Experiential and Field Marketing: A strategy checklist

Whether they’re trying cheese as they walk round a supermarket or having a full-on brand experience in a shopping centre, the customer sees and experiences the end result of serious planning and consultation. Field marketing can often be an afterthought for brands, considered not sexy at all. But we beg to differ.

Field marketing exists at the moment of truth, the exact time where the consumer is at the purchasing stage. You have that opportunity to change their buying habits in the place it matters most. You’re going to put your product into the customers’ hands (and mouths) face to face. Every element needs to be right. Experiential may take more creativity, but it still needs the same strategic basis.

Don’t leave a marketing experience out to dry. Build a campaign that works around these ten essential points – and avoid the all-too-common pitfalls we see brands fall into.

Ten things your strategy needs

1. Goals. What are you trying to achieve? In specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timed terms, what good is this marketing experience meant to do for your brand? Most brands want to generate sales, brand awareness, leads or feedback on new products, and need to track them by appropriate metrics: location, schedule, cost, and effect on the bottom line.

2. Clear vision. Why are you running an experiential marketing event? How do you want customers to feel? What do you want them to do? Vision is how you avoid becoming lost in the possibilities, and deliver a coherent experience for your customers-to-be.

3. Seasonal context. Line up your field marketing plans with the calendar. Align with the holidays, the sporting events and the predictable trends that will help your promotional game. Likewise, stay away from off-season oddities: nobody tries to sell barbecues in winter.

4. Audience. Who are you targeting? How do they like you to speak to them? What’s going to make them take time out of their day? This stage is informed by customer profiles and market segmentation. While you shouldn’t (obviously) be turning anyone away from your experience, it should be pitched to attract the right demographic, and staff should be briefed on who to single out from the crowds.

5. Brand Cohesion. This works on two levels. First, the basics of branding: visuals, vocabulary and values. Second, the brand strategy as a whole. What other marketing efforts are you making, and how can your experiential campaign support and enrich them?

6. Creative. How are you making your stand… stand out? And who are you bringing in to avoid sentences like that one? Creative talent elevates a basic marketing experience, and it delivers on the potential of a complex one. If you’re hell-bent on using VR, someone needs to make that experience look, sound and feel good.

7. Execution. Staffing, times, logistics. How will you ensure the experience, whatever it may be, runs smoothly on the day? People need briefing, training and a chance to become familiar with the experience before they start delivering it – not jumping into it on the day.

8. Comms. How are you promoting the experience? What channels will you be using: what’s your budget for newsprint or pay-per-click? Who will be monitoring the social media presence, and how will they be managing bad press from negative feedback?

9. Data collection. What will you be recording? Do you need consumer consent? What are you offering to encourage that consent – is this a good day for newsletter signups? This talks back to your goals – you need some way of measuring how well you’ve done, and making the most of the data you’ve collected so it can inform your later plans.

10. Before/During/After. What’s the overall plan for the experience – how early do you need to start preparing, and how will you get the most out of your work in the long term? Field and experiential marketing don’t stand alone – they’re part of a brand-wide push toward strategic goals, and they have ripple effects beyond the immediate uptick in sales.

All of this needs to be documented. This isn’t paperwork for paperwork’s sake: the strategy document provides a structure that allows you to explain the strategy to retailers and hosts, and it makes everyone involved aware of the higher level goals, the plan that goes beyond “introduce product to customer.” If it’s done properly, it’ll guide everyone from head office down to store staff level, explaining how the campaign’s going to work and what it needs from them.

Common mistakes

Making the experience too complex. It can be tempting to throw the kitchen sink at experiential marketing – VR headsets, huge multimedia touchscreens, banners, a mascot. Throw some indoor fireworks in there too – why not? But nothing beats a simple idea executed to perfection. Two weeks of product samples just before Christmas boosted Ferrero Rocher’s sales by an average of 186% – that’s well-timed, no-frills field marketing in action.

Failing to align your experiential marketing with the rest of your brand, or with the retailer, or with the calendar. If it’s Valentine’s Day, and the store’s running a two-for-one meal deal and a half price prosecco deal for couples while we run a dessert tasting session, we need to know about that. Our session can feed directly into those other activities, guiding customers to spend more – a direct benefit to the store.

Not securing wider buy in from retailers. The people you really need on your side are store management. They’re hard-working people who already have plenty of responsibilities to balance, before brand folks come in, on head office’s say so, and disrupt their daily operations. Get store management on your side and you’ll have the space and support you need, store staff sharing in your experience, and a far more successful day.

There are dozens of clichés about planning that we could use to round this off, but you’ve probably heard them all before. The truth is, experiential and field marketing are bigger than the experience itself. If your activities aren’t aligned with strategic goals, other activities, and retailer operations, you’ll struggle to make them pay off. The more forward planning and alignment you can manage, the more effective your marketing will be.

To see how we’ve helped other brands clarify their campaigns and set their strategy, explore the work we’ve done.