Canadian auto companies are zeroing in on experiential-marketing events in an effort to create brand loyalty and generate positive online buzz about their products. And unlike other forms of marketing, industry executives say, experiential events are often family-oriented and provide an opportunity for feedback, data collection and fine-tuning for future events.
It’s about doing things and not just seeing things.
“Experiential, as we know it today, started rising up about 15 years ago,” said Jonah Midanik, founder and CEO of Limelight Platform. Limelight, with offices in Toronto and San Francisco, provides experiential-marketing (XM) technical support to automakers and other companies.
Midanik attributes the continued rise of experiential marketing to two factors: people putting a higher value on experiences, and marketing dollars — historically allocated to more traditional channels such as TV and newspapers — shifting to digital forms such as social, mobile and experiential.
BMW: CARS AND CONCERTS
One of the bigger experiential-marketing initiatives on the horizon is the first Canadian installment of the BMW M Festival, a heady mix of hot laps with the pros; test drives, displays of race; classic and current BMWs; big-stage DJ concerts, family fun; and gastronomic delights.
The M Festival, to be held July 13-14 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park northeast of Toronto, will mark the first North American appearance of the festival. The M Festival in Germany was tied to the 24 Hours of Nurburgring endurance racing event in 2017 and drew over 200,000 people. That’s not exactly the amount that BMW Canada expects this summer.
“But this is an event that is not about absolute or massive numbers,” said Sebastian Beuchel, director of BMW Brand Management for BMW Canada.
Rather, its success will be based on how well the event gives attendees an experience that ultimately strengthens or kickstarts their relationship with BMW, he said.
The hope, he added, is that those experiences translate into positive social-media activity so the good experiences will ripple out even further and ultimately lead to brand loyalty.
NOT JUST FOR MILLENNIALS
Providing a great experience with the hope that attendees share that experience on social media sounds like marketing targeted at millennials.
Not so, Beuchel said.
“Unique and personalized experiences are valued across all age groups. We see this particularly with our events that are catered to our more mature customers.” BMW also expects the festival to attract families with young children. “All humans, at their core, value experiences; that’s how we’re wired,” said Limelight’s Midanik. “Millennials are just a little more vocal about that.”
Experiential marketing, he said, is composed of two core elements — the experience and the tracking of that experience.
Only by tracking can businesses determine return on investment, better learn customer preferences on the experience and product front, keep communication flowing and ultimately grow customer relationships.
And all that doesn’t happen if businesses don’t ask for and capture customer information — data that can be used for personalized emails promoting products and offers at dealerships.
Consumers, Midanik said, are more than willing to exchange personal information to enter a special event that strikes their fancy.
“Consumers are never as open as they are at an experience. Not recognizing and setting up mechanisms to track that is a huge missed opportunity.”
E-GAMING AT AUTO SHOWS
Representing several high-performance brands, Pfaff Automotive Partners is known for its motorsports activities, track days and high-octane VIP events.
“Pfaff has always been big on experiential — events probably take a larger percentage of our budget than the average dealer,” said Laurance Yap, Pfaff Automotive’s creative director.
The company now has added e-gaming tournaments to its events.
Last year, Pfaff teamed with WorldGaming and Cineplex Inc. to run a major online e-racing tournament. The company got the ball rolling after understanding the demographics of the hard-core gamer.
“The average age is in the 30s, and household income is in the six figures,” Yap said.
This year, the tournament was significantly expanded with a big interactive display at the Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS) in Toronto. Gamers set lap times online or in person to qualify for the top 16 Grand Final extravaganza, which took place on the show’s last day.
More than 3,500 contestants set lap times at the show, “interacting with our brands and those we represent in a very deep way,” Yap said.
That’s a lot of hours of motorsport enthusiasts engaging and having fun with virtual vehicles spattered with Pfaff logos.
Susan Gubasta, president of the 2020 CIAS, said e-gaming will return to the show.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing forms of entertainment out there, and what a great way to engage with consumers,” Gubasta said.
Auto shows are, and have always been, experiential marketing. But the CIAS team is focused on enriching that approach with lots of interactive features to foster, celebrate and experience car culture, she said.
Too many shows are just about “current cars on a carpet. If it’s just that, why would consumers want to go to the show every year?”