Chief Executive Officer of Maxxconnection, a Lagos-based experiential marketing agency, Owolabi Mustapha, spoke to Mary Nnah about how his company has explored creativity and technology to seek endearing directions for brands as well as the gains and pains in the industry. Excerpts:
Experiential was a major form of brands connection in 70s, then it went down and the industry peaked again in late 90s, what happened?
It was not experiential that time. It was just promotional activity as part of advertising. The traditional advertising used to have a part. At that time, there were not really media independent agencies. The practice then used to be a one-stop shop where advertising agency used to have media and promotion department among others. With the evolving and dynamic world, the media has to change direction. Because of the evolution of media in conventional advertising, they had to carve out their niche out of advertising.
What is your assessment of the experiential marketing industry so far?
The industry started very small some years back. Advertising and other segments of integrated marketing communications (IMC) have always led the pack until about a decade ago when experiential took the centre stage. That was about seven years ago. 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, multinational 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 can 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.
It is argued that experiential is expensive in that basket of media, PR, advertising and digital. How true is that?
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.
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 audiences are in a particular area, I don’t need to waste time and resources being everywhere. If your target audience is entire nation, of course experiential marketing can address it. There are different strategic approaches to address different challenges. If you want to do sampling, road-show or merchandising require different approach depending on the challenge. The experiential marketing has come to stay as clients are appreciating the value of really engaging more with the audience. 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 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 the government has engaged experiential firms to deliver services to the citizens?
It is interesting to know that some of the biggest campaigns from government are handled by experiential firms. For instance, one of the biggest campaigns in Lagos is the count-down in December. This is a multi-million project. The activities around it are driven by experiential firms. For us, we have worked with a couple of state governments in Nigeria. We have done 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 as clients are passionate about 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 and it leads to uptake. In terms of creativity, experiential agencies are doing very well. They come up with ingenious creativity. We have done 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. The Nigerian Bottling Company campaign of taking people off the street was conceptualized by us. 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 Maxconnection five years ago, so what actually motivated you to start the firm?
Movement is normal occurrence in human life either through challenges, the creativity ingenuity and other couple of indices will determine movement. We looked at the industry and there were some quacks within the industry space, others are 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 driving engagement.
Your work on Campari drink was marvellous with Tuface as the ambassador. Could you talk more about it?
In Maxconnection, we take research very seriously. Before any campaign, we engage thoroughly on research. Research gives you an insight of what you want to do in the short, medium and long term period. We did extensive research on Campari as a brand. We looked at the journey of Campari and found that it was perceived as a drink for the old. But these days, youth mix it with their beer. The campaign was driven on proper positioning of the drink as a youthful brand. Again, Trophy Beer is now everywhere but some years ago, it was perceived as Yoruba, Illesa drink. We are part of the success story of that brand today. We put in a lot work in the look and feel of Trophy as a brand and the kind of penetration and unique consumer engagement. Today consumers demand is driving drinking places to sell Trophy. The consumers are telling the story.
How do you see experiential business in the next five years and what is the place of Maxconnection?
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 the strength of Maxconnecition?
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, the forex is not bringing strategic investment into the country. If this does not happen, it then limits most of the activities and 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 retains all of them. We started with Campari, ABbev, BAT, Coca Cola, Dangote, Ecobank, Skye Bank, Super Sports, MasterCard, Uber and others. Experiential is a project-led company 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 is a major challenge for the business as single interest rate is difficult. Invoice discounting is what clients do.