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30 Jun 18

The ins and outs of experiential marketing: Joji George's Interview

Let's begin with a question that has been plaguing the industry for a long time now: how can companies take marketing to a whole new level and involve their customers? The very rise of this question led us to the term called Experiential Marketing. An advertising strategy that focuses on helping consumers experience a brand, experiential marketing differs from traditional strategies that broadcast brand and product benefits to a wide audience. A marketing strategy that engages the consumer in a personal way and creates a real-life experience that will be remembered. This type of marketing focuses on appealing to the emotional side of the consumers and the brand is woven with their emotions in such a way that every time that memory is relished, the brand name is also recalled.

As our team wanted to explore this topic a little deeper, we decided to speak to one of the most pivotal personalities in the business who understands experiential marketing at its very core, Mr. Joji George. Hailed as a seasoned business leader with over 20 years of experience in entertainment media, digital and live events globally, Joji has been associated with companies like MTV Asia, Astro plc., Yahoo!, Percept Sports & Entertainment, Sony Music, United Business Media and WWE South Asia.

Joji George is a seasoned business leader with over 20 years of experience in entertainment media, digital and live events globally. Joji graduated with a distinction in economics. He is a fellow of Wharton Business School, the University of Pennsylvania and also done the Advanced Management Program from the University of Chicago - Booth School of Business. 
He started his corporate career with Sony Music in India and was part of the core team that set up the company. He has worked with companies like MTV Asia, Astro plc. , Yahoo!, Percept Sports & Entertainment, Sony Music, United Business Media and WWE South Asia.
He is an avid film and theatre enthusiast, antique collector and enjoys traveling to offbeat locations.

Here are some of the excerpts from his interview:

  • You have worked in B2B as well as B2C events, what are the most critical elements of experiential marketing in both the sectors?

I think the most crucial element is shifting your focus from experience to what consumer wants from the experience. Everyone is too obsessed with getting all the elements of the event right without stepping back and reflecting on what a customer really wants and how can the experience, the brand integration be made seamless so that you can make the memory converted to the conversation. It is also important to get a seamless integration across all touchpoints before, during and after the experience which rarely happens. In one survey, conducted by the CMO Council of USA, on key attributes of an exceptional experience, 52% said they wanted fast response times to their needs and queries. I believe it’s important to have a quantitative perspective on what is relevant to the consumer versus what you think is going to make a great event.

  • What are your thoughts on the evolution of scale of events and their sponsorships in India and South East Asia?

I think sponsorships haven’t really evolved. 10-15 Years ago, before organizing an event, organizers used to analyze the environment to see what kind of events have a large following and differentiate them based on demographics, genres etc. So what happens is a plethora of the same thing. It’s like music, a ‘new’ sound creates a breakthrough and then you have a flood of similar sounding singers. But more importantly, I have always questioned the sponsor’s view. How do sponsors look at it? Sponsors look at experiences based on the brand fit, target audience and venue size/ how many people are going to view or attend the event, advertising plan etc and to me that has not evolved at all. The only difference being the addition of a new metric due to marketing environmental pressure, that is the digital plan.

The fact is most brand custodians have very little understanding of what exactly is consumer experiential marketing. They have been looking at the events from a media buyers perspective instead of a consumer’s perspective. Just as digital engagement is quantified based on shares, likes, and comments, a similar approach should be followed for experiential marketing as well. it should be based on the conversations made out of the experiences people had in the experience and if that can be quantified then experiential marketing has been achieved. The concept is to attach a value to the overall likability, experience and memories created out of an event instead of measuring the event only in terms of salience. If it is just a numbers game, then that should be called a media buy instead of experiential marketing.

Sponsorship should be based on brand experience resulting from audience engagement and conversations created around the experience. There is a fundamental disconnect between the stakeholders who are creating the experience, consumers who want to be a part of the experience and the people who are supporting the experience. There has been very little research on what will make the engagement fruitful and how the brand will integrate. At best, this is superficial and again, left to the media buyer to come up with ideas and negotiate the lowest cost. It’s a ‘Sabzi Mandi ‘.

There is a large scope for research and innovation in this area which cannot be done by those who are managing the budgets of the client. There has to a closer integration between the brand and the experiential company.

The question a brand should be asking is: I want to invest in this experience for 10 more years, how do I build it year on year so that people cannot dissociate the experience from my brand? Unfortunately, a brand only asks how many spots or visits they are going to get. So, the questioning is wrong, the answers are wrong and the execution is flawed.

And that’s where planning comes into place and you have to dig deeper into understanding a consumer to define the experiences that will make the brand relevant. I believe there is over-reliance on media buying agencies, which is flawed and I predict that in a few years, they will cease to exist.

One should look at experiential marketing as an investment for the brand and not a tactical approach for the brand to secure at the lowest cost for the CMO to rattle numbers at a boardroom presentation.

  • What is your take on establishing ROI for investment in events?

ROI is a much deeper concept than what it is assumed now and it should be based on intensive research. The point is to establish ROI on the basis of how they remember the brand in the context of the event they sponsored or remember the experience. Experience is in essence what you felt and with whom. For example: watching something alone is a different experience but when you engage with a group of people and talk about that to someone that becomes an experience.

Therefore, ROI should be quantified on the basis of likability, conversations made and memories created in the event. Though these are non-tangible elements we can attach a tangibility to it using artificial intelligence. I think that would be the next phase of experiential marketing.

  • How important is the brand of organizing company for sponsorships?

I think it is very important. As an experiential marketer, my first question would be is there a brand fit? Nowadays sponsorship has been reduced to just money earned to amortized cost, but there should be a level of integrity and honesty attached to it and only those brands which fit the event category should sponsor it.

Let me provide you with an analogy. You dress in a particular way by using contrast colors or accessorizing yourself so that the overall picture is congruent. The same goes for an event. So one has to be careful about what other brands are associated, the things happening on the ground which might have a negative effect on the brand, managing conversation with attendees and other brands involved and therefore, putting more effort and time into this to create an overall positive impact.

  • Global sponsorships are long-term but India works on a short-term basis. Why do you think is that?

I believe this is so because sometimes it’s about the personal glory of the CMO instead of the long-term view of the brand. That's the role of the board, specifically the CEO, who should look into it instead of simply leaving it to the brand marketers. The CEO needs to get involved in the case of a big ticket experience where crores of rupees are at stake.

  • What would be your advice to new age event companies?

My biggest advice would be to focus on integrity. The event industry has got a bad name of being hustlers but if they can get into the science of consumer behavior and then base their metrics on those terms, the need for agents who only focus on numbers can be eliminated.

  • What are your thoughts about Onspon?

Honestly, I haven’t had the chance to use it yet but it is great to have a b2b platform that can connect brands to events. The biggest opportunity for Onspon is to become a media buying agency with far more credibility and get into more of consumer behavior and analytics. I am sure in the coming years, if you guys can provide with the kind of information that the marketers need to discuss with the board, you will be able to replace others in the field as well.

The premise of experiential marketing is to create a closer bond between the consumer and the brand by immersing them in a fun and memorable experience. If a brand event stirs genuine positive emotions within people then they are more likely to associate those emotions with that brand, which is more effective than just showing them a Facebook ad or something.

We would again like to thank Joji for taking out some time from his busy schedule to share his insightful take on the different aspects of experiential marketing.