Experiential Campaigns: Creating a Dialogue Between Brand and Consumer

Experiential campaigns are becoming the heart and soul of many marketing programs. These activations have the ability to reach beyond those lucky enough to experience them thanks to social media the many shareable moments these events create.

But experiential campaigns are far from a sure thing. And when one goes wrong, it tends to linger on the web. Simply search “Experiential Marketing Fails,” and you’ll find examples like when a Jagermeister party in Leon, Mexico poisoned several guests when someone poured liquid nitrogen in a chlorinated pool, creating the potentially lethal gas nitrogen trichloride. Nine people went to the hospital, and a 21-year-old man spent 18 days in a coma.

Or when Cadbury Schweppes ran a 23-city treasure hunt for a gold coin possible worth $1 million. In Boston, the company hid the coin in the Old Granary Burial Ground where patriots of the American Revolutionary are buried. The city was not thrilled about the idea of centuries-old graves being defiled as people searched for the coin. Old Granary was quickly closed until the coin was removed.

So, experiential campaigns require extensive forethought and care. They cannot be entered into lightly – but they are likely to increase as more companies see success.

A study by the Freeman agency and data company SSI found that one in three CMOs is expecting to ramp up their experience marketing and allocate between 21 and 50 percent of their budget to brand to it over the next three to five years. Just under 60 percent of CMOs said that brand experience was valuable because it can create ongoing relationships with key audiences.

The study also found that nine out of 10 respondents felt that brand experience delivers a more compelling brand engagement, while two-thirds stated that it’s an effective way to achieve business objectives.

A recent article in Forbes profiled the Senior Manager of Global Experiential Marketing for American Express, Allison Rand.

Rand’s most recent activations were to create and build a Secret Garden at this year’s Coachella. The lounge contained vibrant green plants and cold cocktails – an oasis in the desert, and it was exclusive for AmEx cardholders. Also, for the Panorama Festival, she created a clubhouse with a tropical island ambiance. The area contained giveaways, parlor games, and a bar overlooking the main stage. Once again, exclusive for AmEx members.

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Photo Credit: Event Marketer

Rand has some very compelling thoughts on the effectiveness of experiential activations, overcoming unexpected occurrences, conceptualizing a successful event, and what it takes to excel in event marketing.

“Anyone can excel in event marketing, regardless of scale,” she said. “When I started this job five years ago, I learned to treat the budget as if it’s my own money. But that doesn’t mean to be cheap, because we still have to execute a premier experience. The best way to do this without breaking the bank is to get creative. Design an unforgettable theme around an event, and know exactly when to scale back.

“The first thing we do is ask our team to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and try to design a seamless experience from beginning to end. Many make the mistake of thinking the customer experience starts when customers enter the actual event. Marketers must instead zoom out and track the customer journey starting with when they learn about the event, to when they purchase tickets, attend the event and the post-event when they continue to share their experience on social media. We analyze how we could make our brand relevant throughout that whole process.”

So, it is not necessary to break the bank to put on a successful activation. It’s all about what you want to convey to the consumer and what they expect from you. An attendee at an activation for a big-name brand like American Express is going to have loftier expectation than at a “mom and pop” event. Still, you always want to give the appearance that you broke the bank – even when you found a few ways to cut some corners.

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Photo Credit: The Knockturnal

“A lot goes into the design of the spaces,” said Rand. “There’s always the question of what materials should go into the physical structure and what looks best on social media. At this year’s Coachella, I wanted to create the lushest garden made of real flowers and have this oasis in the middle of the desert. But purchasing and installing real flowers to last days in the desert would have cost us. We settled for a mix of real and faux plants to make it look premium but not bust our budget.”

One thing you cannot control when it comes to outdoor activations is the weather. However, you can prepare for it. In fact, according to Rand, you even turn it to your advantage, if you’re ready to go the extra mile.

“Panorama is always in July in NYC, when the weather is humid, hot and unpredictable. Unfortunately, this year, it poured the first night, and we had to cancel the evening acts, but we were prepared with some services for our card members. It’s a given to provide best-in-class customer service, but you have to get more specific. One guide we follow is to drive customer loyalty by giving card members the opportunity to ‘be the hero’ to friends and family at these special events. In this case, they’re getting their guests into these exclusive lounges to protect them from the harsh weather,” said Rand.

“Besides the indoor clubhouse, we distributed branded beach mats and towels to give card members a place to sit or shield themselves from the sun or rain. We also gave out branded portable chargers to keep their phones connected to social media updates, public transportation schedules and rideshare apps the whole weekend.”

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Photo Credit: The Big Breeze

Judging the success of an experiential activation used to be harder than it is now. A brand like AmEx has always had a distinct advantage in measuring their accomplishments because their product has data baked into its DNA.

Fortunately, other brands increasingly have access to the type of data that will let them weigh the success of an experiential activation – the key is to have a social component as part of the activation.  That way, in addition to how many people actually experienced the event in person, you can track the event’s social reach.

Of course, Rand also points out that there is nothing like an onsite, in-person conversation for garnering immediate feedback.

“There’s also no better time to get feedback from customers than while they’re actually at the event,” she said, “Our events staff, as well as agencies working on the ground, are all frontline workers tasked with gathering feedback so that we can continually improve.”

That’s another benefit that is often overlooked with activation: one-on-one dialogues directly between brand and consumer. There are very few times when you can see someone reacting to your product or service so immediately. It’s the direct opposite of traditional marketing, where a one-way message is sent from the brand to potential consumers. Experiential events are a dialogue (both metaphorical and literal) between your brand and your consumer.

For more on the benefits of experiential marketing and some ideas for activations, give Event Architecture a call at 972-343-9433.

sofia krsmanovic