Those in the live experience industry know that consumer activations play a critical role in a brand’s sales and marketing strategy. Yet amid the challenges poised by a competitive market and skyrocketing consumer expectations, brands may have difficulty standing out, let alone making a lasting impact. That’s why it’s more important than ever to embrace this word in your consumer activations: experience.
Consumers in all industries are demanding more from the brands with which they do business. It’s no longer simply about a purchase — instead, they want an experience. An immersion. An emotional connection. And sometimes, an escape.
Our Director of Marketing, Kevin Cobb, doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to touting the importance of creating experiences.
“Marketing has been turned on its head,” he says. “Many mass-media tactics are nothing but noise. If you don’t create an experience — and, by extension, an emotional connection — for and with your customer, the rest of your marketing strategy will fall short.”
At Wellington, we believe in the power of experiences so much that we’ve made creating signature experiences the core of our brand. That includes extensive work with clients across a wide range of industries, including planning and executing creative and unexpected activations.
That planning typically starts with a question: what sort of experience should we create to build a connection? If you find yourself at a similar starting point, consider the following tips to make your activations more experiential, more engaging and more effective.
The Pillars of Making Your Consumer Activations an Impactful Experience
Connect with your location. Embrace the nuances and specific benefits of your event location, including the venue itself, the surrounding city and the local culture. Look at where you’ve held past activations (if applicable) and consider opportunities to shake up your logistics. Perhaps you could step out of the convention center and into more immersive surroundings like a national park? On a smaller scale, tap into local flavors and favorite regional cuisines, engage local artists and performers and, if your activation schedule allows, plan a social activity at a local landmark or a new hotspot. The important thing is to look past the top-level trendy parts of your “where” and see what is teaming below. The things that make a certain city, venue, or group of people unique and different – and then infuse that into a part of the activation.
Be authentic. When shifting your activation strategy to an experience-first mindset, it can be tempting to sink your budget into every bell and whistle. Luxury certainly makes an experience memorable, but it’s more important to be authentic.
“Many brands tend to focus on consumer activations as doing something big and grandiose, which has its place but can also struggle to connect with people,” Kevin says. “Successful activations combine the unexpected with the authentic, which can be difficult to execute unless you’re willing to approach and think through the activation at a deeper level.”
That’s why it helps to start out with a vision. Consider these questions:
- What sort of connection do you want to create with consumers?
- What do you want attendees to think, and do while they attend the activation? What do you want them to do once the event is over?
- How do you want to make them feel throughout the experience journey? (hint: if it’s just one thing, you are missing out on a whole lot of what makes us experience things as human beings…)
With that information, you’ll have a foundation on which to build an impactful, authentic experience. An activation — and any branded event — is an opportunity to do much more than make a sale. It’s a chance to build connections with your customers and other stakeholders, developing a brand loyalty that lasts long after the activation concludes. And to surprise them.
Perfect your personalization. In the “State of the Connected Customer” report by Salesforce Research, which includes input from more than 6,700 consumers and business buyers, a whopping 84% of customers said that being treated like a person, not just a number, is critical to determining where they’ll buy.
An activation is a prime opportunity to deliver a personalized experience that shows you know and understand your audience. Start on a large scale by customizing the event itself. Perhaps you want to target a younger audience by hosting an activation on a college campus. Make the most of your surroundings — and keep your audience engaged — by delivering an interactive and informative experience. A festival format, with a mix of demonstration areas and live entertainment, is an effective way to appeal to your audience’s interests. And make sure you create plenty of opportunities for online sharing (more on that in a moment)!
You can personalize on a smaller scale, too. Let’s say you’re including a giveaway in your activation. Think about the people who are signing up for the giveaway. What sort of prize would make a lasting impression and delight the winner? Thinking through those sorts of details ahead of your event is a strong signal to your audience that you’re invested in them and their interests, which makes the overall activation experience that much more powerful.
Deliver an insider’s perspective. In addition to receiving a personalized experience, attendees want to feel important and valuable (don’t we all?!). Consider adding a peek behind the curtain to your activation experience.
Delivering an insider’s view can take many different formats, depending on the specifics of your event. The key to your approach is exclusivity. See a new vehicle before anyone else, learn how a favorite product is made, get a guided tour of a behind-the-scenes locale, enjoy access to designers or creatives who aren’t normally accessible. If the opportunity is right, you could even put an attendee (or several) on stage to bask in the spotlight while they share a relevant brand story or participate in another way.
Broaden your target audience. An activation’s audience can help drive (no pun intended) the experience, which is why it’s worth examining your attendees. You likely have a core group of targeted prospects and brand stakeholders.
Are there opportunities to cater to this existing audience while also adding new people to the mix? For example, you could combine the activation with a socially relevant movement or theme that sparks a different sort of experience, one built on engagement, sharing and discussion, rather than sales. This is an opportunity to inspire a wider range of people that includes your target demographic and can help lay the groundwork for brand loyalty with a long-term payoff.
Encourage social sharing. In today’s social media-focused world, online sharing can have a big impact on a brand’s perception and long-term success. Whatever form your activation takes, make sure that social sharing is part of your strategy. Create a branded hashtag and encourage attendees to use it throughout the experience. Help facilitate Instagrammable moments with photo booths, eye-catching displays and intriguing demonstrations that make for compelling digital content. Not only will this help get more people interested in what you’re doing; you’ll also increase your brand reach and impressions.
Here’s another social media tip: remember that it’s a conversation. Dedicate at least one person on your team to watch the hashtag and brand mentions so that you can share what your attendees are saying and capturing. That makes them feel validated that what they’re sharing resonates with your brand, and is also an easy way for you to maintain an active online presence during a busy time like an activation. You could even reward people for sharing the event with their networks with surprise-and-delight tactics like a piece of branded swag or another small prize, simply for participating.
There’s no doubt that creating experiences can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding work. Just imagine the possibilities for how you can captivate and delight attendees in a way that also benefits your brand. If you want to talk through any ideas or get more information on the client examples we mentioned earlier in the post, feel free to contact us any time.