Having just completed another RFP at FUSE Marketing Group, I’m once again reminded that not only is competition fiercer than ever but clients are finding the consumer landscape harder to navigate. As a result, client loyalty is not what it used to be because intrusive, buzzworthy ideas are what clients think their brands need to break through the clutter… or do they? Does disruption win or relevant strategy? Let me share my thinking.

Every brief that hits our desks asks for creative consumer engagements that increase trial and awareness, provide content, encourage sharing/amplification and of course, drive purchase. Reading between the lines, the ask is for something disruptive that will engage consumer attention so consumers will buy one’s brand. We’ve always had the goal of disruption and sharing. Strategically driven creative is disruptive if it’s relevant. The challenge is that marketers are confused by the clutter and are reverting to over-the-top disruption, which is flash-in-the-pan, short term, non-strategic thinking. It’s a one night stand versus a relationship.

About 25 years ago I was a brand manager at Nestle, classically trained on strategic thinking, short-term and long-term plans, above and below the line strategies. We believed times were challenging as we tried to identify the right TV or radio stations to advertise on, fulfill a magazine publishing deadline six months out and evaluate forms of outdoor. We pondered and panicked as to how we would ensure consumers would see our ads among the 300 they were faced with every day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat were a figment of the imagination of their unborn/infant/toddler founders. Today, the average consumer is inundated with more than 5,000 messages. The volume of media, messages, networks and brands has proliferated to an extent that we are deer in the headlights. We need totake a step back; while much has changed some things need to remain the same. This is why I wrote Adversperience, why I teach at George Brown College and why I remind everyone that strategic thinking founded in data that drives engagement is the key, and always has been. Let me explain.

One-to-one sensorial engagement is the ideal means to connect to consumers but it is costly, which is why advertising was invented and was so successful for so many years. When there were few outlets and options, advertising was efficient, effective and disruptive. With a great ad, one could resonate with consumers, steal share and drive purchase.

IMI International conducts an annual research survey and every year theresults are the same—when asked what tactic most influences the consumer to purchase a brand one doesn’t normally purchase, consumers identify brands that activate experientially, which means they connect to brands that invite them to get up close and personal. Every brand has a story, every consumer is living their story and content support is appreciated. Storytelling is not new, it’s timeless and strategic. At one time TV advertising told great stories—now the story gets lost because the ad is lost and the viewer literally has seconds to connect. Marketers think that disruption is the key; but while it can be effective, in order for it to have a sustained impact it needs to be grounded in insights and long term strategic thinking. It needs to be relevant and resonate—this is the litmus test for disruption that is sustainable.

Relevance has been lost or forgotten when marketers think and talk about their brands. Marketers jump too quickly to the finish line: how they want their brands to be used, how they want to gain competitive advantage. They need to listen to how consumers are connecting to and using brands and build from there. Marketers need to get out of their own head and into the consumer’s head. An example? Arm & Hammer. What started as baking soda extended to a myriad of products based on what consumers were doing with the product: laundry andcleaning products, toothpaste. The extensions were relevant.

Throughout the years we’ve activated hundreds of brands through experiential campaigns and consistently been able to prove that XM stands alone in its unique capability to connect with consumers. Relevant XM, not XM where a brand ambassador is standing on a street corner with a corrugate box of samples. Real engagement. For example, the CIBC Mortgage Bar, or the WestJet Christmas Present arrival at the airport. Both prove that if the experience is relevant, it is shared—and that is the ultimate goal today. Sharing is the new advertising.

EventMarketer conducts an annual survey on XM and its impact and, similar to IMI’s findings, a one-to-one experiential engagement wins the day versus all other tactics:

  • 72% of consumers say they positively view brands that provide quality event content opportunities and experiences
  • 74% say engaging with branded event marketing experience makes them more likely to buy the products being promoted
  • Of these, 98% share, and share with an average of 388 friends (average number of friends on Facebook)

Experiential marketing works; it always has and it always will. It needs to continue to evolve just as advertising evolves. I argue that experiential marketing is the new advertising and believe this so strongly I coined the term, Adversperience.

Adversperience is advertising on steroids. It’s the convergence of advertising and experiential marketing. It assumes we create an engagement that tells the brand story but, in the process, it invites consumers to participate causing them to then create their own story within the brand story. The two then become intrinsically linked and immortal. One cannot unexperience; once one sees, touches, tastes, smells, hears, one cannot unsee, untouch, untaste, unsmell, unhear. One’s physiology is forever impacted. When a brand does it correctly—when the engagement is relevant—it resonates and becomes part of one’s being.

Like relevance, resonance is equally as critical. By definition, resonance means the brand connection is powerful and meaningful—the brand Dzgetsdz me. It’s not for the consumer to get the brand but rather for the brand to get the consumer. Years ago, the brand drove the conversation. Today consumers drive the conversation and brands need to find their unique voice amid the noise.

These points on storytelling, relevance and resonance are not new, they’vesimply evolved and this is where marketers are challenged. In a perfect world we would have a one-to-one conversation with each of our target consumers, but this is not possible and is what gave rise to advertising, which allowed one brand to speak to many. Today’s challenge is twofold: an overabundance of media from which to relay a message and each type with its own unique language (billboard versus 140 characters versus a wall) and consumers now drive the one-to-many messaging, which can be positive and build a brand or can be negative and hurt a brand. What’s a marketer to do?

  1. Listen & learn: Before we begin, listen to the myriad of social conversations about the category, competitors, usage patterns, search patterns and name it. We combine this with other data and market insights to reach conclusions about consumer behavior.
  2. Create a plot: Leverage these insights to create a storytelling platform with a plot, climax, characters and staging. The platform is multidimensional. The brand provides the relevant context: plot, staging and storyline. The consumer is then invited to be the lead character, participate in the climax and create their own story.
  3. Encourage a standing ovation: If the brand has crafted their script precisely and the cues are in place for the consumer to rise to the lead role,like all leading characters, the consumer will take a bow, share their performance positively in the hopes of gaining reviews (now known as likes) and both the brand and the consumer will bask in the glow of applause.
  4. The pressure/story never ends: With the proliferation of 24/7connectivity due to the mobile devices that go with us everywhere, we MUST maintain the momentum we start. This is where marketers fall short. Once engaged keep the conversation going and pulse the relationship so that the consumer doesn’t stray. Similar to a relationship, we need to keep the magic alive to ensure the consumer stays loyal.
  5. Stay the course: Don’t be distracted by the proverbial Dzbright shiny object.dzLook at it, evaluate it but do not embrace it unless it delivers on the long-term vision for your brand.

More than ever we believe in strategic planning. We believe in a brand vision, objectives and strategies. We believe in the discipline. And with the discipline in place we do believe we can be sustainably disruptive.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Nicole Gallucci

Nicole Gallucci, partner, SVP experiential with FUSE Marketing, is former founder and president of BOOM! Marketing and the author of Adversperience ~ The Convergence of Advertising and Experiential Marketing. With over 30 years in marketing on both sides of the desk, Nicole’s expertise spans from creative to logistics and production to fork lift driver!!! Leveraging her experience in the industry and all its sectors, Nicole is a prof at George Brown and a sought after speaker on the topics of Adversperience, Marketing, Leadership and Women as Leaders.

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