THINK TANK: Brand Experience - Putting it down to experience. This month our panel of experts discussed what is actually meant by the term 'brand experience'. Emma Reynolds reports

THE PANEL

Hugh Robertson, client services director, RPM

Founding member of RPM, which creates face-to-face and visual experience campaigns. Prior to RPM he worked for sales promotion agency ZGC

Andrew Roberts, client services board director, ID

Previously worked at promotional marketing agencies such as Interfocus and Team Marketing. Also worked at Hasbro as promotions manager and then marketing services director at Virgin

Matt Briggs, head of client services, Hotcakes

Has experience in publishing and exhibitions, as well as knowledge of live events and marketing trends in the corporate sector. He initiates and manages Hotcakes' projects

Ralph Ardill, marketing and strategic planning director, Imagination

Developed the agency's brand experience offer - and co-edited brand experience casebook Experience. Led development of Guinness Storehouse.

While a growing number of event agencies are offering to create brand experiences for clients, the definition of what exactly constitutes a brand experience is emerging as a bone of contention.

RPM client services director Hugh Robertson argues that the term brand experience has become a "third space

for everything that doesn't fall under the traditional marketing umbrella. "It can mean anything from fashion shows to car launches, design of exhibition stands or sampling," he says. "It's all about representation of a brand."

Imagination marketing and strategic planning director Ralph Ardill adds: "Experiential marketing is a way of connecting brands and people that has much more emotional impact.

He goes on to say that the best route to understanding brand experiences starts with identifying what they are not.

Hotcakes head of client services Matt Briggs agrees: "It's important to work out what the phrase doesn't mean and it does not mean sampling.

He believes this involves experiencing a product but that this doesn't equate to a brand experience.

Fuelling confusion

"I fear that the phrase has been hijacked by some field marketing agencies that either don't understand or don't care what a brand experience is,

says Briggs.

He adds that this "misuse

of the term by agencies has fuelled confusion about what brand experiences really are - what he calls "a means to develop an irrevocable bond between brand and target audience".

Andrew Roberts, client services director at field marketing agency ID, says if the aim of a campaign is to drive product awareness or boost sales then sampling can be seen as a form of brand experience.

"I think it can be a bit too worthy if a brand experience is just about moving towards having a bond with people,

he argues. "You're never going to get that far in terms of where that fits into people's lives. It's more about getting their attention and giving knowledge of a brand at the right time and right place. I would call that an experience."

But Briggs disagrees: "Dressing someone up as a chocolate bar and standing them outside Charing Cross station at 8am is not a brand experience."

Roberts counters that ID's recent campaign for Nestle's Aero chocolate bar, which involved a person dressing up as a mouse and handing out samples of the product, was still an experience for the customer - and one that was consistent with an above-the-line marketing campaign.

Getting interactive

RPM's Robertson believes that a brand experience can be anything that makes the customer rethink a brand, which could include sampling. "As long as there is something interactive between consumer and brand that makes them reappraise it through that experience, it is a brand experience,

he says.

Two years ago RPM created the Strongbow Loafing Lounge with the aim of changing 18 to 24-year-olds' perceptions of the cider brand. The structure toured UK dance festivals and housed a dance floor, DJs, Playstations, chill-out areas and a bar that served Strongbow. Free samples of the cider were also handed out to the crowd. Briggs agrees that this form of "brand immersion

constitutes a brand experience. "I think it's very good,

he admits.

Ardill believes sampling activity can be something that will create an emotional response from a consumer if the thinking behind it is right.

"If you link a character with a brand, like a busker or something, people might go home and tell someone about it. That's an experience that can shape people's opinions,

he says.

Ardill adds that to deliver true brand experiences you need to adopt the right way of thinking about them. "It's a mind-set,

he says. "Marketing has moved on from projection of information and imagery about a product to recognising that people have more of an experiential and emotional agenda. If you can put these needs at the centre of the way you think about marketing you can make it richer."

He goes on to argue that agencies need to think about what sorts of experiences matter to consumers when they are planning a brand experience. "To understand the potential of experiences you have to take a few steps back and think about the people you're trying to touch and what they value,

he remarks.

Permanent experience

Imagination was one of the pioneers of the brand experience concept. In 1997, the agency created a permanent experience for Guinness when it converted the six floors of a disused brewing facility in Dublin into a visitor experience comprising a Guinness exhibition, public bars and staff training areas.

Briggs says: "The Guinness Storehouse is a fantastic example of the kind of brand experience that can create lifelong relationships and unique bonds between brand and consumer."

The challenge is convincing marketing directors that brand experiences are equally as effective as other forms of marketing. "What we're talking about here is a completely new state of mind,

explains Ardill.

The situation is made more difficult because it is hard to quantify the effectiveness of a brand experience. Briggs says: "Measurement is important. We need to do qualitative and quantitative analysis of what we do and make sure we have results.

He adds that the best research will need to be carried out over a long period of time. "You need to go back to the visitor a number of years later and find out how they now feel about the brand,

he says.

Ardill believes client objectives should be stated at the outset of a campaign to create benchmarks against which results can be measured. ID's Roberts says it is increasingly common for his agency to be brought in at the planning stage. "It's about getting everyone together and looking at the objectives, from which you can set the criteria for how you evaluate the activity."

Driving sales

Robertson argues that brand experiences can be measured in terms of sales generated. "We are involved ultimately in driving sales with experiential marketing and everything we do needs to be founded on return on investment,

he says. "Arguably, the brand experience does that on many facets. It does deliver. But we need to establish a recognised currency across the industry."

Everyone on the panel believes more agencies will offer brand experiences in the future. Ardill says: "There are a number of players and I think there will be consolidation. There is a global brand experience agency coming to the fore. It needs structure and accountability but the opportunity in the market will grow."

In order for this to happen though, there needs to be a wider understanding of the concept.

RPM organises paid-for brand experience workshops for clients in an effort to spread the word. The day's training includes presentations, workshops and live field trips. It also offers an insight into the growth of the brand experience and practical tips on managing and evaluating them.

No quick fix

Roberts believes clients need to develop long-term relationships with their agencies if they are to get the most out of brand experiences. "It's not a quick fix,

he says. "It's about working out how to touch people and create relationships. You need to see if brand managers are doing it because it's trendy, or because they believe it will make a real difference. If they don't, there's no point. It needs to be seen as a proper marketing discipline."

Briggs argues that brand experiences are already beginning to be accepted as a valid part of the marketing mix. "You're always up against the media buyers because they've had the ear of the marketer for a lot longer than agencies like ourselves. But we are winning the battle."

As marketers search for new and original ways to reach their consumers and their understanding of the brand experience grows, the medium will increasingly be recognised as an effective route to market. Robertson concludes: "The brand experience is not a fad. The future will see a wider embrace of it but this debate will almost certainly still be raging in five years' time."

SOUNDBITES

"As long as there is something interactive between consumer and brand that makes them reappraise it through that experience, it is a brand experience"

Hugh Robertson

"Experiential marketing is a way of connecting brands and people that has much more emotional impact"

Ralph Ardill

"Dressing someone up as a chocolate bar and standing them outside Charing Cross station at 8am is not a brand experience"

Matt Briggs

"It's more about getting their attention and giving knowledge of a brand at the right time and right place. I would call that an experience"

Andrew Roberts


Have your say

Only registered users may comment. Sign in now or register for free.

Follow us

Latest Event Jobs