The Real Value of Design in Experiential Marketing

The value of design in experiential marketing

The Eames Chair. The Fender Stratocaster. The iPod Touch. All iconic designs that have forever altered the orbits of their industries. It’s no secret that design can elevate products and experiences alike, but transformative design takes an investment of time and money. When is design worth the investment? And what exactly is the real value of design in experiential marketing and beyond?

A recent McKinsey & Company report sought to answer these questions by following the design practices of 300 companies over a five-year period in various industries and locations. After recording more than 100,000 designs actions and studying over two million pieces of financial data, the answer can be summed up quickly: good design is always worth it.

The top scorers in McKinsey’s design index saw measurable returns, with both 32% higher revenue growth and 56% higher returns to their shareholders over the study period. It didn’t matter if the industry focused on digital or physical goods and services — they all performed the same. The benefit of design wasn’t felt exclusively in the top tier, in fact McKinsey’s design index strongly correlated with revenue growth at all levels. Quite simply, investing in design, even a little, pays off.

Brand design doesn’t begin and end at the product level. Design thinking extends to all touchpoints that customers have with a brand, including live experiences. In fact, events are often the most emotionally impactful way consumers interact with your brand, so it’s a prime opportunity to put your best design foot forward.

Here’s how event marketers are applying design thinking to build experiences that both transport attendees and deliver better results on business goals.

Listen to Consumers

Over 40% of companies surveyed by McKinsey weren’t talking to their end users during development. Experiential marketers are constantly receiving live feedback on the performance of their booths and experiences, but this feedback doesn’t always inform design. When event designers listen to consumers and understand their needs, they can build a better live experience to suit.

Companies in the survey with a baseline understanding of what engages customers were more productive, but still design metrics were not as heavily scrutinized as time and cost. But when the needs of users were pushed to the forefront, the results were fruitful.

It makes sense that a user-centric experience yields results. One company in the survey implemented a small tweak on their homepage to make the site more user-friendly and it resulted in a 25% increase in sales. Gathering solid customer insights assures that you are in step with the needs and wants of your customers, and then championing them internally means that those needs can get translated to designs that can have real impact.

As the McKinsey Report shares, “combining physical products, digital tools, and pure services provides new opportunities for companies to capture [the] range of experience.” This fits naturally with the trade show experience, which allows an in-person presence of both personnel and products, as well as a great chance to showcase the cross-promotional platforms that enable the best user involvement.

Don’t Break the Bank

Another way to read the results of the McKinsey study is that companies with more money can simply spend more on design for better results. While that might seem discouraging for companies with smaller design budgets, it’s not necessary to overspend to achieve great results. Lean start-ups have shown how prototyping and iterative learning can lead to better decisions without huge, risky investments. Starting small and staying adaptable will allow you to learn from the market and measure the value of design in experiential marketing for your company.

Starting small also helps on another key front: buy-in from leadership. The McKinsey Report found that analytical leadership is key to promoting fruitful design practices, but the reality is that it can be challenging to convince others to take a chance on an innovative new design. When the C-Suite comes in with an understanding that design is a priority, the ROI improves. At the same time, designers should carefully measure performance and provide valuable metrics that continue to inform higher-ups. This inevitably leads to a greater understanding of the value of excellent design.

Design Together

It’s not uncommon for event marketing teams to work somewhat separately from other parts of a larger company, but this comes with a measurable risk. The McKinsey report reveals that “overcoming isolationist tendencies” is extremely valuable, in fact it is one of the strongest correlations between top financial performers among the surveyed companies.

Design that moves and inspires, that makes people perk up and take note, doesn’t happen in a silo: it is collaborative, it requires listening and communication across teams. Make sure your entire company aligns on design and has as much investment in the success of experiential marketing as they do for all other areas, and you will all reap the rewards.

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