It is common knowledge that marketing is an established business discipline. Marketing-mavens such as Philip Kotler, Kevin L. Keller, and Seth Godin wrote seminal literature for marketing practitioners and students to revisit ideas and opinions. However, with the world becoming more globalised, populated, and consumption reaching new extremes, marketers face the challenge that target audiences cannot help but ignoring advertisements due to an overload of marketing communications; consumers are said to be exposed to thousands of marketing messages every day (Marshall, 2015). At the same time, their attention span is at an all-time low (McSpadden, 2015). These challenges force marketers to try out new marketing and communication approaches.
Various literature points to the effectiveness of consciously adding experiences to marketing efforts. At the beginning of the 1980’s, Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) explained that consumption involves emotional components of fantasies, feelings, and fun, which are essential in the creation of a brand experience. Schmitt (1999) developed his experiential marketing model upon sensory, affective, creative, physical, and social-identity experiences. Pine and Gilmore (1999) added the notion that brand experiences needed to be memorable. McCarville and Stinson (2014) support that view and state that memorable experiences “create emotional attachment to an intended [sports] product” (p. 63). Similarly, Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello (2009) and Walter, Cleff and Chu (2013) elaborate on brand experience dimensions positively affecting future-directed consumer loyalty. All of the above-mentioned literature shows the importance that a thoroughly planned experience can have on branding and, eventually, on the loyalty of consumers towards the brand. Hence, adding an experience dimension to marketing becomes crucial.
According to Schmitt (1999), the idea of experiential marketing is based upon (1) the omnipresence of information technology, (2) the supremacy of the brand, and (3) the ubiquity of integrated communications and entertainment. Figure 1 underlines point (1) and (3) by depicting the obvious global increase in subscriptions for mobile-cellular telephones, individuals using the Internet, active mobile-broadband, and fixed broadband. Point (2), the supremacy of the brand, is a topic that has been investigated in different industries by various researchers. Vrontis (1998, p. 83-84) emphasised that “When fighting for market share in the brewing industry, strategies centred around branding are of paramount importance.” A survey by De Chernatony (1991) confirmed that consumers seek only a low number of cues to differentiate between brands, which supports the notion that branding is an essential discipline in the marketing process of products and services. Similarly, in sports, a strong brand ensures the loyal behaviour of fans even when the team has a losing season and it allows the team to offer brand extensions across geographic boundaries (Burmann and Schade, 2010).
Defining experiential marketing
The term experiential marketing has been defined by different scholars with different emphasis. The most appropriate definition in the context of this post is given by Smilansky (2009, p. 13):
“Experiential marketing is the process of identifying and satisfying customer needs and aspirations profitably, engaging them through two-way communications that bring brand personalities to life and add value to the target audience.”
The key elements in Smilansky’s definition are: profitably, two-way communication, and adding value to the target audience. We will look for these elements in the following exercise. Another valuable definition is given by Same and Larimo (2012, p. 485), who state that experiential marketing is a tactical, rather than a strategic experience marketing approach central to integrated marketing communications plans.
Experiential marketing through social media
This post seeks to portray how the Experiential Grid by Schmitt (1999) can be used to create brand experiences in the social media context of a football club. We look at the social media activities of the Major League Soccer (MLS) club New York City FC (NYCFC) and place them in the Experiential Grid to show how the model can be used by a professional football brand.
The Experiential Grid is built upon two main dimensions: (1) strategic experiential modules (SEMs) and (2) experiential providers (ExPros), see Figure 2. Strategic experiential modules (SEMs) are objectives and strategies of marketing efforts in the context of experiential marketing and include the modules SENSE, FEEL, THINK, ACT, and RELATE (Schmitt, 1999, pp. 64-68, capitalization in original). Experiential providers (ExPros) are tactical implementation components at the disposal of the marketer for creating a SENSE, FEEL, THINK, ACT, or RELATE campaign in the context of experiential marketing and include communications, visual and verbal identity, product presence, co-branding, spatial environments, electronic media, and people (Schmitt, 1999, p. 72, capitalization in original). In the context of this exercise, the ExPro electronic media/website is in continuous application for all SEMs, since social media is the underlying electronic media environment of the analysis.
