When considering the customer journey, what a brand manager or communicator is really doing is crafting a customer experience.
Every touchpoint for your organization, from acquisition to the conversion of a sale, is part of a relationship you develop with a customer, building brick by brick with content, marketing copy and earned media placements. Many of these interactions have moved online as marketers and communicators have become hungry for measurable tracking.
However, Christa Carone, president of CSM North America, says you shouldn’t ignore experiential marketing opportunities.
“In this age of advocacy, brands need more than consumers,” she says. “They need fans.”
Carone has made a name for herself over the years with live brand activations for companies like Xerox, working with organizations like LiveNation, Cirque Du Soleil and others. For her, the key to grabbing customer attention is to entertain and delight.
“We remember the first concert we attended, our first major league game, our first Broadway show,” says Carone. “As sports and entertainment prove to us over and over again, there is no better way to win and connect with fans than through live experiences, where the energy has the potential to become contagious and moments become memorable.”
The live experience is also important for brand managers hoping to capitalize on that other industry trend, “brand purpose.” For Carone, the live experience is an essential part of communicating on potent cultural topics. “By expressing their purpose through the power of experiences, brands intensify their connections with consumers, building advocacy along the way,” she says. “With experiential marketing, a brand is more than something consumers buy; It’s something they live.”
Integrating online tools
Carone says live events have been transformed by online technology, and savvy marketers can’t ignore the tools available for mashing up live and virtual experiences.
“Certainly the rise of the Insta moment has become game changing for experiential marketing,” she says. “While experiential was once used to attract press interest and ramp up earned media, it’s now the foundation of integrated campaigns that build buzz through influencers and extensive social amplification.”
That means that your live event is no longer one moment in time, but rather a continuous story that ripples across the internet.
“The experience creates the moment that is then shaped by everyone who sees and shares it,” Carone says. “Even more compelling is how brands communicate their purpose and their corporate character through their partnerships, like Equinox’s nationwide involvement in Cycle for Survival and Citi’s partnership of the International Paralympic Committee.”
The genuine article
When creating a successful brand activation or live event for your organization, Carone says, authenticity is anything but a buzzword.
“Being truly authentic is imperative to building successful brand experiences,” she says. “When a brand feels forced into a live experience, the outcome can have more negative connotations than positive, and as we know from Twitter and Instagram, consumers are experts at sniffing out inauthentic brand integrations and calling out companies that miss the mark.”
To avoid coming across as opportunistic pandering, brand managers have to invest in obtaining a deep understanding of their target audience. “Marketers need to be crystal clear on the audiences they are trying to reach, understand why the audience cares or should care about their brand, and deliver brand experiences that provide a valuable service, a needed solution or a welcome surprise,” Carone says.
Measuring the event
Like any other messaging campaign, the metrics that will matter for your experiential marketing effort will depend a lot on your goals and objectives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) that aren’t tied to desired outcomes are meaningless for your project.
“Is it to create brand awareness and increase purchase intent, or drive traffic into a store and increase the basket size at checkout?” asks Carone. “Is it measuring e-commerce conversions to reduce acquisition costs? Or is it all about capturing data for future CRM/social campaigns, encouraging more streams during the first week a show drops, or more ticket sales when a movie premieres? By defining objectives up front, an experience can be measured to meet multiple marketing KPIs.”
One component that should always be present, no matter what goals you have, is the element of surprise.
“The most successful campaigns I’ve produced with my teams are the ones where we deliver an experience that is unexpected yet relevant for the consumer we want to reach,” says Carone. “Creating a surprising moment, like delivering hot chocolate and warm cookies as customers leave a conference bleary-eyed and whipped.”
To deliver these intangibles requires an exhaustive attention to detail. “Being obsessive about the details is often the key to the breakthrough moments that fans remember,” says Carone. “When we got it wrong was always because we lost sight of the audience; we paid too much attention to the message we wanted to tell instead of focusing on what the audience wanted to hear.”
Staying on the cutting edge
“Fans have massive expectations—as they should,” says Carone. “Technology has enabled immersive experiences that turn everyday moments into IRL magic.”
She suggests that a successful campaign always starts with a big idea of how to engage an audience, and then integrates technology and other available tools to amplify the idea.
However, when it comes to using new gadgets and trinkets to provide a wow factor, Carone says it’s important to be discerning.
“It’s not just for bells and whistles,” she says. “Ultimately, we’re aspiring for never-been-done-before and/or money-can’t-buy experiences worth sharing. Innovative technology is often core to making that happen.”