Today on the show we welcome Michael O’Connell, Vice President of Marketing at AnyRoad to talk with us about how to use experiential marketing to create 1st-party data collection for digital marketing. Experiential marketing is when brands use experiences to invite customers to experience the brand.

Michael is a B2B marketing and demand generation professional specializing in leveraging data and results driven marketing technology. He says, “Marketing has changed from when I started. So much more is measurable and trackable, we’re trying to add digital-like measurement capabilities to offline experiences.”

Listen as he explains the new approach to using experiential marketing, as well as:

  • How BIG brands are bonding with customers using live events—and how you can, too
  • How to motivate customers to show up for in person experiences in a post pandemic era (and why the virtual event isn’t going away)
  • The three keys to making your next on-ground marketing event more impactful (plus the most important component of any offline experience)
  • And much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.

Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is how to use offline events and experiences to create first party data for digital marketing. Here just speak with me is Michael O’Connell, who is the VP of Marketing at AnyRoad, a software company that helps its customers develop high impact experiential programs. Mike’s experience spans multiple roles in technology and professional services companies. He’s a b2b marketing and demand generation professional, specializing in building high performance teams, leveraging marketing technology and developing international markets. Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael O’Connell: Thank you, Steffen. Great to great to be on.

Steffen: Michael, before we talk about today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And how did you end up in marketing?

Michael: I think, well, I’m a business major in college. And so one of the things that one of the subjects and topics that I enjoyed the most was was marketing. And I decided to go deeper afterwards and straight out of my undergrad did a did a master’s program called a marketing practice master’s program at Smurfit Business School in Dublin. And that’s kind of a hands on program where you, in addition to pursuing an academic qualification, you run a commercial market research agency. 

And so we do a bunch of research for anything from kind of CPG brands to to B2Bs and financial services brands. So I got a good exposure to different industries and and then made the jump as my first role into professional services at Deloitte. And I was there for a couple of years. Pursued that career in professional services before making a move to technology marketing. My first role was a company called Bentley Systems. There are about a 33 year old software company from Exton, Pennsylvania specializing in infrastructure. 

Like I would consider them the top competitor of Autodesk. They went public last year or two years ago, and was nice to see see a company of that with that pedigree do well but you know, really, that was my first exposure to technology marketing. Very an international role. And I’ve stayed with tech ever since and there’s something very rewarding about working in the sector and and especially early stage companies helping to build them out and and help them grow.

Steffen: I think, it’s always great to see you know, your own activity, yielding results in form of, you know, whether it’s revenue growth, company growth, etc. That’s that’s always very gratifying.

Michael: I’ll just add to that marketing has definitely changed from from even when I started, you know, it’s it, there’s so much more is measurable so much more as trackable. And, you know, you alluded to experiences and events, and that’s something that we’re trying to do is try to try to add some digital, like measurement capabilities to offline experiences.

Steffen: Yeah. Now, obviously, today, we’re want to talking about experiential marketing. Before we dive deeper into the topic. Can you explain for listeners that might not be so familiar with experiential marketing? What is it?

Michael: Well, I think it’s, it’s very interesting that you asked that because it’s experiential marketing is not a commonly used term in the industry, you know, it can. Experiential marketing can refer to anything from a pop up marketing activation, like sampling, or giving away a product at a music festival. It could be a visitor center for a brand. So if BMW wanted to do factory tours, or, if indeed, BMW wanted to do driving experiences. All these opportunities for brands to engage with consumers with experiences that have a have a sensory component to them. 

I think that’s the big thing about experiential marketing is it has a sensory component, so it’s going to trigger at least three of your senses. So if you’re driving a car when the BMW driving experience, yes, you’re you’ve got touch, you’ve got sound, and you’ve got sight, you know, you’re going to be a very, very stimulating experience is going to be driving a BMW around a track. So when I think of people, when I refer to experiential marketing, it’s really experiences that are run by brands in order to engage consumers.

