Blog: Focus on the experience, not numbers

Why does the majority of experiential work seem to think effectiveness is always a matter of maths, not feelings, asks Fran Elliott, director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.

Blog: Experiential is about feelings, not maths, says Momentum's Fran Elliott
Blog: Experiential is about feelings, not maths, says Momentum's Fran Elliott

Automation might be the future of the workforce, but luckily we’re not marketing to our robot overlords just yet. So why does the majority of experiential work seem to think effectiveness is always a matter of maths, not feelings?

Enter the tyranny of blunt, above-the-line metrics – most notably the infamous ‘opportunity to see’ (OTS) number, which mistakenly turns blunt footfall numbers into a measure of meaningful engagement. Effectiveness, as the theory goes, is judged by the number of eyeballs you can shove your ad in front of. Bag the biggest billboard space at Waterloo Station and the 250,000 people who pass through every day will see it.

That’s a healthy 1.75 million people a week who’ve seen your client’s marketing campaign. Only, what if, no one’s actually looking at the thing…

Billboards are urban wallpaper

Let’s be honest, no one consumes every piece of media they’re passively exposed to. In fact research has shown we actively tune out. Billboards are urban wallpaper. TV ad breaks are tea-making time. Digital banners are internet pollutants our eyes actively avoid. And most ‘experiential’ marketing consists of dumbed-down sampling activities that get in our way as we sprint across crowded platforms to make the 18:31 train home.

You can understand what the OTS issue is for most media-focused channels – of course we can’t measure exactly how many people gawp at a six-sheet ad placed on every bus stop in Manchester. We have to take a punt on the numbers we have. 

No excuse

For experiential, we should do better because we’ve got direct access to our audience.

As marketers we often focus on guiding people down a set route through our experiences in order to hit self-imposed targets. We reduce our work to a function of footfall, dwell time, BA interactions and samplings. We forget that people don’t respond predictably to our best-laid plans – that they aren’t automatons for whom Input A equals Output B every time. 

And that means we’re missing out on the chance to test, learn and revise our approach to deliver better results and superior value to our clients.

But test, learn and revise is usually the language spoken by the coders at digital agencies. They can follow agile project plans with different versions, user experiences and endless iterations of fancy widgets – it’s the internet and anything goes. Taking this approach with experiential marketing may seem more difficult and in some places impossible with high overheads and time getting in the way. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. It is possible to revise your original approach without nuking budgets from orbit with endless changes to expensive production assets.

Blu at Westfield

We recently piloted a more flexible approach with blu, a client brave enough to let us take a risk in search of richer rewards. During a sampling activity at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, we tested and refined everything from messaging to location, based on how people interacted with us.

Using our daily observations and feedback systems, we tweaked a series of variables while staying true to the core concept. The event never went through a major reinvention, but changed incrementally to make it more effective. The engagement numbers shot up, giving blu a return on investment (ROI) that more than compensated for investing small amounts in small adjustments.

It’s given us a new way to approach projects. Whether something’s going well or not, we’ll look, learn and be prepared to react to make our work sing. The numbers will come when you remember who we’re creating experiences for – glorious, messy, free-thinking people who run on emotions, not equations. 

Fran Elliott is director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.

Check out Fran's last blog 'Welcome 2017 - the year of the sensory experience', which takes a reflective look back at 2016 to see what can be learned regarding experiential and brand experiences.

For more on the issue of measurement, see: Measure or miss out, warns IPM

More: Blu stages date-themed activation at Westfield shopping centre

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