What is experiential marketing and communications?

On the face of it, experiential marketing seems to be one of those elusive terms like antidisestablishmentarianism - it sounds great but doesn't have a life in the real world.
There are a lot of companies using the term with varying degrees of understanding, and producing events, or ‘experiences' based on a number of assumptions that all too often believe a strategic misunderstanding. This leads to experiences that definitely happen, but don't always work.

In its simplest form, it's creating meaningful experiences that enhance or build relationships with a brand. It's providing a mechanism for stakeholders to interact with the brand. All this is either an alternative, or supplementary, to “passive” communication where there is only a one-way flow of information.

Too much emphasis is still being placed on “passive” communications, from both a brand and corporate perspective. With the clutter in traditional media, coupled with the expense of using selective specialist media, marketers have been forced into exploring new channels. On the other side, consumers and audiences are demanding more meaningful relationships with the brands they choose and, look to experience the brands rather than merely receive information about them.

When properly executed, experiential marketing has a very real impact in both the corporate world and among targeted consumers. Globally, there are numerous case histories expounding the virtues of experiential. In some cases, major brands have been launched and sustained by only using experiential channels, with no ATL at all.

Experiential is not new - it just got a new name. For years, brands and organisations have been using it - industrial theatre, in-store sampling, road shows, sponsorship programmes, exhibitions, induction training, conferencing, etc.

Experiential marketing is a multi-medium. Not in the already hackneyed sense of audio and visual, but in the collective senses of the audience - the touch, taste, sights, sounds and personal experience of a message as translated through the environment in which that message, or brand, or call-to-action is sited.

Mood and context are not only a part of the experience of a message; they are also the medium by which that message is positively or negatively influenced.

What makes it effective...?

  • It usually touches a number of the senses (sensory communications), not just audio or visual, which tends to develop an emotion and gets the recipient involved.
  • The experience or intervention very often takes place in an environment where the consumer is happy to be engaged (bar, restaurant, shopping mall). As a result, the message or experience becomes that much more meaningful.

At its heart, experiential marketing is a way of forging a new and positive set of personal and relevant emotional connections to a brand or a message within a carefully designed communication environment. It's that simple, and that complex.


About the author

VWV Group - one of South Africa's leading business-to-business experiential communication specialists has appointed Abey Mokgwatsane as CEO of the VWV Group.

Founded in 1981, VWV is a hub of specialist business units focusing on video and film production, event management, internet and multimedia applications and corporate and direct theatre. The Group is best know for its creative track record both here and abroad including the most awarded experiential agency at the Loeries for the last five years running.

Mokgwatsane started his career as a marketing trainee at VWV, after which he joined the South African Breweries marketing team. He worked as Brand Manager for Castle Loud - a young adult, 360-degree brand activation property for Castle Lager. Castle Loud went on to win the 2002 super budget (budget of over 10-million Rand pa) Raptor Award for sponsorship excellence.

In June 2003 under the auspices of Senior Brand Manager, Mokgwatsane went on to spearhead the launch of Miller Genuine Draft to the local beer drinking market. MGD had a phenomenal entry into South Africa and is still one of the fastest growing premium beers in its category. At SAB Mokgwatsane was the recipient of three “Managing Director's Award for Marketing Excellence”.

In 2005, Mokgwatsane and two partners, Jameson Hlongwane and Wanda Shuenyane, acquired a majority stake in VWV Group. In his capacity he was appointed as VWV Group Marketing and Sales Director, and has held this position since 2005, heading up the group's drive to live up to its vision of “Redefining Experiential Marketing”. Over-and-above delivering on its core experiential marketing offering, Mokgwatsane began facilitating the formation of alliances and partnerships with international organisations like Eat Big Fish (a challenger brand thinking consultancy based in the UK), with the intention of developing organisational workshops that unlock challenger brand thinking.

As new CEO, Mokgwatsane will definitely be re-awakening the senses for the VWV Group.