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Welcome to the digital age experiential marketing

ecn 20th badge_flatExperiential marketing today

Playing a key role in the evolution of experiential marketing, technology infiltrates every aspect of today’s tradeshows and makes it easier for exhibit managers to track their clients’ return on investment.

In fact, according to Pinnacle Exhibits’ Creative and Marketing Director Giles Rickett, this is an example of a common conversation between exhibit managers and the company that controls their tradeshow budgets:

  • Chief financial officer: What is it you’re spending that $900,000 on?
  • Exhibit manager: Oh, it’s experiential marketing.
  • Chief financial officer: That’s stupid! Make sure you spend half of it next year.
  • Exhibit manager: For $900,000, we could have an ROI of two to one in this channel. What kind of ROI do we get from our traditional advertising?
  • Chief financial officer: Wait a second…

For some companies, tradeshows could be their biggest and riskiest investment of the year. In response, they may cut their exhibit manager’s budget. Living in the digital age means that exhibit managers can show concrete evidence to support the original tradeshow budget.

“Experiential marketing can benefit from measurement. It brings the credibility up from just a popcorn and cotton candy idea. This is money. This ROI and real capital that you’re building,” Rickett stated. “The beauty of today is we can show real science and real numbers for what’s happening in these spaces.”

In recent years, exhibit houses have approached experiential marketing with a laser focus on tracking interactivity within an experiential environment – also seen as a memorable experience that authentically reflects a brand. They often measure the post-show results of attendees who used social media and customized mobile apps on smartphones as well as those who participated in demonstrations.

A brief look into the past

Experiential marketing noticeably entered the tradeshow arena with the usage of aromas and plants in booths. Industry marketing expert E. Jane Lorimer noted that using aromas and plants dissipated toxins caused by the glue and ink used to set up exhibits.

Commonly used as traffic builders in these early environments was live entertainment, basic videos and giveaways. Once technology evolved, Lorimer said she also noticed the experience inside exhibits changing along with it.

“There is an old study about the value of motion in a booth. Estee Lauder was the first company to use backlit graphics. Other companies took a lesson from Estee about how backlit graphics grabbed the eye. If there is a demonstration, then more people stop to look. All that stuff was being discovered in the 90s. You didn’t have static booth,” Lorimer stated.

Interaction over everything

When creating an experiential environment, neither exhibit design nor a company takes priority over the interaction needed to help it succeed and drive numbers. This can be explained by taking a look at each aspect.

  • Designing for interaction

Any grand architectural designs take a back seat, from Pinnacle Exhibits’ point of view, if it becomes an obstacle for interaction.

“If you are going to spend $100,000 going to a tradeshow, you don’t want to spend $100,000 on walls to create meeting rooms. You want to spend $100,000 to create an experience,” added Rickett.

For a gaming client, Pinnacle Exhibits, a 3D brand agency, created a structure akin to an “anti-booth.” With the client investing in the interaction, the booth consisted of a framed out space and fabric walls.

“We spent our effort on promoting traffic to booth, where we created a custom smartphone application. We tracked the traffic that went through the space. We drove people to share through social media photo experiences, and it was a smashing success. We took all the money out of traditional exhibits and crammed it into the interaction,” he said.

The actual experience created is unique to each exhibit house because there are too many variables. For instance, no two clients are the same. Additionally, exhibit houses could have differing ideas of how to use the environment to reflect a product or brand and build the interaction.

  • No “I” in team

Pinnacle doesn’t take it personally when its clients want to bring in other marketing partners. The 3D brand agency often collaborates with clients and their public relations firms, social media groups, advertising agencies, website creators and whoever else is needed to make the environment a success.

The goal for each meeting is to unite, align ideas and leverage all year-long marketing initiatives at a two-to-three day tradeshow.

“To simplify it, we do a three-day tradeshow. There is another 362 days of the year. [Clients] have already paid a website agency, advertising agency and a social media group. They made all these investments. If the three days of the year doesn’t leverage all those investments, it’s a complete waste. The right way to do it is to harness all of those investments, align them and put those investments in a sensible way into the tradeshow,” Rickett explained.

In short, experiential marketing has become a powerful, measurable tool to be wielded as part of a company’s marketing mix. Although it may challenge that an exhibit provider is not enough, according to Rickett, experiential marketing combined with technology could drive numbers, which in turn benefits the client and the exhibit manager.

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