[eMarketer] Experiential Marketing Opens the Door to New Ad Formats

Immersive and catchy, experiential marketing brings physical and digital components of branding together. But despite its appeal and effectiveness, it can be pricy and tough to put into action. Alex Hertel, co-founder and CEO of experiential marketing platform provider Xperiel, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how the company works with sports teams to create unique, experience-driven engagement inside and outside stadiums.

eMarketer: How is your approach to experiential marketing unique?

Alex Hertel: Though it’s always been very engaging, the downside of experiential marketing has traditionally been that it’s very expensive and doesn’t scale well. We are making it much faster, cheaper, easier and improving the quality. We have created an operating system for tapping into experiential marketing through a technology called pebbling, which marketers don’t really need to worry about. That’s what makes it possible for us to reduce the cost of software development and create high-quality experiential marketing campaigns.

eMarketer: Can you provide some examples of your technology in use?

Hertel: We’ve been creating experiential marketing campaigns for teams like the Sacramento Kings. One key to our technology is that there is no Xperiel app. We use smartphone sensors to interact with what we call triggers, which we gather into one single platform built into the team’s app. Stadiums are great for this because there is a huge amount of technology.

“Using the GPS sensor of a smartphone, we can detect when a fan checks in at a certain location, and then deliver a targeted experience to them.”

There’s the ticket stand, the concession stand, iBeacons, scoreboards and jumbotrons. Traditionally, that technology has been siloed, but we’re unifying it into a single system so that it can deliver experiences to fans that haven’t been possible before.

eMarketer: Can you explain what you mean by “triggers?”

Hertel: One type of trigger we rely on is a geotrigger. That means that using the GPS sensor of a smartphone, we can detect when a fan checks in at a certain location, and then deliver a targeted experience to them.

We also have iBeacon triggers. If a fan walks near an iBeacon, it fires off a trigger that makes it possible to incentivize the fan to walk into the team store. Another example is an NFC [near field communication] trigger, which enables teams to make digital posters that function as interactive, animated trading cards when they’re scanned.

eMarketer: How are triggers different than QR codes?

Hertel: For one thing, QR codes are ugly. They look like TV static. Another problem is that consumers don’t even know what they are. Let’s say there’s a shampoo bottle with a QR code on it. The consumers scan it and are taken to the shampoo’s website. They shrug because they don’t care and don’t want to go to the crummy website anyway.

Triggers are different because we are using them as inputs rather than addresses. When a fan scans a Coke cup at a stadium, it changes the state of the game they’re playing, which could be the trading card activity or another component of the experience.

“A trigger is an entirely new ad format. It’s a way for the team to get their fans to engage directly with sponsors.”

eMarketer: In what ways does this open doors for advertisers?

Hertel: The team can take these triggers and sell them to their sponsors. A trigger is an entirely new ad format. It’s a way for the team to get their fans to engage directly with sponsors, because buying something from the brand or engaging with that brand on social media will be a way to collect the next trading card or level up an avatar in the team’s app experience.

A fan can now come across a sponsor’s product with the team logo in a grocery store aisle and scan that, too. It’s a way to get fans to interact with sponsors outside of the stadium.

eMarketer: There’s a ton of data behind these pieces of technology that you’re collecting. How do you manage all of it?

Hertel: When a brand deploys us in their entire ecosystem, we’re going to be able to say that a customer started on television, went to the brand’s website, went to Twitter and then went to the stadium, where he bought a hamburger. We can trace that path and close the loop on attribution.

We will be collecting data, but because we are working with different organizations, including teams and their sponsors, part of our system may be integrated with the team and part of our system might be integrated with the brand. We need to determine boundaries for data ownership. We have to be very careful, respect the customer and provide analytics where we can.