Steve Messenger, Managing Director at RedRoute International Ltd

Steve founded RedRoute in 2007 and its clients include Heathrow & Changi Airports and leading Experiential Marketing Agencies such as Circle and PrettyGreen. Steve’s knowledge comes from 8 years as a Director of OHAL (part of WPP), 4 as Global Marketing Analysis Manager for Diageo; 4 as Director of Business Insights for Sainsbury’s, and 7 as a Senior Director at Ipsos-Mori, pioneering the combination of customer transactional data and market research to improve marketing ROIs. Since 2011 he has also been assisting the IPM in developing its best practice approaches to measuring the ROI from Experiential marketing.


Back in June 2020, the FT reported that online media spends had just exceeded those of all traditional media. And this year, according to the latest estimates from the WPP-owned media group GroupM, spending on digital media is forecast to hit $936bn. But even as traditional media takes a backseat, there’s one area that’s bucking the trend – Experiential Marketing.

Spend on Experiential is expected to reach $79bn in 2024, impressive when, during lockdown 3 years ago, it was virtually zero everywhere and as Greg Klingaman, a keynote speaker at a recent Brand Experience conference noted: “Everyone in Every Industry is Eventually Going to Have an Experiential-First Strategy”

This is because, as digital marketing morphs into “phygital” marketing, even when there’s no direct connection between the experiential activity and digital media – like with the Red Bull Soap Box and Air Race events – they create content and stories people can share. Moreover, being immersed in a digital world has its limitations. People increasingly crave real-world experiences – especially younger age groups where 77% of millennials now prioritize spending on experiences over possessions, a significant shift in preferences towards finding memorable moments.

Research published in January 2024 showed that over 60% of marketers plan to allocate a higher budget to experiential marketing events in 2024, marking a growing belief in its effectiveness. Yet that same survey showed that 65% of marketers cited measuring ROI as the top challenge in executing experiential marketing campaigns, indicating the need for more analytical insights.

Measuring ROI is a Challenge

When it comes to seeing ‘how well your event or campaign has done’ there are many companies who will provide data on campaign reach, exposure, web hits, samples given out, dwell times, contacts made, and so on. Many will also provide data on how well the campaign was executed, important for knowing how to improve future engagement and effectiveness. Some also provide post-event surveys of how Brand Perceptions changed, such as how much the attendees liked the event, their likelihood to buy, likelihood to recommend, how many people they told about it, and what they said and shared about the event on their social media.

This is all highly relevant information in terms of the ‘value for money’ of the channel versus other media options but when marketers talk about “ROI” what they are really referring to is how well the activity increased future sales performance in both the short- and long-term. For many, measuring either or both of these is still a challenge – but it needn’t be.

Taking ROI Measurement to the Next Level

One of the big issues with measuring experiential ROI is that, relative to the cost, the number of people directly exposed to an event is relatively small, which limits the immediate and direct sales benefit of any activation. For example, some years ago, data on the impact of a nightclub activation for a major international drinks brand, showed the following results:

Example of Night Club Drinks Brand Activation Results

A profit of under £10,000 barely covered the cost of staging one event. So why do it? The answer, of course, is the social media coverage it generated and the ability to amplify it via other media.

The event was seen directly by about 10,000 people across the six cities covered but awareness of the event amongst 18 – 24-year-olds reached 18% nationally. It achieved over 13,000 Facebook Fans and the post-event market research showed marked increases in key brand image measures and the event itself achieved great ratings for “Originality” and creating a “Cool Night Out”.

The challenge is how to put a value on this direct and indirect brand experience given that most of the gain comes from the long-term benefits it produces, not the direct sales uplifts? The answer is to collect the right pre- and post-event market research data, which requires careful pre-planning but is quite do-able with the right techniques.

Valuing Experience – Experiential Impact Measurement

When people think about how to measure the return from Experiential events, they usually get stuck on the fact that, in most instances, you cannot track the post-event spending of those who were exposed to the activity. There are some exceptions, such as when the activity gathers sales leads which may then be followed through to purchase but those are limited in number.

Putting a value on the media exposure generated by the activity is, by contrast, widely understood and used. What is much less well-known is that you can extend that same principle to put a value on the change in attitudes towards the brand generated by that exposure. If you know how.

To make this comparison, before the campaign goes ahead you need to collect data on the relationship between current attitudes towards the brand (or the product, service, company, etc) and current share of wallet. Note that the attitudes that need to be collected are not simply Brand Perceptions. They tell you what people believe about the brand, not necessarily what they feel about it. Instead, you need to collect data on Brand Affinity. That is much more closely related to actual spending behaviour, actual likelihood to recommend, and actual likelihood to buy.

Brand Affinity measures people’s feelings about the brand across five key dimensions, also known as the 5 Axes of Buyer Motivation. These five are:

  • Relevancy (does this do what I need?)
  • Association (would I be proud to use this brand/company?)
  • Accessibility (how easy is it to use this solution?)
  • Value (is the benefit worth the time and money?)
  • Expectation (what are the chances I will be delighted with the result?)

The average score obtained across these five key attributes shows the strength and depth of the Affinity potential buyers have towards the brand and it is expressed on a scale from 0 to 100%. For a single brand, an example of the relationship between this metric and Willingness to Recommend can be seen in Chart 1 below for a leading home energy company. Such a direct relationship makes it highly useful for managing company KPIs like Net Promoter Score.

Chart 1 – Relationship between Brand Affinity and Willingness to Recommend.

But it is its relationship with Share of Wallet that is key for valuing the impact of Experiential.

Chart 2 shows the relationship between Share of Wallet and Brand Affinity for a computer gaming brand obtained from a pre-event sample of people registered to attend a national gaming exhibition where the brand would be staging its latest Experiential activity.

Comparing like-for-like, the level of Brand Affinity that existed pre- and post-event increased by 12%, from 77% to 89%. Moreover, the baseline relationship between Brand Affinity and Share of Wallet can then be used to estimate what that growth would be worth in terms of future additional sales from the c. 79,000 people who had seen the activity.

The chart shows the growth in Brand Affinity was equivalent to a gain in share of wallet of c.10%, which was worth over £5m in future brand sales, and an ROI from the event of over 7:1, which was definitely a statistic worth knowing.

Chart 2 – Example Relationship between Brand Affinity and Share of Wallet for a Computer Gaming Brand

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