Steffen: Now, with the pandemic over the last, what is it now one and a half, two years, I assume that that part of marketing took a negative hit. Is that Is that a fair statement?

Michael: Yeah, what we know from from the research that we’ve seen, you know, just like let’s look at North America alone. Experiential marketing was about $72 billion in spend in 2019. And we think there was about 10% decline in that top line spending in 2020. But we also see a lot of that budget starting to recover. More activity coming back to the market. You know, one of the things that we also learned from from the pandemic was that, you know, virtual experiences have emerged as something that’s kind of normal and acceptable, you know, in fact, a bunch of folks prefer virtual experiences to in person. And so, you know, well, I think we’re starting to see in person make a serious comeback, as of as of recently.

Steffen: Now, it sounds like that, due to the pandemic, there is a kind of a new area or new approach to experiential marketing, that kind of evolved or came about. Do you see that as being there to stay? Or do you think now that people can gather again, that the virtual element is going to disappear over time and in a stronger in person activity is going to come back?

Michael: Well, I’d say that 2020 was definitely the rise of the virtual and the hybrid experiences and from from our research, and our how we surveyed our customers, but also getting sentiment back from, from consumers themselves, we definitely think virtual is here to stay. But it’s going to be part of the mix, you know, whereas last year, we’re limited to exclusively doing virtual experiences, and many examples. And we were able to help some of our customers pivot their experience completely online for the year. 

You know, the best example of that would be Michaels stores, they’re very famous arts and crafts retailer that focused on the maker community here in North America. And they had about 20,000 classes in the last year, online that engaged over a million people. And what they saw is their audience reach increased by around 60%. So they, you know, they’re able to reach a lot more people, both geographically and volume wise, through these online programs. And that’s something that’s attractive for brands is, is just to kind of get that scale, that reach. But I think you alluded to it there, there’s, there’s Zoom fatigue. 

People are are sick of sitting down and looking at screens, so and there’s a lot of pent up demand, which we’re seeing, for folks to get back doing in person experiences. And I think the benefit of if you want to do virtual, you’re just gonna have to invest in a little bit more quality of experience and quality of content, if you want people to show up. That’s going to be super important going forward.

Steffen: So what do, do brands will have to do in order to motivate people to show up to in person experiences?

Michael: So for in person experiences, one of the things we’re seeing is, you know, very clear guidance on your safety precautions that are being taken. You know, I think the more ambiguity that you leave in there, you know, the less likely that you are to have a booking. And so, you know, a cohort of our customers are folks like, like Budweiser, like Sierra Nevada that have what we call brand homes. So these are they’re breweries where you can actually go to tours and tastings. And folks like that are really clear about, you know, the precautions and the safety, safety measures they’re taking for their guests. 

I also think there’s an opportunity to provide more private luxury or exclusive experiences. So if you go to somewhere like like, like the Budweiser brewery, there’s the brew master tour, which is a private experience with a smaller group. And they’re seeing, you know, that that’s been really, really popular, since they’ve reopened post pandemic. I suspect that’s because, you know, people want to get out and engage with folks, but they feel a little bit more comfortable in smaller groups. And they also have a little bit of pent up savings, and they’re willing to splurge a little bit on on premium experiences.

Steffen: Interesting. Now, can you highlight some campaigns that you’ve seen over the last couple of months that, that really grabbed you that you thought they were really great?

Michael: Well, you know, I, there’s gonna be a little bit of bias here, I’m going to give you three examples. Two are going to be automotive. I’ve already you know, I’ve already referred to BMW’s driving experiences. But, you know, the first is Porsche. I’m a huge fan of the Porsche brand. And, you know, one of the things I haven’t been able to participate in, but I’ve seen is they have driving experiences now, where you can go on these, you know, these driving trips, where you go through through the mountains on on special routes with groups of fellow Porsche owners, and there’s accommodation, there’s training, there’s, there’s, there’s cars provided. 

