The benefit of experiences over things

Airbnb: five candidates were selected to become temporary citizens of Grottole
Airbnb: five candidates were selected to become temporary citizens of Grottole

Experiences are a chance to engage with consumers on a more meaningful level.

It may be the pent-up desire to get back out into the real world in the company of real people, a post-pandemic hangover if you like. It may be the irrepressible driving force of Instagram as a marketing channel as well as a form of daily communication, but the facts are irrefutable: people are choosing experiences over things.

A study by Eventbrite showed that nearly eight in 10 (77%) millennials said some of their best memories are from an event or live experience they attended or participated in, with 69% believing that attending live events and experiences makes them more connected to other people, the community and the world. It's no surprise that brands are gearing up activation that is focused on engaging with their consumers on a deeper level.

The Here Institute's 2020 annual report into the immersive entertainment industry valued the sector at more than £45.7bn at the beginning of 2020 – up 19% from 2019's £36.7bn. This desire to be "involved" stretches across all platforms, and seems only to be becoming more of an integral part of the marketing conversation. From art and the hugely successful Vincent van Gogh The Immersive Experience to cinema releases and the recent collaboration between Jaguar and Everyman Cinema, it's not enough to just attend now, you must become involved, connect on another level, to set your activation apart.

Traditionally materialistic channels, such as on-pack promotions, are relishing the opportunity to create moments over anachronistic hard goods, with one of Cadbury's recent activations focusing on creating experiences with a Perfect £5k Weekend promotion, eschewing the old-hat "cash and cars" route.

The power of experiences isn't a new phenomenon, however. Hark back to 2009 when Ben Southall won a £73,000 contract to serve as the caretaker of a tropical Australian island. A $1.7m tourism campaign designed to increase awareness of north-eastern Queensland generated more than $100m in publicity, giving it the accolade of the most successful tourism marketing campaign in history. Hard to imagine the same effect, should the prize have been cash or branded merchandise.

The potential for a brand from harnessing the power of experiences is also not restricted to FMCGs or event launches. One brand understandably adept at aligning experiences with sales is Airbnb. From a promotional point of view the "competitions" or activations it creates speak directly to its consumers' wanderlust, connect with them on a more meaningful level and, ultimately, drive sales. The Italian Sabbatical (pictured) gave consumers the chance to win an experience in southern Italy, living and working in a village desperate for skilled residents after an exodus of the younger generation. More than 280,000 entries were received and five winners, each bringing a unique skill, headed out to Grottole to breathe life back into the village, rewarding them with an experience like no other.

But immersive content alone is only half the story, as Tom Lovegrove, senior strategy director at Wasserman, warns: "As we emerge from the isolation of the last two years, people's desire to once again be part of the community, to be part of something bigger than themselves, is stronger now than ever. Progressive brands understand that a live shared experience is the perfect channel to provide this and, as a result, they're ramping up their allocation of resources to live events.

"One thing for brands to consider, though, is that, especially post Covid, they need to do more than just provide immersive environments and compelling content. The brands who are at the forefront of true engagement recognise the value of togetherness and enable attendees to be active partners in the conversation and co-creation of the experience."

Creating an experience that a customer can engage with achieves two basic things which, at least, gives the brand in question elements that set it apart from competitors. First, it allows or prompts the consumer to share their experience with others, thus generating further engagement with like-minded potential customers. This could be via user generated content shared from an experience won as a competition or Instagram posts at a curated live event.

Second, executed correctly, the effect of the experience will live with your consumer long after the activation, meaning the chance of your brand being chosen over another at the point of purchase is significantly increased. Remember 71% of Brits have a favourite brand but will switch allegiances because of a promotion (Mando Connect &You Gov 2021).

If there is something good to be remembered from the confines of lockdown, it's that experiences make you happy. Being able to interact with others through experiences, be they outrightly brand-infused or purely aligning to certain values, engages consumers on a more meaningful level.

Andrew Rae is founder of Another Way Prize Management

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