“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely”—Auguste Rodin
In essence, experiential marketing is all about taking a client’s brief, coming up with a creative idea and, by using both live and digital communication platforms, delivering a campaign that achieves whatever the desired results may be.
This may be led by a clever idea or by the use of technology. I wonder, however, how many times the user experience has been fully considered or the idea has been rigorously tested?
Certainly in my experience these are aspects that are sometimes left on the back-burner due to limited time, shortage of human resource, work over-load, or simply down to a lack of the required skill-set.
I also feel that the complexity of truly great work in experiential marketing is sometimes overlooked. For instance, it has to be integrated across digital and real-world landscapes, which are user-friendly, fun, memorable, and always communicates the brand’s message effectively and delivers ROI. To do this in a consistent and innovative way is extremely challenging.
Nevertheless, when campaigns go live individuals are going to experience them either way. Consequently, it seems to make much more sense to scrupulously plan for a fantastic user experience rather than leave it to chance.
This is where borrowing principles and practices from UX Design might assist us to better design and deliver great experiential marketing campaigns.
What is User Experience Design?
According to a study from the Oxford Journal, Interacting With Computers, the goal of UX Design in business is to “improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”
In other words, UX is all about how people feel and engage with products and services across all touch points; whether these experiences are memorable and shareable, positive or negative, can be down to good or bad design.
A great blog on UX Design is by Joel Marsh. He goes further and states: “UX Design involves a process very similar to doing science: we do research to understand the users, we develop ideas to solve the users’ needs — and the needs of the business — and we build and measure those solutions in the real world to see if they work.”
As a result, we can think of three fundamental pillars in a UX approach to design:
- Research to understand the user and their behaviour.
- Create and design ideas with empathy.
- A discipline of prototyping and testing.
Lets discuss these further below.
Pillars of UX Design
(1) Research to understand the user and their behaviour
Immerse yourself in your users’ world to understand what they do and why they do it. This will help decipher what exactly users’ needs and wants are, which in turn, inspires the creation of ideas.
You need get to know your audience—really know them. So go beyond demographics like average age, income and media habits to find out what makes them tick. What gets them excited? What worries them? What do they talk to others about? Why and how do they use your brand, and what do they love about it already?
You can do this by utilising market research techniques, such as interviews, focus groups, observations, surveys, or analyzing quantitative data for insights.
This is common practice in the other parts marketing mix, but I would argue that it is far from ubiquitous within experiential marketing agencies. In your experience, would you agree?
(2) Create and design ideas with empathy
In UX, empathy is a key ingredient in order to build effective user experiences. Getting inside the heads of individuals and having to ability to really walk in their shoes puts UX Designers at the forefront of a cultural change in business to a more customer-centric world.
As a result, coming up with ideas gathered from insights in the research stage that are fully in line with the target consumers needs, as well as the objectives of your client, is crucial.
Customer journey mapping can also be a very useful tool to help in maintaining your focus on empathy with costumers as they interact with your campaign across all the suitable touch points.
(3) A discipline of prototyping and testing
Next, you need to prototype the most promising ideas that come out of stage two of the process and evaluate them more accurately to see which offer true potential.
By prototyping, I mean a process where an initial version of an idea, product or service is tested to make sure it is fit for the audience and purpose. If there are any errors or problems, the prototype is improved and tested again. This goes on until the product or service is considered to be fully functional and suitable.
The MIT Media Lab, for instance, lives by the motto, “Demo or die,” which recognises that only the act of prototyping can transform an idea into something truly valuable—on their own, ideas are ten-a-penny.
For example, the user experience across all aspects of an experiential campaign—from technology, to digital, to social media, to on-site production, to media buying, or whatever other touch points are used—need to be tested. Ask questions like:
- Does every interaction work smoothly for the user?
- Does it look visually pleasing?
- Does it engage emotionally?
- Does it stimulate the senses?
- Does it enhances the overall experience for the user?
- Does it add real value to the user?
- Does it effectively communicate the brand’s message?
I feel this is a really important aspect of design that we need to start incorporating into experiential marketing. Otherwise, how can we keep innovating and evolve beyond a stab-in-the-dark, hit-and-miss, type approach?
I wonder do any agencies out there already have a system of prototyping ideas for their campaigns? Do brand managers feel this would offer more value to experiential campaigns for their brands?
Problems with Implementing a UX Approach in Experiential Marketing
I know what some of you must be saying: “Yes, this sounds great, but how can we fit this in when we are already under so much pressure with limited time and budget?”
Well, valid point. However, my argument is this: By creating a design process that can be drawn upon when approaching every experiential campaign it will actually produce faster, more predicable results. For instance:
On agency-side, it can be used to better flush out great ideas that are fully focused on the end user and stand up after being tested—increasing the chances for more effective campaigns. On client-side, they can have full confidence in the rigorous approach your agency has to every project—increasing the chances of new account wins and improving relationships with existing accounts.
UX is about two things only – the User and the Experience. Give your users a positive experience and they will reward you with their trust and their business.
In the context of experiential marketing, this means that you have to ensure live brand experiences don’t waste individuals’ time, with gimmicky, hollow, unemotional campaigns and activations. Instead, they need to be engaging and memorable user experiences where consumers are captivated and enthralled across all relevant touch points.
This is especially true when you consider that, over the coming years, the volume of experiential activity is going to increase at an even faster pace compared with what we’ve seen in 2015. As a result, the possibility of consumers getting bored and weary of substandard, mediocre experiential marketing campaigns become evermore likely.
Subsequently, the best way to ensure your future experiential campaigns are innovative, unforgettable and enjoyable experiences, are perfectly aligned with both consumers’ and brands’ needs, and produce more consistent results, is to incorporate design thinking into the heart of how you approach experiential marketing.