It's not enough just to put a product in front of consumers - they have to "experience" it

If, as research shows, 98 per cent of people who experience a brand feel more inclined to buy it, why do marketers ever leave experiential out of their marketing budgets?

That's the question being asked by Noeline van den Berg, newly appointed head of experiential at Mango Communications. Recently arrived from a South African market where experiential is booming, Van den Berg believes Kiwi marketers should be allocating at least 20 per cent of their marketing spend to activities that directly engage consumers.

"Think of an electronic product. You want to hold it and see what the features are. When it comes to food, nothing beats the taste or the smell of it. If you've tasted something good, you're going to talk about it," she says.

Mango general manager Sean Brown defines experiential activity as "engaging people with brands through an experience, preferably an immersive and memorable one creating some kind of action."

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Van den Berg adds: "It has to be a memory people will talk about. The word-of-mouth that comes from the experience is what creates the value."

Brown says there are five rules for good experiential activities:

• "There has to be value to the consumer and value to the brand, whether that's providing something useful, entertaining or moving.
• It needs to be original - not necessarily new but an original take on something.
• It needs to be simple.
• It needs to be interactive. You need to have some type of engagement and it needs to be shareable - through word-of-mouth, the strongest form of advertising, and via digital media as well.
• Finally, van den Berg says: "The brand needs to be present throughout the experience but not in your face."

Van den Berg says good experiential is not a one-off event: "There's a 'pre-', there's a 'during' and there's 'post-activity', that creates longevity and helps drive sales.

"Nowadays we've got so much media clutter - TV commercials, billboards, newspapers, magazines, street ads and social media. An experience makes people remember a brand and longevity makes that brand live on, at home or in the workplace or wherever the consumer tells that story.

"It's all about building memories. How often do you refer back to a holiday and how amazing it was? If you have a good experience with a brand, say Qantas, you will mention it when you are recollecting your holiday with your friends and family. That is what we are trying to create."

As an example of a successful campaign, the pair cite McDonald's 40th birthday party in Queen St, Auckland.

"McDonald's wanted to give their birthday gift back to their customers," Brown says, "so we completely retrofitted McDonald's Queen St and took it back to 1976, including the uniforms, the interiors and prices.

"The value proposition to the consumer was a really fun experience with a brand they love - and being able to enjoy the product at 1976 prices. The value to McDonald's was providing a positive experience to core customers.

"It was original, a simple idea, executed well and it was interactive.

"We measured sales on the day, the number of people who attended, and through social listening we were able to determine how many people the campaign reached. We were able to measure perception changes for the brand."

Van den Berg says that event underscored another key component of a good activity: Disrupt, don't interrupt.

"People don't want to have to make a great effort to do something. There have been campaigns where people say 'Make a video of yourself, upload it, and send it to ...'
"People don't want that effort. It needs to be in their world."

The pair recommend brands work with an agency to harness creativity: "Creativity is an important and integral part. If something's been done over and over, it's not fresh and new; people aren't going to participate.

"Once the idea is cracked, you need the logistical brains to put it together. To retro-fit a whole shopfront, all the health and safety rules involved, the wardrobes that have to be manufactured, the planning and the budgeting that goes behind it ... you need talented people to put that together to make it happen and look seamless."

Brown says there has been a swing back to experiential campaigns recently.
"In the early 2000s we were doing a lot of big campaigns that were really successful. During the GFC, the clients pulled nearly all of their experiential spend and relied on traditional, safer campaigns.

"But in the last couple of years we're seeing our clients investing more and more in experiential because they can see the value to their business by providing meaningful and long-lasting engagement with consumers."