With Greggs hosting a number of special Valentine’s Day pop-up restaurants within its stores this week, Georgi Gyton investigates how experiential marketing can be used to increase the brand presence of food and drink operators.

Greggs is by no means the first food and drink operator to use experiential marketing – and in particular, the power of the PR stunt – to help garner a spot of positive publicity, and it certainly won’t be the last.

While this form of marketing is more commonly used by big name household food and drink brands, such as Cadbury, McCain and Carlsberg, operators such as, Nando’s, Pret, Wahaca and KFC, as well as the likes of Just Eat and Deliveroo, have all used this form of impact marketing in recent years.

Examples include Deliveroo’s secret garden style pop-up event in Hoxton Square, Redcomb Pub’s pop-up gin bar in Paddington Basin, and Fuller’s Kitchen’s ice cream bus. But while this may grab temporary column inches, is there a wider business case for using these quirky marketing techniques?

It’s not simply about creating POS on the street, it’s about creating brand engagement.”

“It has to be said that much of the ROI is found in social media marketing,” says Dominic Franks, director at creative event production company The Persuaders. “This isn’t a bad thing. Brands should understand that the reason they are doing experiential marketing is not about driving direct sales. It’s not simply about creating POS on the street, it’s about creating brand engagement,” he explains.

Franks says this type of marketing is all about engaging with your audience in an unexpected way. “Even if it’s a simple as using a unique way to serve food, such as vending machines, or an unexpected way to deliver the food to the customer, it can be effective,” he says.

Global brand communications agency DeVries has created campaigns for the likes of Krispy Kreme and Walkers Crisps. Helena Bloomer, managing director, Europe, said what was interesting about both brands was that the focus on the briefs went beyond simply driving trial of their new products – “the core objective was to use the launches to build brand equity primarily through earned media”.

The agency devised a Krispy Kreme ‘Hole in the Wall’ for the launch of its Nutty Chocolatta doughnut – in partnership with Nutella - which was the UK’s first doughnut dispensing ATM machine, and provided a two week exclusive product preview ahead of general sale, said Bloomer.

“The highly visual and interacted elements of the experience encouraged social sharing from the attendees,” said Bloomer. “But how can brands ensure maximum visibility before and after an event, especially to engage consumers who can’t attend?” she asks. “This is where the power of fans and influencers can help spread the word. For example, we ‘accidentally’ leaked Krispy Kreme’s news of the Nutella partnership to its 650,000 fans via a fake memo from the CMO to store managers hinting at the hysteria of the new product. Within four hours, the news trended on Twitter and major news networks like Buzzfeed published articles,” she says.

“It’s clear that the benefits of a live experience for brands go beyond the ‘live’ element,” adds Bloomer. “By leveraging a multi-channel strategy before, during and after the event, a brand can boost positive brand sentiment as well as commercial success. However, pop-ups are ubiquitous and brands that want to explore this route in 2018 will need to lead and engage in a wider cultural conversation to ensure stand out and originality.”

“Pop-ups can be highly effective in creating buzz around new product of a brand initiative.”

Sally McLaren, director at experiential marketing agency Sense, says brand cynicism is at an all-time high so companies need to be more ‘human’ in order to create more meaningful and stronger relationships with their customers. “When brands go beyond just talking, people are more willing to open up to them and the rewards are received on both sides,” she says. “By employing experiential marketing techniques brands don’t just talk the talk they walk the walk – and ultimately deliver marketing communications that are more authentic, relevant and therefore impactful.”

McLaren says these techniques can be employed by operators in the food and drink sector, for example on-street footfall driving initiatives, in-bar engagement programmes and limited edition pop-ups.

“Pop-ups can be highly effective in creating buzz around new product of a brand initiative – particularly if coupled with an influencer programme, but they must provide genuine value, over and above, say, a free sample,” she says. “But when activating within the retail environment (particularly bars) it is crucial to take a people-first approach and consider consumers’ need-state. Experiences should enhance their experience, rather than interrupt and disrupt their night-out.”

She adds: “Brands should also think carefully about measuring the effectiveness of a pop-up. Rather than evaluate success retrospectively, think about what you will measure in the planning stages. If the only metric you have to measure is the number of attendees you need to re-think and consider other touchpoints (pre, during and post-experience) which will help expand the pop-ups influence.”

So what makes a success live marketing campaign? Franks believes that bravery is one of the key elements. “A brand that knows its audience, knows where and how to target them is always key. It’s also important to stay true to your brand story. Don’t ‘copy-cat’ an activation just because it got a lot of media attention if it may not be right for you,” he says.