09/08/17

US vs UK – same discipline, different experiences

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Just like the countries themselves, the approach to experiential marketing in the UK and the US share contrasts and similarities, says Sense MD Nick Adams.

Sixth months into our Sense New York adventure, and The Big Apple is certainly exceeding our expectations. There are striking contrasts and similarities with our original London base. Both share the hustle, bustle and excitement, yet New York’s streets of towering buildings that seem to almost block out the sky contrast with London’s more open skyline driven apart by the River Thames. Both are thriving cultural melting pots, but New York has an air of cool chic that London will never match. We feel so honoured to now have homes in both of these incredible urban creations.

Arriving as we did at pretty much the same time Mr Trump took office has been fascinating. Watching his tenure unfold on both sides of the Atlantic has given us a truly immersive experience of the short but turbulent journey. We’ve also gained an insight into how brands approach immersive experiences in the US, and have noticed a distinct difference with real world experiential activity in the UK and across Europe.

We weren’t surprised by Freeman’s recently released research, which revealed that global spend on experiential marketing is accelerating in Europe, the US and Asia, as there is certainly a keen appetitive for real world brand experiences across the US. The fact that the country holds an annual Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS) is testament to its interest and commitment to the discipline. What does it say that there is no parallel event in Europe?

Of course, we simply had to attend the recent EMS 2017 in Chicago – another wonderful city! It confirmed what we had begun to appreciate; that the standard of creativity stateside in experiential is outstanding. The rest of the world can certainly learn a thing or two from their American friends in this regard. There’s also a wonderfully intuitive feel to many of the US real world campaigns.

Particularly of note, two experiences from two brands in the same category but which couldn’t be further apart in their journey. Budweiser, whose Budweiser VR4D Beer Garage provides a great example of cutting edge, high gloss experiential, contrasted with Upslope Beer Company, a little known Colorado beer whose ‘Get Down’ events remind us that simplicity and humble budgets are no drawback in producing memorable brand interaction.

However, having now worked on US campaigns and witnessed many others, we can’t help thinking that as good as the campaigns here are, they could be even better. Many of these great brand experiences could be even greater if more were done in terms of planning and strategy. And we believe this is where the US can learn from Europe.

Applying a little more rigour during execution, as we do in Europe, would boost effectiveness. We also feel more can be done in terms of campaign justification – proving conversion to purchase, monitoring word-of-mouth scores and gauging amplification through social media channels. Essentially, ramping up the measurement side. But perhaps scale is the key point here – maybe us Europeans simply need to do more to justify expenditure, when the scale of opportunity is just way smaller.

Although traditionally viewed as a difficult discipline to measure, the impact of experiential is actually relatively easy to assess if clear objectives and benchmarks are set at the outset, then performance is rigorously monitored during the campaign. This does is not only clearly demonstrate return on investment for brands, but also informs future campaigns.

Of course, great challenges exist in the US compared to the UK that hinder the application of a more rigorous approach and also stronger measurement, the main one being the sheer size of North America. What’s more, the market is incredibly diverse, with so many different regions with distinct demographics and values, each of which are likely to react to the same creative approach in a unique way. In some way, it’s even more complex than running pan-European campaigns across several markets.

Overall, the love of experiential in the US is highly infectious, and we’re loving our short time here. And we can’t wait to rise to the challenge of driving more thorough planning and measurement to make campaigns across the US of A even more effective for brands.

Nick Adams is MD of Sense, which is based in London and New York.

09/08/17

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