We're measuring experiential all wrong

The executive creative director at SET says social shares, event attendance and email sign-ups are redundant metrics.

Brands are finally starting to come around to seeing the enormous value of experiential. But that doesn’t mean that the industry has solved the problem of how to quantify the success of these pop-ups, retail builds, and other physical experiences. As a result, it’s still not getting the traction it deserves from more traditional and business-driven marketing leaders. And their objections aren’t without merit. They need to see the data and ROI. Like Jerry Maguire, they want you to show them the money.

With a better understanding of the potential of brand experiences and smarter measurement around them, we can come to a place where we have more effective marketing initiatives and greater buy-in from even the most scrutinizing skeptics.  To do that, we must first rethink our limited definition of "experiential" and then how we measure it.

Redefining what "brand experience" means
In order for experience marketing measurement to be effective, we need to look at it through a broader lens—a way that connects it to the full consumer journey, not just as what happens physically, such as in-store, event or activation. Let me give you an example: Let’s say I go to my friend’s house and they give me an amazing demo of their Sonos system. Because of this (physical) experience, I fall in love with the product. But, then I only actually buy a Sonos product two months later when the timing is better and because I have just moved into a new apartment. (And maybe I see an ad that reminds me of Sonos and then end up buying the product online.)

Would that original demo experience, hosted by my friend, be seen as a key driver for my decision to purchase the product?  Probably not. Imagine if that experience had happened at the Sonos store or a Sonos festival activation. Again, we would have missed the real trigger of how someone bought into a product or brand through experience. 

These kinds of experiences fit more naturally into the mobile-driven, nonlinear evolution of the consumer journey that marketers often ignore. A consumer might begin with research online and then seek out a physical experience and interaction to truly experience a brand or product. Others might see a new product in a store or at an event, then immediately go online to look at reviews and prices, then return to the store to buy the product if they can’t wait a few days. Either way, the physical (not just digital) remains an important part of the buying process, with the close relationship between digital research and physical shopping becoming the norm. By understanding this expanded, nonlinear definition of experience, we can better see how to measure it.

Metrics around impact
There has always been a challenge with measuring offline effectiveness, going all the way back to the advent of out-of-home billboards, which were/are crudely measured with in-market lift. It’s no different for experiences. The problem is, how do you quantify the success of an experience in the physical world? The best we can do right now is social media shares, branded event attendance, and email sign-ups. But these are absolutely the wrong metrics to focus on. They may be good measures of whether you had a cool or successful event, but they do very little in the way of telling you whether you are reaching your brand and product goals. 

I believe the true metric must be based around impact. A good, immersive, personal experience has the power to shift consumer perception, from 0-60 in just one moment. For complex product offerings that might be hard to explain via ads, impactful in-person experiences can create a better product understanding and drive invaluable 'a-ha' moments. For culturally driven brands such as Nike or Converse, attending an influencer activation can convince consumers to "buy" into their mission and vision. Sure, you might reach fewer people with one experience, but you will reach them in much more impactful and effective ways.  And if you’ve done your job, you’ll be reaching the right people. 

Changing the measurement model
But how do we measure impact? Experience impact needs to be measured in a model akin to a full attribution funnel currently used in digital advertising, tracking each part of the consumer journey from awareness to the final decision. Attribution still must be given to the the original message/channel even if that didn’t trigger an immediate purchase. 

That’s obviously very challenging and expensive to do, but not impossible. Especially now that everyone has a GPS computer with them at all times through their smartphones, and people share their experiences endlessly on social media. As the next tech revolution gives rise to AI and AR, this will become even easier. And the real world applications on tracking analytics and seamlessly connected experiences are not that far off. We're already seeing the possibilities with the launch of automated experiments in merging the offline and online space with the cashier-less checkout of Amazon Go and shopper tracking technology from Adobe Labs.

Moving towards more effective experiential
Experiential is a tool with amazing potential for brands, which must correctly measure impact as it influences decision-making along an often winding and cross-channel customer journey. Ultimately this will lead to brands creating experiences that are more connected and effective for them and much more remarkable and interesting for their users. That is how the industry will finally deliver on the value of experiential for brands and the people that love them.

Ivan Entchevitch is ECD at SET.