What seems to unify four of the dominant sectors in the UK - food and drink, IT and telecoms, automotive and retail - is a growing interest and investment in experiential marketing.
As Event's Power Brands research confirmed, budgets are growing across the board and experiential is fast becoming a key player in the marketing mix. Yet the biggest spenders tend to belong in the categories mentioned above. So what challenges are each of these sectors facing, and how is this affecting their experiential-marketing strategies?
Food and drink
Experiential within the food and drink industry is now very much about creating multi-sensory experiences, as opposed to simple product-sampling mechanics.
Madison Byrne, marketing manager of ID Experiential, which works with the likes of Nespresso, Mountain Dew and Alpro, says: "Our clients now want to deliver experiences that are entirely unique - something their consumers will remember and want to share on social media. Thanks to the likes of Bompas & Parr, there is also a real increase in pop-up dining experiences that enable brands to connect with their audiences on a larger scale and incorporate the science behind how the human senses work."
One of the dominant strands of the food and drink category is alcohol. In our research, all of the brands surveyed, including Jack Daniel's, Pernod Ricard and Accolade Wines, saw budgets increase in the past 12 months. Looking ahead, 75% said budgets will increase in the next year, while 25% believe they will remain the same. A massive 75% said the funding is coming from other parts of the marketing mix.
Laurence Hinton, marketing executive of Accolade Wines, says experiential is essential both for building a brand and to the alcohol sector more widely.
"The Echo Falls brand is all about spontaneity and fun, and the easiest and most comprehensive way to translate this brand ethos to the consumer is with experiential marketing," he says. "The events we run, and the partnerships we have in place, have seen some great results, usually translating to instant online traffic with fantastic user-generated content being posted in the process.
"In an industry that is based around experiencing flavours and aromas, from wines of different varieties in distant countries and with varying methods of production, the experience is key.
"Experiential is becoming more central to the mix. It's getting more and more difficult to cut through advertising noise and tell people what your brand is about, what it stands for and how it operates. By running unique events that fit with the brand, you're showing the consumer that brand and asking them to become involved with it."
The retail environment is changing dramatically and retailers are having to adapt quickly to stay ahead. Consumer behaviour has shifted - they are shopping when and where they want, and desire more from the shopping experience.
They want to be treated as an individual; they expect brands to work harder to maintain their loyalty; they want to know more about what they are buying, trusting each other rather than the brands themselves; and they now often shop on impulse.
The good news is that the future of the retail experience is evolving to incorporate more experiential techniques, as James Barnes, planner and business development director at TRO, explains: "With retail moving more and more online, consumers are looking for something different from the physical retail space - either to be entertained or educated.
"We need to design relevant, engaging experiences that are authentic to the brand and product story. It is about finding innovative ways for brands to engage physically with people to take it beyond a purely transactional relationship."
IT and Telecoms
Unsurprisingly, the integration of technology into brand experiences in the IT and telecoms space is a key priority at the moment. The focus is on engagement, value, creativity, campaigns (not just events) and creating three-dimensional experiences.
Developing experiences around wi-fi and leveraging content opportunities have been high on the agenda for both Google and Virgin Media, according to Mike White, founder and managing director of Itch, which has worked with both. "This is pushing into a whole new world of how technology influences creative - both of these need to play an important part in the IT and telecoms sector. Cisco has been very forward-thinking in the development of 'smart cities' such as Barcelona," he says.
"One of the biggest trends is an increase in demand for experiential within the B2B side of this sector to improve their corporate events. On the consumer side, activity is centered around generating content and using new media channels to deliver longer-lasting and measurable experiential campaigns."
There remain, however, obstacles to overcome, as White points out: "We are still faced with the challenge of departments and agencies working in silos. Communicating just what experiential can achieve across multiple channels can still be tough."
This sector is showing no signs of slowing down. In Event's Power Brands research, all of the brands surveyed, including Toyota, Ford and Lexus, foresee that budgets will remain buoyant in the next 12 months.
A third (33%) saw a rise in spend in the past year. While the primary objective of the sector's activity is to create brand awareness (50%), experiential needs to drive sales too. The internet, main media advertising and PR are the dominant marketing channels, followed by experiential.
As the car-buying market evolves, it is important for brands to show their softer side, which can be achieved through experiential activity.
"The most memorable automotive activations are not simply 'events' but living, breathing experiences of the culture and performance of the brands that stage them," says Steve Lidbury, European creative director of automotive at Imagination.
"The experience allows the audience to become 'story-doers' by using technology, customisation and participation to create emotionally responsive spaces."
According to White, consumers also want to know more about the actual driving experience and what it will do for them. "There is a big push for car manufacturers to focus more on lifestyle and on engaging new target markets through the latest media channels such as YouTube," he says.
33% of car brands saw budgets rise in the past 12 months
50% of car brands said their primary objective for experiential was to raise brand awareness
10% Increase in IT brands in the UK discussing the use of experiential
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