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Are Emotions the Best Measurement of Experiential Marketing?

We talk with Patricia Houston of MMR-LIVE about getting emotional about experience ROI

Experiential measurement was a hot topic at Event Marketer’s Experiential Marketing Summit in May. The knee-jerk question asked after most case study presentations was, How did you measure the experience?” 

While many try and cast traditional performance indicators on the event and activation space, the results often feel limited in the story they tell of an experience’s value and impact, which makes this measurement still feel in its infancy.

At Cramer, we believe that the most successful brands connect with their customers and employees on an emotional level. The best emotional connections in events and activations can motivate, engage, and convert.

Do emotional connections provide the greatest insight on the return of an experience? 

We caught up with Patricia Houston, founder and COO of MMR LIVE after her presentation made the case for a big conversation shift around experiential measurement. 

You indicate that evaluating an experiential strategy using key emotional indicators (KEIs) can create a two-way conversation between brand and customer. What does this conversation look like and yield?

The emotional connections that brands make — both positive and negative— tell you if the overall messaging resonates as intended. Brand perceptions are driven by what the marketplace thinks and feels and not by what brands declare they are.

KEIs augment KPIs. Brand experiences aren’t measured in star ratings; they are measured in feelings. Typically, the negative responses are the most telling. Emotional measurement is about reducing friction and meeting needs. 

I learn more from a frustrated consumer than I do a delighted one. The unhappy person tells me what I need to fix; the happy one tells me my system is working. 

Emotional responses show you how to customize a communication stream for a given customer; it gives you the context needed to respond in a way that builds trust. 

The activation level is like the Super Bowl of the brand experience, and professionals in this space understand that every detail communicates something. They are used to choreographing multiple moving parts and stakeholders. But stepping back and looking for friction points while the activation is in progress can be challenging. 

The big challenge in experiential measurement, especially in B2B marketing, is how do we credit a specific experience when the buyer’s journey could be long and across multiple touchpoints. 

Houston: Each touchpoint should be reviewed to ensure it is aligned with the overall experience strategy and that it is generating the desired reaction. The goal is to shift to a more strategic review versus a customer-by-customer look at what’s making them convert; the customer-by-customer view becomes a diagnostic. 

Ideally every brand touchpoint could be collected into a CRM that shows each action taken as a result of different brand interactions. This is challenging — not only because data can be siloed across departments, but also because so many touchpoints are not initiated by the brand, but by the marketplace. 

What ways can these KEIs be measured now, and how do you think we should be measuring them in the future? 

Houston: We’re a believer in both low-tech and tech-driven approaches; you have to pick the right solution for the business challenge or experience at hand. Tech driven approaches can be more precise and custom, but often require being online which can be challenging in the live event or activation space. 

We sometimes use an old-school, paper-based approach that allows people to draw their own emotion on a blank face. Valuable data can be as simple as a frown or smile. It’s a much more natural response for someone to say they are delighted or frustrated, versus how likely they are to recommend your brand. 

In every case we take a two-step approach that allows participants to express which emotion they feel, and then ask for unstructured feedback… either dialing in on the intensity of that emotional reaction or providing open ended comments. The key is ensuring you allow for emotions that are appropriate based on respondent context. 

And how do you respond to those invested in experiences but ask how tracking emotions can translate to profits? 

At a high level, making a sale is an outcome of your brand making an emotional connection with your audience. Numerous studies explore how emotions motivate us, but it’s very hard to pinpoint the specific emotional motivator that leads to a specific sale. 

Sales triggers are not discrete, emotion driven or not, but since we can attribute certain behaviors to certain marketing activities, we often think they are. Just because you can link a marketing or experiential action to an email or person doesn’t account for context. That linkage is important data, but it is never a holistic picture. 

Our work includes linking emotional reactions to behaviors. There’s a lot of value there, but what we are trying to achieve is helping organizations maximize that value by customizing messaging and responses. It’s not about proving that emotions translate into sales. That’s a core belief and strategy level decision. It’s about creating lasting emotional connections. 

Every touchpoint becomes part of the brand experience, companies who prioritize experience-driven strategies can become market leaders. 

At Cramer we serve mostly B2B clients, so it is interesting to dive deeply into the ways emotion and measurement translate for client and employee connections. 

Here’s what Ian McGonnigal, Cramer senior vice president of strategic accounts, had to say about how B2B brands should consider the role of emotion in their events and experiences.

McGonnigal: In the B2B environment, emotional response still plays a critical role: employee motivation, customer brand loyalty or advocacy. As marketers, salespeople and event professionals alike, first and foremost, we need to understand the role that events play in the overall process. 

For externally-facing customer events, this may include driving consideration and preference on the front end of the funnel, or retention and expansion at the back end. For internal events, it’s typically more about education, celebration or motivation as organizations look to align their stakeholders to a concept, idea or direction. 

Measurement should be simple and based upon the core objective of any event. Start with a single success metric first. Ask What was my objective?” and Did this event meet this objective?” Then look to tools like KEIs to diagnose and understand why an objective was or was not met.

If we’re to measure anything with brand experiences, it needs to be predicated upon the role in the sales cycle and what it contributes to their customer lifetime value. A series of touches, engagements and experiences drives the relationship — not just one. 

Are Emotions the Best Measurement of Experiential Marketing? is part of our obsession with:

Event Experience Design

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