The role of measurement within experiential… one size does not fit all


The importance of experience within retail is well-known, but how do you measure its success? Paul Stanway, Creative Director of brand experience agency XYZ, explains how it’s a matter of context.

Why do brands continue to invest multi million pound budgets into flagship stores and retail sites when respected e-commerce surveys and forecasts suggest double digit growth of online purchase in the next few years? Many brands have flinched at this prospect, downsizing or closing their large stores, yet some of the world’s most successful and trusted brands have increased investment in their flagship stores, developing the in-store offering to be more than just a transactional one and more of a brand experience.

The reason that they do this, is because they understand the value of context. By controlling the circumstances in which their products and services are experienced gives brands a far more powerful way to tell the stories and develop a more empathetic relationship with consumers that will transcend purchase and lead to a more meaningful, longer-term, and more profitable engagement. Context is everything.

But what does this have to do with the role of measuring the effectiveness of experiential activity? Just as in retail, context here is a crucial element. The terms experiential and event cover such a hugely varied spectrum of activity. It’s this range and diversity that makes any single, rigid metric for demonstrating effectiveness doomed to failure. And that’s the mistake most experiential agencies have been making, in our ever more important quest to find parity with marketing channels such as PR, digital and social media.

Yet, the event is possibly the oldest and most enduring form of storytelling known to civilisation. How does one go about measuring what an experience even is, let alone how effective it has been? We need to focus on the context, choose from the most appropriate measurement metrics for that context, and map those against the client’s goals. Only then are we going to get a meaningful measure of success that is relevant. What we need to measure for a social media-powered product launch may well be fundamentally different to what constitutes effectiveness for an immersion into a brand’s service proposition for a specific consumer group. Does effectiveness look the same for running shoes as it does for financial services? Sometimes it may, but on many more occasions it won’t, and if we’re going to be serious about instigating a measurement mindset then we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that one size will fit all.

One of the reasons we prefer to use the term brand experiences at XYZ is because we see that these take place across digital and real-world settings, and it is brands that understand this fluidity that are successfully navigating the dynamically evolving marketplace. Integrating technology into the heart of the live experience design process gives not just amplification opportunities to increase reach and engagement beyond the event’s physical location, but also provide insights on the actions and reactions of those participating too. Yes, you can provide additional content that reinforces what participants are experiencing in real time, but you can also understand what they do with that content if you design with that in mind.

The convenience of instant and friction-less participation via digital cannot and should not be a point of competition for experiential. The whole point of experiential is that it has depth, requires active engagement and by doing so, unlocks emotionally rich rewards that make an impression and live with us for longer. They resonate, and that is why they become social currency – which we can enable participants to share using digital platforms, where it’s relevant and beneficial as well.

This merging of the online and offline experience is reflected in the earlier reference to the reframing of what a flagship store’s purpose should be in the future. When products are more readily, and often more cheaply available from an online retailer, the raison d’être of a brand’s physical presence must become as much about delivering the reason for purchase as facilitating the purchase. When you drill down into it, we are being tasked with changing consumer behaviour – establishing new purchase behaviour or rewarding existing purchase behaviour. The experience design must focus on triggering that, just as the in-store experience must. The latter is taking cues from the former to ensure it survives in the new world, the irony being that it’s using one of the oldest forms of communication to do so.

How do we measure experience against platforms that naturally lend themselves to measuring interaction, and can provide audiences in the hundreds of thousands? What’s our argument to a client who could divert their experiential budget into Out of Home ads or a social media campaign that reaches hundreds of thousands, with the statistics to prove it? For years metrics of activity have been how many people came to the event, how many samples were handed out, how many people saw what was happening. These are all measures of the event taking place, not its effect.

If the goals of the experience were to get people to attend, to hand out samples or provide visibility, then these metrics may be of use. But what about those experiences that are intended to offer more than handouts? The continued growth of the experience economy in both volume and range shows an appetite for not just more, but better experiences that redefine relationships between brands and consumers. What makes experiential so powerful is what makes it so complex and difficult to quantify, in many ways echoing what it’s like to be a three-dimensional person rather than a stereotype.

The key tenet of the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM)’s approach is that experiential effectiveness works in a similar way to that of TV advertising, and as such effectiveness measurement should be approached in the same way.

There are then three key factors involved in measuring effectiveness. Firstly, setting the right objectives for the activity being delivered. As with all measurement, it’s important to be clear and open with all stakeholders on what your experiential objectives are. Objectives can be a mix of strategic goals – such as increasing awareness, improving brand image as well as delivering engagement – and tactical, to increase sales in the short-term as well as data collection based on a certain activity.

Secondly, such measurement must be planned and pre-defined before the event, not afterwards, again for complete transparency and to ensure action will be taken from the measured outcomes. Thirdly, it’s fundamental the right data is collected to measure the pre-defined objectives. The ‘right’ data is there to inform and define customer attitudes and their associated behaviours which an experience can have had a huge impact on.

Looking in more detail at the measurement channels that could be applied, these can fall into 3 channels: Spatial, Content Engagement and Qualitative.

Spatial: Let’s look at what people at our experiences actually do, not just what they say that they do. This will lead not only to greater insights into which elements of the events attract attention, we will be able to then use those insights to input into improved experience design, creating physical spaces that trigger the behaviour we’re looking for in consumers that helps to deliver the targets we have agreed with our clients.

Content Engagement: We firmly believe in digitally-enabled live experiences as the most potent form of event activity. Considered and deliberate use of content to not only build on the in-the-moment experience, but to provide an opportunity to create data points that will allow you and your clients to see how the content is consumed and shared.

Qualitative: Putting flesh on the bones of data is crucial, using tools like the IPM’s Brand Affinity Measure to understand the impact of the experience is key to unlocking these insights. By ensuring you understand you’re looking to find out through qualitative research, it will be possible to conduct it in ways that don’t need to interrupt the experience flow at the event. As experience designers we should be able to find engaging and creative ways to integrate this into our events, as it’s too important not to.

These channels will help to provide us with a suite of tools to choose from, dialling up the most relevant ones depending on the type of activity and the client’s version of success that is being sought.

Think of it as a kind of metrics mixing desk, but instead of music genre dictating the output it’s the context of the experiential activity. These channels will help to provide a suite of tools to choose from, dialling up the most relevant ones depending on the type of activity and the version of success that is being sought – which once again is a matter of context.

XYZ is an award-winning, independent brand experience agency based in London, with a global reach. Founded in 2012, the agency’s mission is to create experiential work that is as effective, as it is creative and innovative.  A commitment to the elevation of brand experience into strategic level consideration by companies is at the fore of the agency’s thinking and the vision is to lead this reappraisal of experiential in the eyes of their existing and new clients and the wider industry as a whole.  Since its launch, XYZ has worked on some of the most complex, unusual and challenging projects with the world’s best-known brands, including Nike, Hotpoint, Celebrity Cruises, Levi, Converse and Chelsea Football Club.