Experiential Marketing Playing an Increasingly Important Role in Town Centre Rejuvenation

In this article, Kevin Cavilla, Managing Director of Location Live, discusses the important role of experiential marketing when it comes to rejuvenating town centres.

Experiential marketing, which is designed to physically immerse consumers in brands and their products, is now recognised as an increasingly important media in brand growth and market traction.

Consumer polls make it abundantly clear that the public prefers the ‘real thing’ over digital interactions, and consumers have an ever-increasing appetite for new brand experiences. Pent-up demand from the Covid pandemic lockdowns only amplified the desire for real-world consumer engagement which increases both consumer trust and loyalty in a brand. Bottom line: people are more likely to invest in brands they have ‘met’.

Through 2021, we saw were significant demographic shifts and more targeted brand activations which refocused budgets to innovative locations and in particular town centres.

The dynamics at play were intriguing as campaign planners were forced to revise previous ‘standard campaign models’. Firstly, government restrictions initially pushed consumers outdoors. Brands had to adapt and meet their audiences in new comfort zones: outside spaces located more locally where less travel was involved. This led to regional brand activations in a host of towns across the UK as part of a notable decentralisation of experiential activity formerly dominated by spaces in the largest cities.

Landlords now had to respond to the new space demand and plan to commercialise locations with unfulfilled potential that were previously off the experiential grid. City squares, high streets, and parks along with other natural traffic conversion points in, or close by, town centres took on new leases of life as space demand surged when social distancing rules were relaxed.

Brands approached these new environments enthusiastically but also with an element of strategic caution. Experiential marketing campaigns involving brand pop-ups and mobile displays became effective ‘test-the-water’ steppingstones to potentially more-permanent brand representations in town centres.

Typical campaigns

Typically, a well-designed campaign would provide consumers with a truly immersive brand experience where they can not only touch and feel, but also test and try products. Word gets around, selfies are posted, and social media uploads follow; footfall increases and there is a palpable buzz around a newly arrived brand promotional display.

The anticipation accompanying technology launches, in particular, epitomises how experiential marketing can optimise this net-positive effect. Other retailers in the vicinity benefit from the stimulus and in a synergistic outcome, the whole town centre is energised. Best experiential outcomes turn brand pop-ups into permanent community retail residents and landlords enjoy returns on previously unexploited inventory.

These more localised outdoor campaigns provide a new challenge to brands and agencies, requiring a different kind of search. Through our lo:live platform, we were capturing data and insights into these emerging trends: footfall was less important than visitor demographics (% of ABC1 visitors, for example), the proximity to other outlets became increasingly important (with food and beverage a key driver), as was the demand for power and vehicle access for a new breed of mobile displays. Larger outdoor spaces were in high demand and information on alcohol licensing rules were frequently requested.

Landlords who responded to these fast-changing supply-and-demand drivers by engaging with the marketplace proactively benefitted the most. By interacting with agencies and brands, they witnessed first-hand the creative possibilities of experiential marketing and how their spaces could be transformed, which helped them reimagine the potential of other inactive locations in their portfolio. So experiential campaigns in town centres can be hugely net positive and result in a win-win outcome through the collaboration of brands, agencies, and landlords.

Do brand activation campaigns still have a place in the inexorable shift to online shopping? Yes, more than ever! Consumers are reassured by the local presence of a brand, which, in turn, gives them more confidence to press the online purchase button. So, we can expect more brands to take to the road, more frequently, and with more regional geographical bandwidth to experiential campaigns.

As a final word on the destiny of the industry, technology will be the common language in the discovery and procurement of experiential space and finding innovative and never-before-used locations. There is a revolution taking place in virtual campaign planning and remote decision making through the digitisation of the marketplace. AI-backed search functionality and immersive 3D graphics are now enabling planners to become more agile, cost-effective, and immeasurably faster in finding and exploiting effective locations.

Experiential marketing cannot rejuvenate town centres alone, but it has been playing a key role by bringing a new investment in creativity and brand-engagement energy to local retail communities which suffered during the pandemic. All eyes are on the emerging data to assess whether this trend is set to endure through 2022.