Chrissie tells it like it is, with some vital advice for anyone considering experiential campaigns.

Every year in the UK, brands spend millions of pounds on experiential marketing. If you’re not familiar with the term and haven’t considered how it could work for your brand, it’s simply a form of promotional marketing that creates an ‘experience’ for the consumer. Hence the name! It’s favoured by brands with huge throwaway marketing budgets and a new product to launch; but it’s also popular with smaller brands and start-ups, to create a PR buzz and jump start their brand awareness.

The thing about experiential is, it’s often poorly planned. The campaigns are usually the brainchildren of misinformed office execs who have never had to implement a field-based promotional campaign; let alone tried to engage face to face with commercially disillusioned and cynical consumers.

In my early career and even prior to it, experiential work (or promo jobs, as they’re known in the business) paid for me to take holidays I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford; it saw me through university, bought me expensive shoes and a nice social life. But crucially it gave me an understanding of how these campaigns are delivered by staff and received by consumers.  And I’d like to share what I know, because if you’re thinking of going down the experiential route, there are many pitfalls you can avoid to ensure your spend is maximised and the campaign has the desired effect!

Let this be your guide.


Recognise & embrace consumer greed

Sampling activities are the easiest to carry out and the most popular with consumers, who will congregate around sample bins like flies around you know what. As cringeworthy as this is to see, it’s invaluable for your brand awareness. They’ll make sure that whatever they’re queueing for is worth it.  This means they are taking in your brand and product message.

Once they’re willingly congregating, you have created what is priceless – a buzz. You must understand that you will struggle to create that without giving something away.

The only other time I’ve seen it happen was when me and a few other members were hired to look after an Xbox 360 stand at a music festival. People could queue up to compete with each other playing games that hadn’t even been released yet. Essentially this was still a desirable giveaway, they were loaning their equipment and sought after games for free. It was an exclusive.

The lesson? Give consumers a good reason to give you their time and attention. One spritz of perfume or a leaflet is not that.


Work within the boundaries of average human tolerance

It seems simple to consider the people delivering your message and product to the masses, but promotional staff are rarely given enough consideration. Why should they be considered? – brands will ask. They’re just students earning well above the minimum wage to do a pretty simple task. I cannot express how wrong and short-sighted this is. Sure you might not give a rat’s ass about these people or how they feel for their own sake, but what about how it impacts on your brand?

Many years ago, I worked on a campaign for a famous brand of coffee. It was winter, we were outdoors and my team of unfortunate brand ambassadors had to wear jet pack drink dispensers full of coffee. If you’ve never had to wear a jet pack full of liquid and stand around on the same spot for hours, let me tell you it is f*cking agony. Aside from the back pain, they are huge and make you look like some kind of human/giant tortoise hybrid. An hour into the 8 hour shift and we were miserable. We weren’t allowed to put the packs down, even for short recovery periods. The staff dropped out of the campaign one after another (myself included) and the ones that remained had faces like a wet weekend. I doubt that’s what the coffee brand wanted their consumers to be faced with, but it’s what happened.

The lesson? First, use static tanks for liquid sampling and set up a stand. Jet packs are not worth the hassle. More importantly, use some common sense and consider what you’d be willing to put up with for the sake of some extra money. Few ‘promo girls’ give enough of a sh*t to put up with yours.


Get organised

I can’t count the times I arrived at a promotional job only to find the uniform as promised wasn’t on site, the branded stand was nowhere to be found and the store staff didn’t even know to expect me. This was less the brand’s fault and more due to the incompetence of the agency they’d hired to implement the campaign.

It has several ill effects  – firstly the brand ambassador isn’t very…. erm, branded. Secondly, they’ll feel a bit daft stood there all in black, clutching a product they’ve had to take off the shelf and randomly approaching customers who haven’t a clue what they’re doing and find the whole thing a bit odd. At all costs, promotional staff should be surrounded by and emblazoned with visual branding. It’s the most minimal requirement of any activity.

Lesson? If it’s worth doing and spending money on, it’s worth doing properly. So make sure it’s done properly.


Don’t overcomplicate things

A promotional campaign doesn’t exist to make demands on the consumer. However it’s hard to avoid this when it comes to data capture campaigns. By their very nature, they take some time to complete and require consumers to part with a lot of information that they might be uncomfortable or impatient with. Every single data campaign I worked on could have used a significantly shorter and more concise questionnaire that took half the amount of time to complete. Instead, participants were so impatient and huffy about how long it took, that we had no choice but to abandon the interview halfway through or cut out half of the questions and make up the answers later. It was that or no participants at all. (Of course this is far from ideal because it affects the integrity and accuracy of the data.)

If you’re thinking of conducting a data capture exercise, give the participant a little treat to lure them in and keep them sweet. Who cares if chocolate isn’t your brand? People love it. Your offer of a free double glazed window if they buy the other six, probably won’t work.

Lesson? Give an incentive. And don’t expect consumers to wait around all day answering your questionnaires. Twenty questions should be an absolute maximum if they are simple to ask and to answer. But aim for more like ten.


Acknowledge the difference between selling and promoting

More and more brands are setting sales targets to promotional staff placed in store. That’s fine, but there’s no guarantee your brand ambassador will be able to sell effectively. Sales, as anyone in business knows, is a real skill and setting a £600 target to someone on a fragrance demonstration is not only unrealistic, but it’s demotivating.

When planning your expectations of an activity, you must understand there’s a distinct difference between promoting a product (which is to inform customers of its existence) and selling it. Promoting involves smiling sweetly whilst emblazoned with branding and telling interested customers about the product. You don’t need me to explain why that’s not the same thing as persistently setting up and closing sales. There’s nothing wrong with expecting sales off the back of an activity, it’s just important that you communicate this to your staffing agency clearly, so they can assign their strongest salespeople to the job.

Lesson? If it’s a sales drive, be clear and be prepared to pay more for the best salespeople.


Black Hare provides expert experiential consultancy and strategic planning for your experiential campaigns. No matter how big or small the ripples you can afford to make are, don’t waste your budget. Get it right the first time!