So that’s a pretty unique, immersive experience that’s going to quite, you know, really add to that brand loyalty, loyalty that they already have and strengthen it. Another automotive one, which I think is really interesting is the Gazoo Racing Club, which is a Toyota campaign that they that they were running in, in Australia. Toyota has really started to invest in its racing credentials, or its high performance models. So they’ve got a Gazoo racing brand, which they’re bringing to models like the Yaris and the Corolla. But what the Toyota team in Australia did was they they launched these these track days and these members only experiences where you could take the Yaris GR on the track. 

Not only was that to a great engaging these, these enthusiasts who are most more loyal to the brand and spend more, but it got some great press coverage and awareness of the brand. So really helpful to change the perception of the Toyota brand into something that’s a little bit more high performance. The final one, which I think is really interesting is is is Diageo’s investment in what they call whiskey tourism. And so they made a $210 million investment into their whiskey brand homes in in Scotland. And so that includes big investment in the Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh. So that’s definitely one of the most impressive visitor centres, brand homes that I’ve ever, ever, ever seen developed. So worth checking out for sure.

Steffen: I see a lot of potential is with with brands is kind of the marrying the offline with the online part. And obviously today’s topic is around how to use offline events and experiences to create first party data for digital marketing. Can you talk a little bit about how companies can achieve that? How can companies use these offline events to generate first party data?

Michael: Well, I think, you know, first party data is, is something that’s going to be really powerful to brands, you know, and and I can go into why that’s it’s becoming more important a little later. But, you know, first of all, when, when you think of an experience, an event that you’ve attended, typically, you’re going to sign up. You’re going to register for that event and provide your contact information. And I think what happens there is there’s a, there’s a value exchange between the brand and the consumer for that data. So let’s say if it’s the Porsche driving experience, I’m happy to give you my contact information. 

And some additional information around my preferences, the types of vehicles I like, the types of food and drink, I might like for that experience. So you get a rich set data set, that is proprietary to Porsche. But that is signed up and acquired based on on trust. And so I think it’s important to think, to think about the types of data that you can collect there. And when we look at what what’s there is kind of this this explicit data or declared data, which is the form fills. It’s the direct feedback that you get, it’s those preference indicators that you provide. But I think it’s another thing that’s really powerful is what we call inferred data. 

So that can be captured from people’s behaviors. And so let’s say, I do the Porsche experience, and there’s and someone notices that I’m a little heavy on the foot, I drive a little faster, or I’m a little bit more of a cautious driver, I can, you know, refer to potentially, you know, buying a new model in the future. And so there’s a bunch of behavioral data and insights that we can also get from these experiences. It’s just how effective are you at capturing and tracking that?

Steffen: Yeah, I mean, collecting collecting, like standard information about email address name, those kind of things are easy to to collect, because you fill it into a form and then you kind of ingest that into our system. But as you said, if you’re a little bit heavy on the foot, and then there’s certain behavioral things, how can companies capture those?

Michael: Well, I think it’s, it’s remarkable how many companies do not capture simple contact information. Or if they do, it just sits in a Excel spreadsheet or, or a form system and never connects to their to their main CRM. And so one of the things we recommend folks do is just make sure their systems are connected. And so you can have connected systems or you’re capturing feedback, behavioral insights, by having a single piece of technology. I’m going to shamelessly plug AnyRoad we can provide, you know, the account signup forms, the surveys, and the behavioral insights from these experiences in that way. 

But you can also provide that by putting together a stack of technology that does that. And so I think it’s important when you look at an experience, it’s possible for the instructor or the facilitator of the experience to also document a pieces of their account from the event. So not only you have an instructor, so who who provides concierge like notes in that experience. And it’s it is possible to scale that, particularly for something like a driving experience for Porsche.

