Q&A: Rutchik on ‘Experience’ Marketing

As marketers continue to crack down on spending, Brandweek approached the experience-marketing firm George P. Johnson to find out if they thought this growing channel would be affected. Not surprisingly, its general manager Jeff Rutchik was bullish on this marketing tool. However, he backed it up with some interesting arguments about differentiating between an event and an experience, ways to do this, as well as reasons why marketers will continue to embrace engaging consumers face-to-face. Here is what he had to say:

Brandweek: What is the difference between experience marketing and event marketing?
Jeff Rutchik: Just as the traditional monologue and interruption-based event management model evolved into event marketing, where event marketers began to look past just mere execution to issues like channel integration and fine-tuned event portfolio planning, experience marketing represents an important shift that embraces live experiences rooted in dialogue, storytelling and targeted, immersive face-to-face and online experiences to drive purchase behavior and brand preference.

Regardless of the format–whether it’s a business-to-business setting like a trade show program or a business-to-consumer play like a 360 degree sponsorship activation–experience marketing aims not to interrupt but to enrich the lives of a brand’s customers and community and to allow them to internalize the brand in ways the other marketing disciplines simply cannot.

BW: Is experience marketing pushed to the wayside as budgets tighten? If not, why?
JR: We’re just getting the early results from the annual, worldwide EventView study, co-produced by the Event Marketing Institute, Meeting Professionals International and George P. Johnson. Initial North American data, based on interviews with 214 senior marketers in the U.S. and Canada, finds that an increasing number of respondents will transition from event marketing to experience marketing in the next 12 months.

That’s a healthy sign, showing that senior-level marketers recognize that experience marketing provides an immediate and measurable business impact that’s much needed in the current downturn. CPM is no longer the measure of success; its engagement and follow through and is what experience marketing does better than any other discipline.
BW: Give me an example of how marketers can prove ROI using experience marketing?
JR: Drawing again on early EventView 2009: North America results: respondents chose event marketing as the marketing discipline that provides the greatest ROI (followed by Web marketing). We believe the underlying factor behind this ranking is the ability to both have an impact, and then the ability to measure that impact.

Interacting with prospects and customers face-to-face enables a high degree of measurement and the ability to capture this data–and in many cases follow the conversion of a prospect into a customer through internal marketing and sales systems–provides the basis for measuring ROI. However, it’s not just number of leads generated or sales conversions that make experience marketing highly valuable. We think that the customer insights you can glean and the qualitative measurement achievable when you’re dialoguing with customers in a live format–that’s an undeniable advantage for brands to have at a time when customers are so resistant to marketing messages in broadcast format. There’s gold to be mined from those conversations that can improve everything from future marketing strategies to business models and product development.

BW: Give me an example of one successful program conducted in 2008?
JR: I would consider the lifestyle activation we did for BMW Mini in New York City this past fall a good example of what we mean by an evolution in how brands do face-to-face marketing. On the New York leg of its worldwide “Creative use of space” campaign, we helped Mini create a unique loft-space downtown timed to Fashion Week to develop buzz with artists, fashion designers, musicians and other tastemakers. Over the course of 10 days, the space played host to thousands of these influencers through daytime events like yoga classes and book signings, and nighttime events like fashion shows and a unique rooftop party space. The Mini brand presence was subdued throughout, but the connection between Mini’s creative product design and the lifestyle events focusing on the creative use of that event space was clear. We weren’t interrupting people’s lives; we were facilitating a welcome conversation arising from Mini’s authentic brand personality.

BW: What are some pitfalls that lead to unsuccessful programs?
JR: Considering a live event as a “one off” is a common mistake. That’s about doing events. Event or experience marketing is about using events as integral components of campaigns. Marketers need to evolve their thinking to look at all of their events–trade shows, sponsorship, conferences, lifestyles etc.–as part of an ongoing continuum and make that perspective the basis for strategic and creative development. Over time you can drive enormous costs out of the usual event spend through re-alignment of event portfolios, continuous process improvement and bringing online and events together gives today’s brands an unprecedented ability to engage customers. But none of this is possible when you look at an event as a standalone investment.