There’s increasing emphasis lately on what’s called “experiential marketing”, but like many things in our marketing world there’s nothing new about it – apart from the name.  These things just used to be referred to as “promotions” and looking through my archive of case studies that fall readily into the “experiential” category, I’m reassured to see that there have always been clients who recognise the value of this kind of initiative and are good them.

Take a client of mine from 2002/3.  A telco from Central Europe, now absorbed by a global operator, that had made headlines for having built a powerful and successful (by any measure) consumer-based brand and was trying to build on the values that had made them so successful with private subscribers and repeat that success in the business sector.

Our target was successful, entrepreneurial businesses, which in a developing market meant SME’s and Sole Traders.  We found a dozen (who we nicknamed “The Daring Dozen”) that had already succeeded and produced a book of case studies and a series of ten-minute TV programmes profiling each.  National TV, eager for local content were happy to run these in pre-evening-news slots.  We then launched a national campaign called “The Thirteenth Chair” throwing down the gauntlet to would-be entrepreneurs to take their place alongside these successful small businesses.

The red swivel-chair that we used throughout, photographed empty and in a spot-light, became the campaign icon and the key competition and the book was promoted through trade associations, on the telco’s web site, in their stores, using viral and press media with  links at the end of the TV segments, and in the book, to the campaign web site where candidates could register and subscribe to the campaign pack.  The mechanic was straightforward enough.  Candidates completed a business plan using a template that we provided and each submission went through a short-listing process, culminating in a chosen few being invited to a “show and tell” like “Dragon’s Den” where a panel, made up from the twelve original entrepreneurs and representatives of my client, voted to contribute to financing to one of the plans.

From there the winning candidate was filmed as their business evolved throughout the next twelve months.  Press coverage was phenomenal during the run-up and after the award was announced and we were almost fighting applications off with a stick (although, as you might expect from a developing market, there were rather a lot of “spoiled applications”).

Was it one of those “big ideas” that I tend to ramble on about? – Well, yes, I guess it might qualify.  Could you repeat this event in a more mature market? – Probably not, certainly at the level of investment we were making back then, but with the new mobile technologies that are now available, there would be a whole lot of additional elements and valuable mileage to be gained if you could.  It just goes to show that “experiential marketing” isn’t something that was just invented and I’m sure that it will be with us, whatever its called, for a long time yet.

Michael Weaver
November 2, 2009

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