Despite the controversies around social media in advertising (the Facebook/Google data walls, Cambridge Analytica, general algorithm upheavals), we’re all still stuck in this world where to engage with our customers we feel like we have to be sprinkling our budgets across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.
This isn’t untrue, and I’m not here to debate the fact that social drives results and helps to build a brand, because it does. What I want to talk about is how experiential marketing is driving more meaningful results, and how social should be the vehicle to deliver that (not the end game).
“With users bombarded by digital content across multiple devices each day, real-life experiential marketing becomes something special.” – Krystal Overmyer, 2018
I have always been interested in shopper marketing and brand activation: the connections you make with the consumer at the actual point of purchase. Whether this is shelf display, sampling or even into pop-up experiences. When brands create experiences for their customers, they are bringing value to both the product and the brand as a whole. They are creating connections. The way you make someone feel in that moment is going to do way more for your brand equity than a cute Facebook post ever will.
“There’s a consensus among marketers that brand experience builds loyalty.” – Chris Cavanaugh, Freeman CMO
It goes without saying though, that social media is what will amplify the experience beyond the small percentage of audience that will actually engage with the activation. Ergo, Instagrammability is everything.
“Social changes everything because to succeed you need to create content that engages. Experiential for us without some kind of social amplification would be not really worth it.” – Andy Pharoah, YP corporate affairs and strategic initiatives, Mars
A much quoted example of experiential done well, and bolstered by social media is 29 Rooms by Refinery29.
A multi-sensory art experience, curated by Refinery29 has become a popular event to attend for that essential summer ‘gram. It embodies what the brand stands for. It’s not about the direct sell, or showcasing a product – but bringing that brand personality to life; making it tangible.
“We wanted to bring our site to life in a physical way so the audience can have an immersive experience of our brand,” – Piera Gelardi, executive creative director Refinery29
It’s ticketed (and now has its own merch), which shows they’ve made something so good that people are going because it’s enjoyable – not because they get a freebie (which is often what brand activations rely on). Many brands shy away from making people pay for something like this, but in fact, ticketed events draw in your most loyal customers, and let you reward them with dazzling experiences.
One example I have seen recently which I loved came from Bumble. I mean TBH i’ve just been fan-girling over Bumble for a while now. They do good stuff.
The activation was a Bumble food truck serving Catfish (geddit??!!) called The Great Catch. It was promoting the app’s use of facial-recognition technology that works to prevent people from pretending to be someone they’re not.
Tongue-in-cheek, beautifully designed.
SXSW is typically where big-budget brands go to town on experiential. One I liked from this year was the BeautyRest mattress 8 hour concert. They gave everyone a bed, got Max Richter to curate a concert, and tell people to settle in for the next 8 hours. Yep. They literally got people to PAY to TRY their product. It combined the traditional musical element of SXSW, tapped into people’s desires to try something different, and put their product at the centre of it. What more can you want?
The Unlimited Stadium was an awesome one last year from Nike. I have serious ??? around what the budget was for this, but friggin cool nonetheless.
There are so many other examples I could put here but this post is too long already. I think the struggle is always the commitment of budget that is needed for an activation versus social activity. Yes these examples are all big budget BUT you can do it with a small budget. Bumble (told you I was fan-girling) recently hand-delivered egg baskets to offices around Sydney for Easter – with little notes saying ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. Yes this stuff isn’t ground-breaking but it 1) creates those connections 2) drives genuine social content 3) adds to the brand equity.
“Not everything can be 100 percent quantified. The small smile you bring to someone’s face, that is something.” – Raja Rajamannar, CMO, Mastercard