Strategic application of the Experiential Grid at New York City FC
Sensory/aesthetic experience: Schmitt (1999) explains, “Although any SEM may be instantiated via any ExPro, certain ExPros fit certain SEMs better than others”, and he continues by stating that identity and signage, as well as product presence are the places to start (p. 219). The example of NYC FC demonstrates the obvious use of the NYCFC crest as the primary identity and icon for all social media channels; given that the most obvious product is the football game, it is undoubtedly the main subject of most social media communication (see Figure 3).
Figure 4 shows that the ExPro co-branding can be found in various posts with partner brands such as Mastercard or Only NY. Furthermore, the NYC FC includes and tags people, brands or other personalities like footballers David Villa Sanchez, Tim Cahill, Australian partner club Melbourne City FC, or the Cookie Monster in their posts making smart use of the ExPro people.
Affective/emotional experience: According to Schmitt (1999), “People deliver feelings at point of consumption and use communication to “frame” the consumption experience. (p. 219)”
In the context of experiential marketing on social media, it can be observed that NYC FC does not provide an affective and emotional experience through the ExPros communication and people, as suggested by Schmitt. The brand hardly engages its followers on social media in a qualitative two-way conversation or introduces the person who is posting the content. This can be done by simply picking up (ideally positive) comments on Twitter, Facebook or similar and engage fans. Additionally, adding the name or abbreviation of the commenting club representative would provide a human dimension to the conversation.
I could not find any of these actions on recent NYC FC social media activities. What I found, however, is that NYC FC engaged in the #FollowFriday campaign on August 12, 2016, and acknowledged a few supporters, who tag friends to follow the club (see Figure 5). Still, a more elaborate conversation could create a deeper bond between highly engaged supporters and the club.
Intellectual/educational experience: Schmitt (1999) explains that the most appropriate ExPros for an educational experience are communications and products, and the ingredients for a successful THINK campaign include: (1) creating a sense of positive surprise, either visually, verbally, or conceptually, (2) adding intrigue to arouse users’ curiosity, puzzle, and fascinate them, and (3) provoke to stimulate discussion or create controversy.
The only campaign that I could find, which encompasses the three above-mentioned ingredients to a certain extent is the 20 Questions video campaign. Players receive 20 questions not necessarily related to football. This gives viewers the opportunity to get to know the players from a different perspective. The answers can include positive surprises, might arouse curiosity, and stimulate discussion, if a player says something completely unexpected and potentially inappropriate. However, since the videos are pre-produced, I would expect most clubs to cut out any comment that creates controversy.
NYC FC produces an abundant amount of digital content, such as photos, videos, infographics, and live video broadcasts on social media. Nevertheless, none of the content is truly educational in a digital brand experience context, as mentioned above. The biggest potential might be given by the 20 Questions videos, which have the potential to positively surprise, intrigue, and provoke its viewers. For instance, asking a player like Villa, Lampard or Pirlo highly relevant and elaborated questions can surprise and intrigue the audience. Then, a thought-provoking answer by a star will stimulate a discussion and hopefully create engagement across digital platforms. A detailed briefing of the interviewees about the idea of the THINK campaign is essential to produce the best possible content.
Update (3 June 2021): The 20 Questions videos are no longer available on the New York City FC YouTube channel. A similar example is offered with the following video, #AskLampard | Episode 1.
Relational/reference-group experience: The prime objective of a RELATE campaign is building a relationship between the social meaning of the brand and the customer (Schmitt, 1999, p. 171). The ExPros environment and people are to be used to achieve the objective of creating a Us mentality. The hypothesis that a group identity – hence, a relational brand experience – is easier to be amplified in a sports brand setting than in another sector, holds objective validity. Photos and videos that portray NYC FC players and fans together foster the Us mentality and strengthen the reference-group experience. Emotional content that relates to the city of New York enhances the feeling of being a New York with all the other New York City fans, as the following video shows.
Clubs such as Borussia Dortmund or Manchester City FC produce a large amount of digital content that shows the fans as the main subject of that content. NYC FC lacks behind these clubs. Only a small percentage of digital content produced in this regard was found. The NYC FC Instagram feed mostly portrays their main football players and does not publish many, if any, photos of fans. A handful of recent videos on the NYC FC YouTube channel can be categorised as relational, see here: Cityzens attend Open Training, Tony Taylor surprises kids at PS 29 in the Bronx, NYCFC and Seattle fans united by soccer, or NYCFC fans get married at Yankee Stadium. A dedicated campaign to feature fans and fan activities could boost the RELATE experience, just the way the NYC FC sister club Manchester City FC does it.
