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Op-Ed: It’s the End of ‘Experience Marketing’ As We Know It

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And so, the cast of contributors from the Huge family continues to rotate as we now welcome Andrew Kessler to the fold. Kessler is the founder/CEO of Togather, a startup out of Huge Labs that serves as a platform that helps clients like Barnes & Noble and Red Bull deploy event marketing programs with the same control and measurability of a digital ad buy. As the headline mentions, Kessler makes his AgencySpy debut by discussing whether it’s to sound the death knell for what’s known as experience marketing. Take it away, sir.

The “experience marketing” trend is close to extinction.

A sponsored pop-up/installation/lounge/whatever made sense as an “organic” brand experience — before the domination of digital. But today anything that would feel at home in Times Square doesn’t fulfill the new authentic standards for branded content.

Specifically, I’m talking about the big-budget consumer-facing events with colored lights, a giant logo, and, if you’re lucky, a fun stunt. In years of agency work, I’ve been a part of too many to count, and the result was always:

- A large crowd…but not the right audience
- Lots of product interest…but only about the freebie swag, and
- Photo albums of smiling fans…but no metrics or demographic data

Sure, our clients could claim a big success because a whole town could be counted as “impressions” and gift bags eventually ran out. But nobody was asking:

- Is this a useful exercise?
- Are we providing the right kind of value to give us a return on brand favorability?
- Are we just repeating a visibility stunt that has a negligible effect on ROI?

We all saw coverage of The Bud Light Hotel and all the Walking Dead zombies unleashed on the NYC Subway. After the initial stir, we had to ask: What kind of action did this drive?

Here are four more questions all brands and agencies should ask themselves before another “experiential” spend:

- Does this campaign draw from content strategies to deliver personalized value?
- Are we using digital tools to collect data and feedback?
- Does every event integrate sales opportunities to drive direct return?
- Can we deliver an experience that also lives beyond the actual event?

Too often with “experience marketing,” the consumer’s “action” is overwhelmingly focused on the experience itself — an inevitable consequence of investing heavily in a dazzling physical installation. Every real-world experience should instead be designed around helping consumers take action on something that matters to them. Otherwise, there’s a missed opportunity during the event, and thereafter: what kind of meaningful action could a consumer take after such lost engagement? It’s clearly a lose-lose.

Would you rather your consumer stop in and say, “oh wow,” or stop in, interact with relevant content, and feel, “this is perfect for me”? A branded spectacle can still work — and achieve a long-term effect — if it nurtures authenticity and personalization for each person who experiences it.

The brand experience that solves an immediate problem, adds something new or enriching to daily life, and provides a service a customer already had a need for, is much more likely to stick. If this strategy doesn’t define “experience marketing” in the next decade, the “offline” brand conversation will truly suffer.

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