‘Experiential marketing is biggest tool to engage people for value’
Mr. Owolabi Mustapha is a seasoned marketing communication professional with over 15 years experience across Africa and Managing Director of Maxx Connection Limited, an Experiential Marketing agency. In this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK, he speaks on the sector’s uniqueness and unquantifiable value
What is your assessment of the experiential marketing industry?
The industry started very small some years back. Advertising and other segments of integrated marketing communication (IMC) have always led the pack until about a decade ago when experiential took the centre-stage. Then chief marketing officer (CMOs) of multinationals were still skeptical about the value of experiential. But it is interesting to see these days that everybody now appreciates the value of what experiential has brought in the mix of marketing. Today, multinationals now invest more in the experiential industry. There is no other way to create an experience beyond experiential. Though digital is very key now and it is the new kid on the block, but it cannot take out the interaction and experience that experiential will naturally bring to the table because it naturally connects the brands and services to the target audience.
Some argue that experiential is expensive among the basket of media, PR, advertising and digital. Do you agree?
No one can say that experiential is expensive. It is about value and value comes with cost. The argument whether it is expensive or not should not arise because it is a particular service that gives the most value. Others don’t translate to target engagement. Experiential can also provide the data that propel the business into the future. The value of experiential is not quantifiable.
Another challenge is that experiential is limited in scope and area of operation. What is your comment on this?
In marketing, you need to identify the challenges that you want to address. After that you still need to distil your target audience. If my target audience is in a particular area, I don’t need to waste time and resources being everywhere. If your target audience is an entire nation, of course, experiential marketing can address it. There are different strategic approaches to address different challenges. If you want to do sampling, roadshow or merchandising, they require different approaches depending on the challenge. The experiential marketing has come to stay, as clients are appreciating the value of really engaging more with the audience. A majority of multinational companies have more of experiential agencies than the other agencies. This is global phenomenon. They know that value derivable from experiential is high.
If you want to reach out to a mass without focus target, you can employ advertising. But what next, perhaps PR and let people read in the newspaper and value of the product in the newspapers. But it gets to the point that the product needs to be dropped directly to the people that need the service. It is an end-to-end communication approach. The value comes when the people engage the product or buys the product and it is experiential that can deliver on that promise.
To what level would you say government has engaged experiential firms to deliver services to the citizens?
It is interesting to know that experiential firms handle some of the biggest campaigns from government. For instance, one of the biggest campaigns in Lagos is the Countdown in December. This is a multi-million naira project. Experiential firms drive the activities around it. For us, we have worked with a couple of state governments. We have done a lot of political campaigns. Other experiential firms are doing other activities for other states. Experiential marketing is one of the biggest tools to engage people for value.
What is the place of measurability in experiential marketing activities to give clients impact?
There are different approaches to measurement. It depends exactly on what you are measuring. If it is data, experiential marketing delivers it and that is why multinationals are engaging experiential agencies. Secondly are the connection and the experience which experiential gives. We are bringing experience that is uniquely designed for a particular product on the table. I repeat that experiential is not about cost but the value. Unique experience that comes with experiential marketing lives with the people. In terms of creativity, experiential agencies are doing very well. They come up with ingenious creativity. We have done a job for a client that involves brand engagement, sales and CSR at the same time. Any other IMC segment will address just one of it but we addressed the three challenges. We conceptualized the Nigerian Bottling Company campaign of taking people off the street. It was an idea of taking people off the street without applying force by giving them opportunity to sell NBC products and rewarding them with N1m.
You left your former employer to form Maxx Connection five years ago. What actually motivated you to start your own firm?
Movement is normal occurrence in human life, either through challenges, creative ingenuity and other couple of indices that determine movement. We looked at the industry and there were some quacks within the industry space; others were not tech driven and we thought that there was need for a unique agency that prides itself on creativity and technology. Our campaigns exhibit these features. Our Coca Cola was really about driving engagement.
How do you see experiential business in the next five years? What is the place of Maxx Connection in it?
A whole lot of things will changes for us and for the industry in the next five years. There will be a lot of strategic association and affiliation, either local or foreign. Experiential will be placed in a better position, as it is happening globally. There will be a lot of mergers and acquisitions in the industry. Also there will a lot of tech-driven activities in the industry.
What is strength of Maxx Connection in all these?
We pride ourselves to be very young and this reflects on the employees. We believe that the power belongs to the youth and that is one of the strengths. We have also tried to retain most of our staff since inception.
What challenges have you navigated through in the last five years?
The challenges are enormous. It is a systemic and national problem. For instance, forex is not bringing strategic investment into the country. If this does not happen, it then limits most of the activities and a number of clients for agencies. We have two clients that ought to have come in three years ago, and they are not certain about Nigeria’s system. Secondly, electricity is a major challenge. It costs us heavily to fuel the generator. There are a lot of unprofessional agencies in the industry and unfortunately, some clients still work with them because they charge ridiculous fees and some clients have got their fingers burnt. On our clients, we have retained all of them. We started with Campari, ABbev, BAT, Coca Cola, Dangote, Eco Bank, Skye Bank, Super Sports, MasterCard, Uber and others.
Experiential is a project-led campaign and value chain system where everybody works together. The project cannot be executed within the confines of a department. You can create a department of five people for the project. Financing and funding are major challenges for the business, as single interest rate is difficult. Invoice discounting is what clients do.
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