Interactive experience: In regard to to the exercise at hand, ACT marketing strategies are designed to create user experiences related to longer-term patterns of behaviour and lifestyles as well as experiences occurring as a result of interacting with other people (Schmitt, 1999, p. 154). This means, the existence of an engaging community built around the NYC FC brand provides fertile ground for an interactive experience. Social media channels offer by nature a social component with its technology. Nonetheless, the brand holds responsibility for the management of these platforms and for inciting an interactive experience through conversation and engagement. Schmitt points out that the main ExPros for an ACT campaign are communications and product, like for a THINK campaign.
Unfortunately, I was not able to find a truly interactive experience on any of the social media of NYC FC, except the #FollowFriday tweet, as shown above. Although their content has a wide reach and collects thousands of likes, favs, and hearts across all platforms, not many comments are given to the content. Comments instigate conversation and add a more sentimental and qualitative dimension to an engaging and interactive experience. This can be done by asking a simple question in the copy that comes with the photo or video. Furthermore, when broadcasting a live video on Facebook or Periscope, the audience can be directly addressed and involved in the actual production of the live video stream. The interactive brand experience must be considered as a crucial part of the digital experience strategy, since social media implies a social component by definition. It is safe to claim that a brand that does not amplify interactivity through social media misses out on a great opportunity to strengthen the connection with fans and other users.
NYC FC produces relevant, informative visual content for all their online channels. Furthermore, the management of their social media presence is throughout professional. However, the NYC FC brand experience on social media lacks engagement and diversity. The experience requests limited participation from its users and is mostly absorbent than immersive – see post Applying the Experience Economy model to the Periscope channel of a football club for detailed definition. NYC FC has great potential to create an all-around engaging brand experience on social media, but all SEMs need to be re-designed with the appropriate ExPros in mind. But that is something we will discuss in a future post.
- Brakus, J., Schmitt, B. and Zarantonello, L. (2009). Brand Experience: What Is It? How Is It Measured? Does It Affect Loyalty? Journal of Marketing, 73(3), pp. 52-68.
- Burmann, C. and Schade, M. (2016). The brand image of professional sport teams – an analysis of relevant brand benefits and the relevance of brand personality. Available at: http://www.brand-management.usi.ch/Abstracts/Monday/BrandpersonalityIII/Monday_BrandpersonalityIII_Schade.pdf [Accessed 31 Jul. 2016].
- De Chernatony, L. (1991). Facilitating consumer choice decisions: the importance of branding cues. British Food Journal, 93(9), pp. 50-56.
- Holbrook, M. and Hirschman, E. (1982). The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun. The Journal of Consumer Research, 9(2), pp. 132-140.
- Marshall, R. (2015). How Many Ads Do You See in One Day? [Blog]. Available at: http://www.redcrowmarketing.com/2015/09/10/many-ads-see-one-day/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2016].
- McCarville, R. and Stinson, J. (2014). Creating Value as Part of Sport Marketing. In: M. Pritchard and J. Stinson, ed., Leveraging brands in sport business, 1st ed. New York: Routledge, pp. 51-65.
McSpadden, K. (2015). You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. [Online]. Available at: http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2016].
- Pine II, J. and Gilmore, J. (1999). The Experience Economy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
- Same, S. and Larimo, J. (2012). Marketing theory: Experience marketing and experiential marketing. In: 7th International Scientific Conference “Business and Management 2012”. Vilnius: Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, pp. 480- 487.
- Schmitt, B. (1999). Experiential Marketing: How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, Relate to your Company and Brands. New York: Free Press.
- Smilansky, S. (2009). Experiential marketing. London: Kogan Page.
- Vrontis, D. (1998). Strategic assessment: the importance of branding in the European beer market. British Food Journal, 100(2), pp. 76-84.
- Walter, N., Cleff, T. and Chu, G. (2013). Brand experience’s influence on customer satisfaction and loyalty: A mirage in marketing research? International Journal of Management Research and Business Strategy, 2(1), pp. 130-144.