Evan Starkman on Experiential Marketing, Digital Trends, and the future of Agencies

Evan Starkman is the founder and CEO of the Bait Shoppe with offices New York City, Toronto, Denver, and Los Angeles. Although he is originally from Canada, he came to the United States as a part of his college career. In 2007, Evan graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and then completed a Masters Degree in International Negotiation. Seeing an opportunity to connect brands to consumers better, he founded the Bait Shoppe which immediately began providing best-in-class experiential programs and activation toolkits to Miller Genuine Draft.

Evan Starkman

Over the past eight years, Evan Starkman has grown the company roster and capabilities to include large-scale event production, custom fabrication, proprietary branding, sponsorship programming, online influencer strategy and much more. The company’s bottom line has doubled year over year now boasts clients like Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Old Navy, and PRIMARK.

How important is experience marketing for companies who have an online presence?

About as necessary as gas is for vehicles. Although we see a massive uptick in consumer behavior online with mediums like Facebook and Instagram, companies shouldn’t overlook authentic experiences which can drive content and consumer connection. Businesses large and small sometimes double down on paid social or digital advert thinking it is enough to boost digital connections and sales. It isn’t. Competition is high, clicks are cheap, and consumers are increasingly savvy about who and what influences their choices.

As a whole, 77% of U.S. consumers trust businesses less than they did a year ago and say that they trust their peers’ opinions online more than any other source.

What about businesses that may not yet be available online?

One of our biggest clients at The Bait Shoppe is Primark which is wildly successful global retailer without any online sales component. It is an incredible challenge to create marketing programs that can effectively influence consumer choice and be tracked!

That said, the Bait Shoppe and Primark have effectively built agile social programs which rely on the consumer to tell the Primark USA story. By engaging the consumer, empowering the consumer and then rewarding the consumer in store, we have found that foot traffic in stores has gone up!

We have found that 65% of U.S. consumers report a digital or social experience changed their perception about a brand (either positively or negatively) and a whopping 97% of US consumers say an experience ultimately influenced whether or not they went on to purchase a product from that brand.

What are some trends that are currently happening in marketing?

Virtual reality, interactive content, social media campaigns, AR, voice searches, and BOT tech are all gaining marketing mix momentum, but are ultimately the byproduct of technological advancements. The Bait Shoppe leverages emerging tech coupled with social media platforms to create authentic experiences that consumer organically wants to share. Eventually, when customers share a positive experience, it’s more meaningful than advertising that comes directly from a brand.

How does this affect the importance of marketing agencies?

The Bait Shoppe believes that people are the new media and that impactful stories get shared. Where companies used to create ads in the lab and push it out to consumers, now brands need to develop platforms for consumers to tell the brand story for them. With consumers in control, the importance of agencies like The Bait Shoppe has grown. These days, you simply cannot buy attention. You should earn it. Brands have an opportunity to elevate linear concepts to multi-dimensional ideas that effectively capture valuable consumer attention. Simply put, experience marketing is the powerful vehicle that drives these ideas, converting consumer attention into action, sales and loyalty.

Why is it essential for companies that host events to hire marketing agencies?

Many businesses who put on large scale events try and impress consumers with large installations and hyper-expensive AV. But, experiential marketing isn’t just about influencing people. It’s about impressing people in a way that incites them to impress others. The experience is a catalyst that sparks conversations and drives conversions. The point is to have an intended effect. You must define what that is early on to be successful, then build every aspect of your experience around it.

For years, press and social impressions were the gold standards for how brands quantified the success of their events and experiential campaigns. Yet this approach insufficiently articulates the deeper impact and insights that can be gleaned from an audience’s experience at an event. It is crucial that brands use agencies like The Bait Shoppe to better capture audience attention, conversion, conversation, and sentiment.

What else can these companies get from their marketers during public events?

The value of word-of-mouth advertising is not new, but more and more we see brands stepping aside to let their most valuable consumers endorse their opinions rather than relying on paid media and traditional advertising.

I believe that the complexities of an event will continue to evolve and as more robust data analytic technologies emerge, marketers will have more means to measure and prove the real value of an event, thus revealing a greater recognition of experiential as a prime marketing vehicle.

What does the future hold for Evan Starkman and Bait Shoppe?

Every agency is defined by the work they do, but you can’t do great work without supportive and brave clients. We count ourselves lucky to work with some of the most innovative, forward-thinking brands who push us as much as we push them. We won Event Marketers best use of VR when we built LIVE with LUFTHANSA, a live VR connection between US consumers and European flight attendants. We helped LYFT launch its autonomous driving platform at CES 2018 by building a fully immersive ‘Future of Driving’ museum. We’re excited to execute work that works on behalf of our existing roster, to learn from our peers, and to make new friends. Where the consumer goes next is where we’re going, and we’re excited to see what the future has in store!

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