Businesses spend a lot on marketing and advertising; advertising spend in the UK hit a new high of almost £14bn in 2013  and is set to increase to £14.8bn this year.
Therefore it would seem fair to ask whether businesses are getting their money's worth.
Richard Edwards of Quatreus doubts it is always delivering the best return on investment (ROI) possible. And the reason is, regardless of what method of communication businesses choose, most will miss out on an essential ingredient: experience.
Experiential marketing is important because it helps consumers contextualise the narrative behind your product and service.
Experiences offer sensory, emotional, cognitive, behavioural, and relational values rather than functional ones. Incorporating these into your value proposition is likely to persuade a lot more people of the value of your brand than a purely rational approach.
What does an holistic experience look like? Richard Edwards has some advice:
Let's take perfume as an example. Perfumes are, functionally speaking, a mix of ingredients that produce a pleasant smell to be sprayed in liquid form onto the skin.
But people don't wear perfume for the constituent parts; they buy it for the experience, they buy it in the hopes that they will feel attractive and desirable, and they buy it to give them a sense of confidence.
So how is this experience achieved? By creating an holistic experience of the product.
It starts with the advertising. Perfume ads always feature a model sauntering around looking sexy; there is usually a husky voice saying abstract words like "adored" or "eternal"; and there is either a lot of colour, for fun and adventurous brands (think Joop!), or black and white, for brands that focus on being sexy and powerful (e.g. CK).
Next comes the in-store experience. The bright lights of each perfume shelf, the imagery displayed around the perfumes – all are meticulously planned to continue the experience.
The bottle is a key part of the experience, from store to home. Some are rough and jagged, others are sleek and curved.
And every time the customer uses the product, they live that vision. Whether, or not, the perfume can do any of these things. They are not just opening a bottle of chemicals; they are unleashing the hypnotic power of scent from something resembling a mystical carafe!
Applications in other areas of marketing
"But my business is in accounting software, not sexy perfume. Surely we can't apply the same method?"
Yes, you can. To help break it down, experiential marketing relies on bringing together five distinct dimensions into one holistic experience:
1. Feeling – What will it feel like to use your product or service?
2. Sensing – How do customers physically sense your product?
3. Thinking – The experience still needs to take into account the rational, logic value of your product or service, and also needs to appeal to the customer's sense of curiosity and intrigue. How obvious can you make the benefits of your product through demonstration? Can you hint at an untapped ocean of potential behind the short demo?
4. Acting – What behaviours will your product help to facilitate? Changes in behaviour can be highly motivational and empowering. Think of Nike's classic Just do it tagline.
5. Relating – How does your product or service link the customer to others, to things or even to a projection of their future self?
Social media is an excellent tool for relating, as everyone in their friend group can see, feel and understand how the customer acts differently using your product – bringing the various dimensions together.
The best way of putting the experience together is face-to-face. For example, Quatreus has built a number of 'experience centres' for clients that are designed specifically around creating an holistic experience. The experience centre for BT Health at their Adastral Park facility shows off a new range of healthcare technology; Quatreus created a situational experience with everything from treatment rooms to the back of an ambulance immersing visitors in the real life environment, allowing them to engage practically with the technology, and to experience the benefits for themselves.
As the old Chinese proverb goes: "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand."