Nowadays it’s not enough for marketers to merely tell consumers about their brands through traditional outlets like television commercials and digital banner ads. Those methods are still invaluable, but to cut through the noise and build lasting connections with consumers — marketers must provide pathways for consumers to experience their brands in an immersive way.
Experiential marketing is on the rise, with AgencyEA’s recently released study on the state of experiential showing that 75 percent of industry professionals anticipate their experiential budget to grow within the next 18 months. Between pop up spaces, festivals, and Instagram art exhibits, it seems like brands are creating experiences on every corner for every type of consumer. With that much investment going into physical experiences, what makes for an effective experiential strategy? We spoke with Anika Grant, who spent seven years working with Essence, overseeing sponsorship and business development at live events including the renowned Essence festival. We asked her about how brands create effective experiential activations and what separates the good from the great.
What do you view as the difference between an experience that is a fleeting moment and one that builds a lifestyle platform for a brand?
I believe we’re in this moment of experiential marketing that goes beyond a brand just taking their product or service out to the market whether that’s in store/online or multi-market tour and actually creating experiences that connect with consumers around their passion points. Around food, music, travel and these consumers are willing to pay for these unique experience that are interwoven into important moments in their lives. They bring friends and family to them, they attend every year, have reunions around them, etc. In this new age of experiential its beyond just pushing products and services at consumers through interactive experiences and is now about creating platforms that engage consumers on a deeper emotional level.
Should brands be looking at events, retail, and pop ups under different hoods or one umbrella of “consumer experience”?
Brands should be looking at everything as one ecosystem to drive sales, consumer engagement, and all other metrics of success - it has to be looked at together. When you separate them it becomes ineffective - they each play an important role in connecting the consumer to your voice as a brand and how consumers should engage with you. If businesses are looking at tactics separately then they are missing a huge opportunity to engage their consumer more deeply. In this day-in-age with social media and the speed of communication, consumers catch-up quickly if that messaging is fragmented and disjointed, which breeds distrust in your authenticity.
What is your new venture and how does it aim to help brand with their experiential strategy?
I launched Idlewild after working the last decade or so in live events and entertainment and seeing the growth in large scale events such as festivals and conferences. I saw how they can drive significant revenue growth for the organizations that produce them as well as drive unique consumer engagement opportunities for the brands that sponsor events. Idlewild was born out of the idea of being a resource to these organization that are looking to build out effective experiences. It requires a level of production expertise and bandwidth that I know from experience a lot of organizations just don’t have naturally as apart of their core teams. So that’s where Idlewild comes in, to help executives produce experiences from to top to bottom, from production to revenue generation.
In the world of marketing, experiential is very focused on live experiences, but the term experience transcends the physical space. Do you believe brands need to rethink how they treat experiential and its integration with digital?
Yes. Again experiential has to live beyond the moment. Experiential if done right should create memories for people that live on longer than the event. Therefore, experiential has to always be thinking beyond not just about the live moment but how does that moment stay with that consumer, how do you keep the content coming out of that moment alive - for those who were there and those who were not there. Those 2 strategies have to be aligned in order to have an effective experience. One cannot exist without the other.
How did ESSENCE, a company known for publishing magazines, become a powerhouse in the world of events and experiential?
I was fortunate enough to be at ESSENCE during a time when the Festival grew exponentially to one of the largest live events in the U.S. with over 500K people attending. You don’t just grow that way by happenstance - it takes an investment in understanding what your event product is, who your audience is and what they need. When you do that, everything else falls into place over time. ESSENCE did this very well, always with a keen focus on their audience first and prioritizing their experience over all else. I believe that the ESSENCE Festival story is one that many companies are trying to replicate in terms of utilizing their intellectual property and creating a live experience that consumers can touch, feel and engage with in a different way.
You worked closely with sponsors of the ESSENCE Festival, what was the leading factor driving brands to execute highly successful experiences?
It's really about creating experiences that tap into audiences and their passion points. Brands want to be in the conversation. If you know who the audience is and you can super-serve them content and experiences that meets them where they are, then attracting sponsor revenue gets easier - especially if you are being true to your consumer and creating a unique experience for them.