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Let’s Change the Experiential Measurement Conversation: Focus on Connections Not Counts

By Patricia (Tricia) Houston, Founder of The ExperienceBuilt Group

Recently at the Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS) by Event Marketer, I shared a framework intended to challenge how the experiential marketing industry thinks about measurement. I shared no data and no charts, and likely made a few people uncomfortable. My goal for sharing this framework is to help elevate the position of the experiential industry by offering up a new way to show its considerable relevance and influence. I invite all to join The ExperienceBuilt Group on this journey.

WHAT IF you could get credit for the transformations you create through experiences? WHAT IF you could measure what your creative brief sets out to inspire, or had access to emotion metrics that truly reflect what people feel as the result of a brand experience? And, WHAT IF your after-action report focused on connections instead of counts?

Experiential marketers are all in the business of building great connections, and the industry is growing.

  • 70% of users convert into repeat customers after an experiential marketing event (Source: Event Track)

  • 77% of marketers say they harness experiential marketing as a vital part of any brand’s advertising strategies (Source: Event Track)

However, the problem with this growth is that measurement evolution has not kept pace – our metrics are still too often focused on counting activities, not evaluating experiences.

Measurement Needs to Evolve Beyond Counts

The majority of experiential measurement is focused on counting – impressions, reach, t-shirts handed out, cans-in-hands, etc. Instead, we should be focusing on emotion metrics that inform strategic brand activations by adding KEIs (Key Emotional Indicators) to KPIs and improve ROE.

This POV was reached by combining 20 years of experience in experiential marketing at Grand-Ex award winning agency ignition and in marketing research for both client and agency organizations. Those two disciplines provided the foundation, but the key to the framework lay elsewhere…both in new macro trends and also locked away in the various disciplines related to design – Design Thinking, Service Design, User Experience, etc.

There’s power in combining schools of thought. By doing so, I believe that the experiential marketing eco-system can evolve as a key contributor in brand building, with greater influence than traditional marketing and advertising.

Macro-trends are pushing measurement forward – ready or not

Our relationships with brands, commerce and products are changing. As a byproduct, so are advertising and marketing….and the measurement that supports it needs to evolve to keep pace.

#1 – The Beyond Advertising Era Has Begun

The new normal is a world beyond advertising. In our connected world, brands no longer control their own marketing narrative. Every single touchpoint communicates from the brand outbound and from the marketplace back. Reputations are no longer being built by “being on brand.” They are being built by audiences who share common values. The result? EVERYTHING becomes part of the brand experience.

#2 – Design-Focused Organizations Will Prevail

On one extreme of this trend, there are thought leaders out there who believe that design can, or should, replace marketing entirely. The former design chief at IKEA was quoted in Fast Company as saying, “working with design and communications in the right way would be the best kind of marketing…without buying any media.” (Source: Fast Company)

While it’s not always feasible to replace media with design in the classic sense, we must recognize that design comes in many forms – product design, service design and experience design are three relevant examples. By focusing on the combination of these specific elements of design, organizations can better control their overall brand experience and, ultimately, their reputation.

#3 – Experience Strategy Will Win

The Experience Economy is an old idea with new life. Pine and Gilmore wrote their original Harvard Business Review article in 1999…claiming that we live in a time where people value experiences more than good and services. (Source: Harvard Business Review) They were ahead of their time a bit then, but the world has readily embraced this thinking and is moving ahead.

Companies that were created, or pivoted, to focus on experience strategy as a discipline above brand strategy are market leaders. Apple, Disney, Chick-fil-A, Zappos are just a few of the icons we can hold up as the industry beacons who are winning. When I asked Zapponians during a recent HQ Campus Tour about their business, they each said, “We are in the customer service business, and just happen to sell shoes.” That cultural touchstone isn’t built overnight, it takes commitment and cultivation to drive an experience-focused business culture forward.

Together these trends place experiential in the brand driver’s seat. Connecting with audiences in a meaningful way, designing a journey / path that is seamless, and paying meticulous attention to operational detail is where the experiential industry shines. Experiential marketers are in the position to help their organizations lead with an overall experience strategy, but if metrics keep everyone in the commoditized media buy space, the conversation will not change.

How can I change my metric mindset?

This beyond advertising world requires a new measurement paradigm that can zoom in and focus on moments that matter. By using metrics that evaluate emotional connection, we can reduce effort and friction and create meaningful experiences that customers desire and that compel lasting relationships.

This is a huge call-to-action. Our goal at The ExperienceBuilt Group is to change the measurement conversation to elevate and, ultimately, transform experiential marketing. We’ve identified five steps that can start organizations and brands on the path toward the new normal.

  1. Write creative briefs that include key emotional indicators.

  2. Map the journey your target audience(s) need to take and align this with the key emotional indicators. The end-to-end journey then needs to be part of your operational plans.

  3. Measure in-the-moment by going beyond surveys to evaluate the experience itself through direct, human interactions.

  4. Add KEIs to your KPIs. Adding emotional indicators to your metrics allows you to go deeper and share how your work made your audience feel using video, quotes and similar types of experiences.

  5. Remember all of your audiences: staff, on-site teams, vendors and more. They’re audiences, too, and important advocates and activators for the connections you seek to create.

The Elephant in the Room - ROI

Throughout the EMS conference, there were multiple conversations and presentations about ROI. We have the same conversations in market research. A mentor once told me if someone internally is asking you to prove the ROI of the marketing research you do, dust off your resume. Same with experiential. Your account is always at risk if ROI remains a key friction point. Your best clients are the ones that believe in the power of the transformational experiences you build.

That said…it is important to tie experiential to customer lifetime value (CLV) where possible. The holy grail would be to integrate all experiential exposures into a CRM to use in predictive analytics; but this can be a challenge, since experiential efforts are often siloed off from the departments within an organization that manage CRM or customer experience.

ROI is often used interchangeably with the idea of proving out how experiential can increase CLV. Including KEIs (emotional metrics) does not mean that these more traditional KPI or CLV inputs should not be collected; KEIs augment these by adding nuance and meaning.

How can you get on board?

Change is not easy, and a shift in measurement behavior will not happen overnight. But steps in the right direction over time can create momentum that elevates the experiential marketing industry to a position of leading marketing strategy instead of being an add-on or equal to other channels. “Brand experience" matters because chief marketing officers have to think about more than advertising and communications in a connected world that is going through digital transformation.

Now brands need to manage the whole consumer experience and every touchpoint along the way – from the inception of an idea to developing and designing a product, building awareness and then selling and distributing it. (Source: Campaign US)

A good place to start is to reframe how you define your role:

  • Agencies – Stop limiting your thinking to a media buy or allowing others to lump you into this bucket. At the core, what you provide is transformational. You are not a commodity; you offer far more value to the brands you serve.

  • Brand-side clients – Your influence isn’t limited to activations and events. You are equipped with the skill set to spread your experience thinking and drive a better end-to-end journey for all your customers, clients and audiences.

No one “advertises” any more - they design “brand experiences.” Every transaction is an outcome of the experience and agencies have to help create and deliver the right experience. Everything else is just the means to the end. (Source: Martech Advisor)


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