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In March, BrainStation held a panel discussion on the impact experiential marketing was having on the advertising and retail worlds. The event looked at the evolution of this brand of marketing, and how interactive technology was helping change the way brands connect with customers.
To find out more about experiential marketing, we spoke to Sam Ewen, the Senior Vice-President, Business Development at The New York Times’ Fake Love, an innovative experiential design agency.
BrainStation: On the Fake Love site, experiential marketing is referred to as “event marketing” and “interactive design.” How would you best explain experiential marketing to someone that is unaware of it?
Ewen: Simply put: Experiential marketing is a mutual value exchange between brand and consumer in the real world, based on a set of strategic goals. The executional tactics are where you start to see variety.
Why do you think this approach has become so important for marketers?
As marketing has moved towards storytelling, brands have found that the best ways to communicate with consumers are to create narratives that can exist in multiple platforms. Out of all of the forms of marketing and advertising, only experiential really commands the dwell time long enough to tell detailed stories, so naturally, it is having a moment. Combine that with the fact that social, shareable media, especially Instagram, is driven by creativity and the combination is quite effective.
What would you say are the characteristics of a successful experiential campaign?
Successful experiential campaigns allow the attendee to see themselves in the experience. It has to connect to them both sensorially and emotionally. It must educate or entertain or distract or delight, but all without hiding the brand’s core values at its center.
Is there a Fake Love project you’re especially proud of)?
The work that comes to mind is 7UP, IBM, or our recent work for Dropbox at the TED conference. People left feeling like they had truly experienced something meaningful.
What brands do you think are best using experiential marketing to their advantage?
I think this is a popular misconception that there are brands more aligned to being good at experiential. Yes, if you are HBO or SAMSUNG, you have a leg up in having products that people often know well. Yet you can create a transformative experience for a B2B brand, a health brand, a financial service or a kid’s toy, find what connects the brand to their audience, create an insight, and go from there.
What are the challenges involved with this kind of marketing?
It is not inexpensive, that is a common challenge, people assume it is low-cost. That does not mean it has to cost a fortune, but the amount of physical elements, mixed with technology and staff, it all starts to add up.
Also, experience on its own often reaches a smaller number of people than traditional media. So you want to make sure you are thinking of it not just from the core execution, but also what the amplification and distribution strategy behind it is. That’s how great success is made.
How do you go about developing concepts with clients?
For creative concepts, first we start with a core strategy, then we define what success looks like, only after we have done that do we start the ‘creative’ and try and find something that people will pay attention to.
The NYT acquired Fake Love in 2016 and has continued to invest in its branded content and creative services. How does that relationship work? Are you working directly with The Times’ journalists and researchers?
We work with T-Brand Studio all of the time and we have a strong relationship. The editorial side is another matter, they do not (nor should they) work on branded work.
It is imperative to keep the journalism separate and ensure its independence.
Do you think this is the future for traditional media outlets? If so, what impact do you think this will have on journalism (and marketing)?
When done right, you can keep the business side and the editorial side separate. They can support each other and yet not influence each other. It is important that the media stay impartial.
You are a professor at Hunter College, where you teach a course on the history of media and propaganda. What lessons would you say are most valuable for marketers to learn when it comes to the art of persuasion?
The most important lesson we discuss is to not underestimate the consumer. People are smart, they are media savvy and they do not like brands that talk down to them or do not respect their intelligence.
As well, now they have a much larger megaphone in which to complain to with the rise of social media. If you have a great brand or product, your marketing can set the tone but the user experience is what will keep the brand alive.
Given the current political climate, would should people be wary of when it comes to their consumption of media?
People should have various media outlets in which to get their information. There will never be only one source that speaks your truth. Be wary and be critical and support those that are doing it right, regardless of your political affiliation.
The one thing I simply do not tolerate is those who ignore science and fact. We live in a world where opinion is important but we have some core truths about our planet and our society that we have to address and we have to all be comfortable aligning with some basic facts to get there.
If you’re interested in learning more, BrainStation is diving into the changing retail landscape in the upcoming Future of Retail panel discussions in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver.