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Opinion: Experiential’s Big Bounce Back

Dan MacDonnell, founder of Neon Agency says the future for the experiential marketing industry looks bright as more and more brands use it as part of the marketing mix.

The scene is a two-tier Italian restaurant sitting on top of Trinity Street Carpark. Custom built for 10 days, it is the biggest brand installation in Dublin for years and the very first to utilise the roof top experience.

An exclusive, invite-only event, guests wait in a fully kitted out retail unit on Dame Lane. They are then chaperoned via a lift to the roof top where they walk out into a different world with open air raised terraces perched on top of steel structures, decorative performance areas, Italian style bars and two-star Michelin chefs providing the staples.

The House of Peroni experience was built for 100 people only at a time, but it was important to ensure it was the right 100 people, and by bringing them on a journey and engaging with them, this 100 people turned into tens of thousands as they shared their experience online.

New Age Experiential

In the past, we counted ourselves lucky when marketing strategies included an offline experience supported by traditional PR but these days we welcome the era of “new age experiential” strategy.

Experiential marketing has come thundering into popularity with huge force over the past few years as brands squabble for cut through, consumer recruitment and to trend on social. By harnessing the strategic power of experience through meaningful consumer touch points and smart influencer marketing, brands are creating a love affair with their audience. This combination of the physical and digital worlds creates a winning strategy for brands.

I firmly believe that this has come full circle, as people no longer care for showing off what they have, rather they wish to show off what they have experienced. By showing your experience be they brand led or not, you can appeal in an easier fashion to your following. It is also because of the trend in brands growing with their audiences has increased, and as the first mover generation of social gets older, brands take advantage of this to communicate to them in easier and more relevant ways. Experiential really allows us to tap into current culture while delivering a brand message.

We are championing an era of new age experiential marketing and it is here to stay. An era where brands rely heavily on both the physical and social worlds to immerse, captivate, and engage their audience. This is old age “field marketing” on steroids, totally reimagined and combined with the potential of the online world.

The “P for promotion” from the marketing mix, is being cleverly manipulated by the ever-evasive 5th P- “People” (who are behind the brands) who are becoming braver as they utilize the former in the only way it will survive nowadays. I remember working the sponsor field at the Daytona 500 in Florida where $2m trailer set ups competed for audiences, and this now pales in comparison in terms of impact when you add social and digital into the mix.

The Phydigital World

Combining the physical and digital worlds in experiential marketing was well established pre COVID, but the pandemic highlighted the importance and the longevity of this winning formula.  A lot of our clients were aware that when it came to customer engagement and brand advocacy, social was one channel that could be optimised.

The growth opportunities for Neon lay here as opposed to focusing heavily on virtual or broadcast events. Neon Agency launched our PHYGITAL offering just before COVID, but the onset of the pandemic meant that we had to supercharge this aspect of the business. We brought physical experiential activity online, and combined thought-led emotive concepts with the influencer factor to deliver powerful brand messages.

It took months to get proper traction as people could not make decisions, but over the past 4-5 months we have seen a strong and steady recovery which all going well, will hit towards the backend of the year and will mean we are back in growth by 2022.

We have reacted well to the pandemic and maintained and grown our team. We are doing more international business than ever before. However, I’m aware that not all businesses have had this luxury to be able to adapt the way Neon Agency has.

As chairman of The Event Industry Alliance. The Event Industry Alliance (EIA) represents all Professional organisations within the Irish Event industry and as a whole the industry has been hit hard with many struggling to survive. The industry is worth €3.5bn to the Irish economy and employs 35,000 people. Traditional event management companies including those involved in brand led activity, corporate events, business to business, exhibitions etc account for nearly half of the revenue, with commercial live events, performance and community events making up the balance.

Government Inaction

The SMEs supporting this industry do not qualify for any of the current supports, with the exception of the EWSS. The smaller schemes such as the MEBAS or SBACS amount to tokenism given how much these companies contribute to the economy. For example, to qualify for the LPSS you need to have arts and culture as part of your proposed event in order to be considered, and only a select few companies will get to work these events in reality.

We have called on government for immediate action and support by way of a scheme comparable to the CRSS to help these businesses. Pre COVID our industry was growing at 30% a year so it is a viable industry.

As of Q3 2021, Neon Agency will be back on track to hitting our key financial targets and will return to full growth strategy in Q1 2022. We are also aiming to triple the size of our team within the next three years. We envisage that as we are permitted to open back to near normal levels of activation, events and live entertainment, the industry will bounce back and will be very strong for the second half of 2021.

From sitting on the live entertainment working group, the message is clear- we will return to ‘live’ in a safe and professionally managed environment all going well from September 2021. However, even with the restrictions placed on the industry, within Neon Agency, we expect to see a 320-350% increase in revenue for 2021 versus 2020. While this will only bring us back to pre-Covid levels, it shows that we are one of the most resilient, adaptive, and strongest industries in the country.

You will never kill the live event, people will always crave experience.

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