According to businessdictionary.com, it’s “a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.” For marketers, it can mean so much more. As I think about experiential marketing, the act of strategy or planning incorporates a significant number of inputs to drive the desired outcome. The challenge for many is defining what success looks like, understanding the operational environment, and creating an actionable plan.
Strategy starts with measurable objectives
Be careful here. We’re talking about outcomes vs. outputs. In other words, you want to know about the reaction to the work, not the quantity of things that were done to achieve this reaction. Some measurable objectives might include: increasing awareness, driving purchase consideration, generating sales, or creating advocacy. There are many others of course. It’s important to understand what your goals are, and measure them to determine degrees of success. Objectives should always be SMART. Also, don’t attempt to boil the ocean with brand experiences. Try to narrow focus to 1-3 objectives.
So. Many. Inputs.
In experiential marketing, the major inputs include:
Brand – Your company, what you stand for, where you are and where you’re going — Who are you? What is your position in the market? What is your brand personality? What are your business objectives? How is your business performing?
Audience – Demographics for sure. More importantly, psycho-graphics, interests, passions, media consumption habits, digital behaviors, etc. — Who is your audience, and what drives them rationally and emotionally? How do you reach them?
Culture – Arts, sciences, sports, celebrity, politics — What is happening in the world of your consumer that you might consider, include, or avoid?
Marketplace – Industry trends, competition, socioeconomic considerations — What macro-industry forces are at play? How can you leverage these? What impact might they have on your strategy?
Marketing – Tools you, or other brands are using in both similar and different industries to engage with their audiences. — What’s working? What’s not? What might work for your industry / audience?
Point in time vs. ongoing relationships
Keep in mind, an experience is a point in time. Experiences can be physical, digital or human. Experiences are omni-channel. You are playing the long game and the experience you are creating is only part of an ongoing dialogue with your audience. In some cases, you will control the experiences, and in others you will not. The discipline of focus on what to accomplish at this particular interaction in the relationship is what will build a platform for success. There are different approaches, and different tools for each stage of a relationship. Broader, multi-tactic strategies, such as those used in Portfolio Planning, will help ensure meaningful, sustainable relationships with your audiences.
Timing, budget, agency capabilities, partnerships, resource availability and allocation, quality vs. quantity and other factors should all play a role in strategy development. If there are mission critical requirements to your strategy, or even minor nuances which are dependent on any of these things, it’s important to recognize them up front, plan for them or shift to an alternate strategy. Strategy that is not truly actionable is not a strategy at all. It is time and resources wasted. That which can go wrong, will, and contingencies must be accounted for.
Do your job
The role of an experiential strategy is to achieve objectives by motivating audiences to act on these objectives through the use of tactics which activate emotional and / or rational triggers. Your strategy and the tactics which bring it to life, must make them think, create understanding, make them feel something, and above all, persuade them to do something.
To quote Ram Charan, “Execution is the only strategy consumers see.” I’ve worked with dozens of strategists in my career, and the best of the best know that a strategy must be able to be simple enough that it is clearly understood and actionable above all else. There is a great deal of work that goes into setting measurable objectives, understanding all necessary inputs and crafting a brilliant plan. That said, your team need not read a 100-page dissertation to understand the strategy. Get to the point. Create a hypothesis, be able to support it, share the plan, articulate outcomes, and show how the plan can be executed. The best strategies are “tweetable”.
So for me, strategy is establishing measurable objectives, interpreting the marketplace, and creating an effective, executable plan that everyone can understand. What’s your perspective?