Steffen: Now, Michael, why should companies capture these these first party data information? Obviously, cookies are going to disappear in the future? Which doesn’t really have much to do with this. But why is it important to take that offline information and put it into your online system and use it?

Michael: Well, I think is I think you hit the nail on the head there, right is is there some some big changes that are going on in the market that are that are requiring brands to really make an investment in first party data. And the first of those is, is simply privacy regulatory regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA. Right, we’re being forced to make changes to how we track and market to customers and how we retain their data. And that’s why I really like the idea of experiences and this trust based exchange of information. And so the tracking one, in terms of the deprecation of the cookies, and Apple’s IDFA tracking changes, those are also going to make a huge impact on on brands’ abilities to track and engage. 

I know that Google has postponed some of its changes for at least a year, but the end is in sight for the cookie and brands have to make, make changes to make sure that they have as much proprietary first party data that they have. And that will make make sure that they can do proper identity resolution in the future and proper targeting of folks that are willing to engage with their brand. But when we really think about this, it’s it’s really down to the fact that consumer trust has been broken over the years. And, and this is coming from someone that’s been working, like you, Steffen in, in advertising and advertising technology for quite a while now. 

And I think there’s there’s a cynicism about how technology companies use your data and how marketers can reach you. And, you know, I saw a survey from Salesforce that said 72% of consumers would stop buying from a company, if they had privacy concerns about them. And that’s quite remarkable. And so that’s a real change in terms of how people react to how their data is used. And so I think it’s this is why first party data that’s collected based on trust is going to be super, super important going forward.

Steffen: Yeah, I was just about to say that. I mean, when you’re going to those experiences, as you explained, for example, this Porsche experience, you’re bonding with the brand and and you saying yes to sharing your information, and providing information about yourself, is much easier. Done, the convincing factor is much easier than if you are on a website of Porsche and pop would come up and say, hey, are you okay with us tracking you for example? No, because at that moment, when, when a system asks you are you okay with tracking you, there’s always hesitation. 

We actually have a client that an implemented the software, I think it’s called one touch, that allows users to opt in or out of tracking. And what they have seen is like an 80% drop off of people that are basically 80% of people said, no, they don’t want to be tracked. And that obviously creates a huge problem for companies at the end of the day. Now, what kind of data can be collected from experiences? And as a second question, there is, how can marketers use those? Can you can you provide some examples for that?

Michael: Well, I think, you know, that there’s that explicit data I referred to, which is the stuff that you provide, in that form fill. So you know, that’s your, your first name, your demographics, you know, a lot of brands connect, you know, age gate, some of their experiences, particularly in alcohol. And it’s possible for, for, for brands to it to kind of ingest some really, really interesting stuff, right. So if I am running an experience, I can collect data through those form fills. I can collect it on site with contactless technology using QR codes, where you sign up and visit a website and you can recognize IP, you can deliver surveys, you can drive social engagement experiences, and track things with hashtags. It’s even possible to, to really just make sure that you’re connecting those those experiences to point of sale information. 

So let’s look at an example of Dick’s Sporting Goods who launched some very successful experiential retail programs where they’ve converted stores to these new house of sport concepts. Where you can go to a climbing wall, batting cages, all kinds of cool experiences in store. And so they track they track your engagement there, but it’s also possible to understand you know, how long you know how long you spent in store and then how much you spent afterwards. So there you’re connecting the dots between these different business systems. And you know, there’s products like Intellicheck which can can can reconcile data between identity, like driver’s license Id verification, and your contact records in your in your business systems like CRM. 

So it’s there’s a lot of data that you can get from experiences and that includes, you know, behavioral insights that you can pick up too. I think the second part of your question was, how do you use that information? How do you make it actionable and I think there’s no limit to the amount of data you can collect but our advice to folks is only collect what you can action or what you think you may action in the future. Otherwise you’re going to have a bunch of technical data, a bunch of data that’s just just not useful. And it’s not helpful to the consumer or to the brands declared to collect it. You know, I like to think about, you know, maybe some alcohol brands and let’s say you’re, you’re doing some new product development and you know, you’re Budweiser and you have Natural Light drinkers which natural light is a is a kind of a very budget conscious beer. 

