotional: people have waited a long time for experiences to restart. Therefore brands have a big responsibility to get it right – a ‘dud’ event or experience isn’t acceptable. A big focus for us is connecting brands with the right staff to deliver a stellar experience that epitomizes the brand’s values and beats customers’ lofty expectations.

We’re helping our clients evolve from traditional ideas of experiential to a more modern approach to brand experience. The pandemic has accelerated a much-needed expansion of what counts as ‘experiential’. The truth is, brands don’t need to be on the ground to have an impact. Think live events in the metaverse. Simultaneous digital experiences such as the Mr Beast ‘Finger on the App’ activation. Or phygital events including the White Claw Winter Games. There’s a whole playground of creative experiences that can give brands way more reach – and way more actionable data – than an in-person event ever could.

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