The Evolving Role Of Experiential Marketing In Building Global Brands
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Marketing to today’s consumer must go beyond spending large amounts of money on ads. The average consumer today is exposed to about 5,000 ads alone on digital media. This isn’t surprising, as the top direct-to-consumer brands globally are investing more in ads across all mediums than they ever have before. Consider the fact that in 2018, the top 125 direct-to-consumer brands spent a total of $3.8 billion in television ads, a 60 per cent increase in spending according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau. Yet, for all the increase in ad spend, 93 per cent of consumers still claim that live and experiential events have a larger influence on them than TV ads.
Experiential marketing is moving the needle for brands; it directly engages customers, inviting them to experience brands in-person rather than putting them in the role of an observer. This trend around consumer participation is catching on and being considered by some of the largest brand CMOs in the world. According to the Freeman Global Brand Experience study, more than a third of CMOs said they now plan to spend 21 per cent to 50 per cent of their budgets on brand experiences over the next several years.
Helping guide these CMOs and brands in tapping into the power of experiential marketing is Justin Moss, chief executive officer and founder of The Pineapple Agency, an experiential marketing agency that works with iconic brands such as Anheuser-Busch, P&G, and Converse, among others. I got a chance to sit with Justin in his Denver office where we discussed his journey building the agency, the importance of experiential events in music festivals and why virtual experiences will never outperform live events.
Walk us through your experience around experiential marketing. How did the Pineapple Agency come to be?
I started my career producing raves in high school at 15 or 16 years old. Through that experience, I learned about production and logistics early on, which also gave me insight into the powerful connection between fans and music. I also saw early on the power experiences could have on people. I can confidently say those parties were the beginning of my career and helped establish the passion I now have for creating experiential events.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s where things really started to take off. I launched a company that produced a three-day concert and extreme sports festival experience in Miami called The Beyond 2002 Super Festival, which the New York Times called “ahead of its time”. Then, in 2007, I partnered with Google, which was working on the Democratic National Convention when Obama was elected. Google’s goal was to bring politics to the internet via YouTube, to be at the forefront of political news reporting. I created a ton of activations around that for Google, rooted in logistics and production. These early experiences really honed my skills around developing a strategy, creation, and production.
Five years later, I took the leap to become a full-time entrepreneur and started the Pineapple Agency in 2014 in Denver, focused on experiential, music and entertainment activations. Today, I work on 17 music festivals a year, including Insomniac, which is owned by Live Nation, and I consult and develop experiential campaigns for some of the most iconic and well-known brands in the world.
On the music festival front, you pioneered some of the earliest experiential activations, which set a precedent for how festivals think about their in-festival marketing. In today’s congested festival market, do you think a top-tier experience strategy is just as important as a strong top to bottom lineup of talent?
There is no question the festival market globally is becoming very oversaturated. Festivals big and small, if they’re not thinking about the customer journey, those are the ones that will fall by the wayside. Everything matters to the consumer from ticketing, to wrist bands to buying merch, restroom access, to the festival look and feel. The competitive marketplace around festivals today has made putting together a great line-up and stage set up as bare minimums, it’s simply not enough to sell tickets. Add on that festival ticket prices have dramatically increased over the last few years, where overall costs can easily run over $1,000 per person. As attendees look for more, festivals now need to deliver a multifaceted experience that moves from the physical festival grounds to the digital world with ease.
In terms of retail/fashion, consumers are expecting brands to go above and beyond when it comes to catering to their needs in-store. Moreover, we are seeing more consumers even make decisions based on feelings and experiences. So in this world of experiential marketing, where should a brand in retail begin and how can they stay ahead of the curve in a competitive marketplace
When we begin strategizing an experience for a retail brand, we think about it in terms of a complete customer journey and experience. Not just a way for a consumer to walk in, buy a product and walk out. It’s about what they want customers to feel, what they want them to learn, and the message they want them to walk away with.
We ask ourselves, "How can we add a strategy that allows the brand to communicate with the consumer before, during and after? Can we include the consumer in a content/video storytelling play, that they can share with their friends? Can we make the consumer feel like a VIP, as if they are a part of an exclusive event? Can we incorporate technology like drones or VR to activate the space in real-time? And how can we tie that same technology back to the consumer when they're at home?"
Answering these questions with touchpoints of the experience is what separates the great retail experiences from everyone else.
How important is the social currency in evaluating the success of brand campaigns? Where is the value coming from?
I don’t believe you should ever put all your eggs in just social. You have to diversify your key performance indicators when measuring the impact of an experiential campaign since customers have so many different ways to learn about a brand. I think brands need to get away from leveraging social media for a moment of attention. We typically advise brands to look more at community-based social media strategies, where fans become brand ambassadors for activations (selfies, influencers, etc.) We ask ourselves: what strategies we can put into place to keep consumers engaged? It creates a constant flow of communication online.
We love using influencers, and will continue to work with them, but feel they’re losing some stream. [We’re] Using micro-influencers more now. They’re willing to do more for the campaign, and are more constant and reliable than mega influencers who only post once or twice because they’re being paid. It's all about authenticity.
As VR and AR mature and the technology becomes cheaper and is able to be used more at scale, do you think there is a possibility that the virtual world may ever rival the physical world when it comes to building experiential marketing campaigns for brands?
When it comes to VR and AR, right now the gaming industry has the most advanced use of this type of technology. Although the technology being developed at places like Facebook is quite impressive, I don’t see a future where digital will supersede the physical in terms of experiences. For instance, take a look at music festivals. There has been a lot of chatter about the possibility of developing AR or VR concerts that could bring experiences to fans at home. But if you have ever been to one of these major festivals and felt the energy from the crowd, replicating that in a virtual world at this moment is nearly impossible.
The author is not affiliated with the company mentioned in the story, in any capacity.