Digital Experiential Marketing that Drives Participation

Posted by Christina Carlile, Director, Planning & Strategy

Experiential Marketing is encouraging customer participation like never before.  Marketers are shifting towards rich, immersive experiences that enable participants to experience deeper connections with their surroundings—via physical, social, mobile and video formats.  DMNews recently posed the question, “Are experiences more influential than ads?”  SapientNitro’s CCO and Chief Brand Strategy Officer responded: “Yes.”  Readers agreed.  To illustrate, consider the case of Build-a-Bear, which isn’t that different from other stuffed bears, but has been able to command a price premium.  Why the higher price?  It’s because participants are in it for the experience; they’re participating with the brand and—through doing so—have become part of the brand story.  One DMNews commenter remarked, “What’s better than an ad? A referral, a raving fan, a satisfied customer, a blog post, a YouTube video from a satisfied user showing how the product solved a problem, a recommendation from a family member or a positive mention on social media.”  In order to amplify engagement and connection, experiences need to foster participation and nurture the brand story in partnership with advertising.

ANALYSIS

2012 earmarks one of our favorite examples of experiential marketing.  Coca-Cola released an emotional campaign to reinforce its brand positioning of “Happy.”  The idea was simple.  It involved placing a Coca-Cola vending machine in public (at a university in Singapore) with “Hug Me” written on it; once someone physically hugged the machine, they got a free Coke. The campaign spread like wildfire, and participants were delighted by an experience that brought them joy when they didn’t expect it.  Not only did it capture the attention of existing Cola-Cola drinkers, but it also encouraged Pepsi drinkers to hug the machine for a free drink.  The campaign created awareness for the brand, it was a memorable marketing event, it emotionally connected and it activated participation.  Tying back to one of Coca-Cola’s brand missions of “inspiring moments of optimism and happiness,” this campaign proved value in a crowded and competitive beverage category.  See the video clip here.

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In addition to physical experiences like that of Coca-Cola, brands are using virtual experiences, social media and video to drive engagement.  Many recent efforts surround mainstream cultural events like the Super Bowl and award shows (like the upcoming Oscars).  Brands are activating omni-channel conversations, which have no boundaries and no medium assigned to them.  Here are a few ways brands are preparing for the upcoming weekend of Oscar Events.

  • On the Banana Republic YouTube channel, Justine, a YouTube celebrity, will appear live on the red carpet in a custom version of a dress from the Banana Republic spring collection. Banana’s RED CARPET custom channel also pulls in live social conversations, while providing a countdown to the main event. Banana also has dedicated real estate on its website to cross-promote awareness and engagement of its YouTube channel and the event.
    experiential 2
  • Evite has partnered with ConnecTV (a social video network for television viewers) and is encouraging participants to host in-home and virtual viewing parties for big television events. By doing this, Evite has spurred mini-events that connect via its platform of invites, checklists and voting material, with personal gatherings between family and friends.
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  • Vanity Fair has invited more than 120 bloggers and online reporters covering the Oscars to use branded WeWork work spaces on Hollywood Boulevard outfitted with amenities like a media wall, a faux food truck and a vending machine powered by Twitter—i.e. giving away merchandise in exchange for posts that use sponsor hashtags and handles.

Just like the Cola-Cola machine that was powered by hugs, brands are starting to use social behaviors like tweets to power an exchange of goods.

SO WHAT?

Ultimately, the worlds of paid, owned and earned media are blurring.  As experiences both physically and digitally intersect, Experiential Marketing is only becoming more important.  Think about your brand as a multi-channel invitation to encourage customers to be an active part of your brand story—regardless of whether you’re creating an “ad” or an “experience.”

To do this:

  1. Identity reasons-to-believe (RTB).  Your brand promise and mission statement are irrelevant if your customers don’t believe them.
  2. Identify your customers’ touch-points.  Be relevant to your customers based on their lifestyles, needs and behaviors.
  3. Design the optimal experience.  Enable the customer to be part of your brand story.
  4. Plan to amplify your experience once it connects with your customer.  Anticipate and monitor conversations when the physical and digital worlds collide.  Note when and how long it takes for conversations to cross mediums, and measure the impact.

A recent Google and Ad Age study, “Brand Engagement in the Participation Age,” notes the most important engagement metrics for executives to measure, including:

  • Driving traffic to retail locations or websites (80%)
  • Reaching influencers (82%)
  • Social buzz (68%)

It’s fair to say that the Coca-Cola campaign met these goals.  Captured on video, the offline experience generated more than 112 million impressions in the first seven days, over 1,600 video likes and almost 400 new unique subscribers to Coke’s YouTube channel—high-impact results with low-cost delivery.

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