Brands Are Doing More Experiential Marketing. Here’s How They’re Measuring Whether It’s Working

M&M's, Jaguar and Mastercard seek direct connections with consumers

M&M’s unveiled its new caramel flavor by transforming Times Square into an arcade via augmented reality.

As brands see more and more people use ad blockers, tune out TV spots or cut the cord altogether, it’s easy to see why Jaguar, Absolut, Mastercard and more are turning to experiential marketing, which they say has the potential to create direct connections and more meaningful relationships with consumers.

“It’s more and more difficult to succeed through traditional advertising,” says Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing officer for Mastercard, which revamped its marketing strategy a few years ago to focus on experiences. “With the amount of clutter you’ve got to cut through, the attention span of the consumer going down—six seconds is what they say the attention span of a human being is, less than a goldfish—so how do you get past that hurdle and then inspire consumers?”

"There’s a consensus among marketers that brand experience builds loyalty.”
Freeman CMO Chris Cavanaugh

Enter experiential. In a perfect world, here’s how an experiential marketing effort would play out for consumers: You’d encounter a brand experience, find it so awesome that you’d post about it on your social channels (where more people would hear about it), give the brand your contact information (so that they could send you emails and offers and put you in touch with a local retailer), and become more likely to purchase something from said brand.

“I like to say, ‘What takes traditional advertising weeks, months or years to do, we can do in a moment,’” says Bryan Icenhower, president of WME | IMG’s experiential agency IMG Live, which works with brands like Marriott, Subway and Budweiser. “Experiential is a uniquely fast and effective way to build brand awareness through one-to-one connections with consumers. It engages all five senses, sparking emotions that form lasting memories which have been shown to drive brand loyalty.”

With a promise like that, it’s easy to see why marketers are shifting dollars into experiential marketing. According to the Freeman Global Brand Experience Study, which was released in May by brand experience agency Freeman and data company SSI, one in three CMOs is expected to allocate between 21 and 50 percent of their budget to brand experience marketing over the next three to five years.

Mastercard and Swarovski launched a bejeweled virtual reality shopping experience.

“There’s a consensus among marketers that brand experience builds loyalty,” explains Freeman CMO Chris Cavanaugh. “We found that almost 60 percent of CMOs said they valued brand experience for its ability to create ongoing relationships with key audiences. Nine out of 10 respondents said they felt that brand experience delivers strong face-to-face interaction and more compelling brand engagement. And more than two-thirds of them agree that this medium is an effective way to achieve their business objectives.”

“By augmenting digital marketing,” he adds, “brand experience has the potential to increase lead generation, brand advocacy, and sales, and can even make customers feel more valued.”

Just last week at Advertising Week in New York, Mastercard showed off proof of its belief that experiential can drive sales, unveiling a new virtual reality e-commerce experience with Swarovski. Using a VR headset, consumers can see what Swarovski chandeliers look like in various spaces, and if they decide to purchase one, can do so directly through the headset using Mastercard’s Masterpass.

“We’ve found that the consumer experience is so seamless and that we’re giving the merchant the opportunity to close the sale in that moment of excitement, that moment of truth,” says Rajamannar.

Data baked in

How marketers measure experiential varies widely from brand to brand. Some, like Mastercard and American Express, have access to more consumer data (i.e. purchasing habits), which allows them to get more granular with their measurements. But all agree that measuring experiential has become easier, making it more attractive to marketers.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 2, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.