It’s a kind of a first step into the Budweiser brand, but maybe Budweiser is going to try and upsell you on a, on a craft beer, which has got a, probably a higher LTV for a regular craft beer drinker than it wouldn’t be for Natural Light just due to the price point. And it may be important for them to be able to get some of the insights from that brewery experience to be able to market new products to you. So I think those behavioral insights allow you to create some very interesting segments for targeting and activation through digital channels through email, and even for web personalization.

Steffen: Now, earlier, we talked about virtual events and offline events. You also said that, you know, from your perspective, those virtual events are not going away. Where do you see the biggest difference between between the two, as it relates to kind of doing the events? And then how do you ensure success for virtual and, and kind of the offline events?

Michael: So I think, you know, when you look at virtual experiences, the ones that are most successful, and the ones that are most memorable, have that sensory component. So it’s, it’s possible for experiential marketing to be virtual. And, you know, I think I wrote a blog post about this, you know, at the start of the pandemic, there’s a kind of academic term called embodied cognition. Which is, you know, the impact on your, your, your memories and your experience by these kind of sensory components. And so let’s take Michaels who, who are doing some wonderful online craft classes, and so they could have a Cricut machine, which is like an electronic, you know, printing device that you can do some really interesting stuff on it. 

And so, not much point doing the Cricut class unless you have a Cricut printer, but you know, you’re getting that sensory component, you’re getting the online instruction, you have your Cricut printer, and you’re able to produce some really interesting stuff. And it’s a whole guided experience where you can ask questions of your, of your instructor. It’s pretty small format, some of them are very large, but some of them are small. So it’s very interactive. So I think is, is if you have a sensory component, you have an opportunity for participants to interact, or you have some sort of element which makes it memorable. 

And then a lot of that for folks on the memorability side has been using celebrity influencers, you know, and having them do things like online tequila classes, or online cooking classes. And I thought, I think I saw some really interesting stuff from Uber during the pandemic about using Mario Lopez for for the Cinco de Maya celebrations. And he brought folks into his house and showed them some of his favorite recipes and cooked for them from online. So I think we saw a lot of creativity and, and ideas that can can show you how to do some pretty impactful virtual experiences last year.

Steffen: Thanks for sharing. Now, before we before we come to an end to today’s podcast episode, Michael, what is your advice for marketers out there looking to collect more insights and data from experiences?

Michael: I think one of the things that people forget. And I think, you know, another byproduct of this whole work from home thing has been productivity has been up. But collaboration has been down. And I think we you also mentioned it to earlier on this, but was a decline experiential marketing budgets. And in order for those budgets to go up. Now people need to come together in the organization, and make sure that those experiences have impact. So long way to answer your question, I think my advice to folks is to reach out to other teams within marketing and within your organization. 

If you’re on the digital side, you’re going to be in need of high quality first party data pretty soon. So make sure you talk to your experiential marketing team, and discuss what type of insights they can surface. See how you can help that team put technology in place in order to generate those insights and connect it to your systems. If you’re on the experiential marketing side, and you saw a decline in your budget over the last 18 months, a great way for you to go get more budget is to work with your digital team and have a proper omni channel experience and, and a fully integrated campaign. So I think that’s my main piece of advice is start talking to one another, and really good things can happen.

Steffen: Perfect. Well Michael, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on experiential marketing. Now if people want to find out more about you or AnyRoad, how can they get in touch?

Michael: Well, first of all, it’s they can visit the website, or just email me. My email address is moc, M for Michael, O and C So and they can reach me directly if any questions or I’m happy to reach out to people.

Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you’d like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us or leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you visit us at or follow us on Twitter at symphonic HQ. Thanks again. See you next time.

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