Choosing an experiential marketing company to engage your brand’s audience can be an overwhelming process…however, knowing what to look for and which questions to ask will empower you to cut through the noise and make a well-informed decision. This guide will explore the most important qualities to focus on when selecting an experiential marketing company to engage your brand’s audience, including how to identify red flags early to avoid wasting time.
A decade of Experiential Growth
The explosive growth of experiential marketing over the last 10 years has introduced new players to the marketing field who have created some truly inspired campaigns. Unfortunately, the industry’s growth has also produced a slew of experiential companies willing to promise nearly anything to get a client’s business; make sure you pick a team capable of delivering on their promises. Generally, the best companies take the approach of under-promising and over-delivering…not the other way around. Always ask to see the photo and video examples of similar projects a company has produced. If you’re asking for something that’s never been done before, make sure they have concrete steps in mind as to how it will be accomplished.
Experiential businesses and brands should be equally selective of one another; misalignment of brand & agency values is often reflected in the consumers’ experience. Select the team that best connects with your brand. A fundamental understanding of your brand’s audience is what will enable them to design experiences that resonate with target consumers on an emotional level.
Experiential marketing is, at its core, a highly-evolved form of story-telling. The purpose of which is to develop positive, emotion-based relationships between consumers and brands; such that when a consumer chooses your brand over a competitor’s, they are making a ‘gut decision’ that feels right on a visceral level. This intuitive reaction and subsequent decision stem from the emotions they feel when thinking about your brand and remember experiences they associate with your products or services.
If possible, meet some of the company’s back-of-house employee, especially those responsible for producing client activations. The account executive you work with may be your best friend, but he’s not the one behind the scenes doing all the heavy lifting.
Here are some key things to keep in mind:
a. How happy are employees and how much do they enjoy their job? Experiential marketing at its best is a lot of fun for everyone involved. While it is also sometimes stressful and extremely demanding of a team’s time and attention to detail, the final result should be as enjoyable to those who produced it as to the consumers it reaches. This passion and contagious energy is the key ingredient to successful experiential companies.
b. How long do employees remain with the company on average? This can be done via LinkedIn or by simply asking team members privately. If average employee turnover is less than a year, that often indicates either poor leadership, an overextended production department or both. Experiential marketing has exploded over the last 10 years and with that growth, some very unscrupulous characters have set up shop to make a quick profit at the expense of their clients and employees. Their business model is simple; hire smart kids right out of college, pay them nothing, and work them 24/7 until they quit or burn out. This is not sustainable and does not contribute positively to anything except the CEO’s bank account. A company’s values, vision, and energy should be shared by all team members.
c. A potential red flag is a sales department that is much bigger than the production department. If an experiential company is not maintaining client relationships over the long-term, they most likely are not doing good work and overcharging for it. Simply put, clients don’t leave without a reason; they begin their search anew only if there is no future with their current agency.
d. When you meet with an experiential company, do they seem eager to share their ideas and examples of past work? Do you find yourself getting increasingly excited as they communicate them? If you can’t feel the energy they bring to the table, you are probably operating at completely different frequencies.
Finally, you want to make sure your team has a good reputation within the industry. Not only does a negative reputation limit the vendors and resources a company has access to, insider credibility goes a long way towards ensuring a buttoned-up execution that is both on-time and on budget. While a young & scrappy team may have the motivation and willpower to produce great results, they may lack the industry connections necessary to cut through the red tape that can slow down less seasoned teams.
The permitting process is a prime example. An agency that does regular business with permitting offices has established a rapport with permitting officers. This means they can often get informal, verbal approval of a client’s permits in advance of them being issued. On the other hand, a startup cold-calling a city’s permitting office would not be shown those same courtesies; their clients could accomplish just as much by picking up the phone and calling themselves.
It all comes down to common sense: vendors work hardest for their best customers, companies with happy employees thrive, businesses that burn bridges with partners and clients isolate themselves and become islands. Don’t get stranded on one of these islands. No matter how idyllic it seems, you’ll end up going down with the ship. Instead, aspire to partner your brand with a team of bridge builders, with those who are constantly seeking out new connections to drive their business goals and those of their clients in the right direction.