Cost per head is dead: How to get More out of your experiential team

You are what you measure, so stop judging the success of your events on superficial metrics.

"We need to reach 50,000 people, and we have $1 million. Go."  Sound familiar? If you’ve said some version of this to your experiential agency, you’re not alone.

"We need to distribute a million cans of soda at no more than a $1 a piece."  

"Our budget is $500,000, and we need to get 5,000 people to test drive the new model."

Call it cost per head, cost per sample or cost per engagement. The message is the same: We will judge the success of our experiential efforts by the number of people who have an interaction with the brand versus the quality of the engagement.

As smarter people than I have said, you are what you measure. And if you want to get more out of your experiential marketing efforts, you need to measure something more than warm bodies.

Don’t get me wrong—there are good reasons clients approach experiential marketing this way. Over the past few years, marketers from across the spectrum have begun to truly appreciate the value of experiential marketing in an increasingly digital world.

In a 2018 study, 41 percent of brand marketers said they consider event marketing to be their top marketing channel, up 32 percent from the previous year. Sixty-two percent said they plan to increase their budgets for live events in 2019, by an average of 22 percent. Experiential is no longer a nice-to-have marketing tactic; for brands that are interested in growth, it’s a must-have.

But many of these marketers are entering the space with some antiquated ideas of how to gauge success. For years, the conventional wisdom around experiential was that it was difficult to measure.

Unlike, say, digital advertising, which lets a brand track a consumer practically from consideration to purchase, the thinking goes, experiential is quick to lose touch with the consumers it engages. So best to focus on what you can measure: how many test drives or cans of soda you can give away, or how many email addresses you can capture.

And as with any marketing channel that’s gaining momentum, a lot of marketers are getting into experiential without knowing why. Are we just exposing people to the product? Showing them a good time? Collecting personal data for some undetermined purpose? It’s hard to measure against your objectives when you haven’t clearly identified them at the outset of the program.

But measuring objectives – not headcount – is much easier in experiential marketing today than it was even just a few years ago. Applying a robust measurement methodology to the targeting, execution and follow-up portions of the consumer journey allows marketers to optimize on the fly and better understand what their investment is actually returning.

Just look at what Cheetos was able to accomplish by tasking its marketing  team with the ultimate metric, increasing sales. By 2015, the product had achieved category dominance, accounting for 77 percent of the cheese puff market. But growth had stalled. Consumers needed a new reason to buy the product.

The team responded with the Cheetos Museum, a campaign that challenged consumers to find Cheetos that resembled famous people. The most popular finds were showcased at CheetosMuseum.com and then in actual galleries where consumers could engage with the brand personally. Cheetos’ share of the market grew by 1.5 points.

The next time you sit down to establish KPIs with your experiential team, start by telling them what you’d like to achieve. What kind of sentiment change are we aiming for? What sales objective are you trying to achieve? How many new customers are you looking to acquire? You may be surprised what they can offer you.

And that won’t be your most pleasant surprise. When you move beyond cost per head with experiential, you open up perhaps the most critical element of the process - the creative aperture. Taking your consumer engagement team off the leash will allow them to show you the power of the practice.

No one attends a brand event to fill out a data-capture tablet. Time-strapped consumers are seeking creatively driven experiences that will distinguish brands on their preferential hierarchy. They want to know which brands can fulfil the social contract on their time investment and are giving you that window to wow them.

Take the cost-per-head handcuffs off your experiential team, and you might end up a little wowed yourself.  

Christian Gani is managing director, Match Marketing Group.

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