Category : Strategy


What the F*ck is Strategy Anyway?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"

According to, it’s “a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.” For marketers, it can mean so much more. As I think about experiential marketing, the act of strategy or planning incorporates a significant number of inputs to drive the desired outcome. The challenge for many is defining what success looks like, understanding the operational environment, and creating an actionable plan.

Strategy starts with measurable objectives

Be careful here. We’re talking about outcomes vs. outputs. In other words, you want to know about the reaction to the work, not the quantity of things that were done to achieve this reaction. Some measurable objectives might include: increasing awareness, driving purchase consideration, generating sales, or creating advocacy. There are many others of course. It’s important to understand what your goals are, and measure them to determine degrees of success. Objectives should always be SMART. Also, don’t attempt to boil the ocean with brand experiences. Try to narrow focus to 1-3 objectives.

So. Many. Inputs.

In experiential marketing, the major inputs include:

Brand – Your company, what you stand for, where you are and where you’re going — Who are you? What is your position in the market? What is your brand personality? What are your business objectives? How is your business performing?

Audience – Demographics for sure. More importantly, psycho-graphics, interests, passions, media consumption habits, digital behaviors, etc. — Who is your audience, and what drives them rationally and emotionally? How do you reach them?

Culture – Arts, sciences, sports, celebrity, politics — What is happening in the world of your consumer that you might consider, include, or avoid?

Marketplace – Industry trends, competition, socioeconomic considerations — What macro-industry forces are at play? How can you leverage these? What impact might they have on your strategy?

Marketing – Tools you, or other brands are using in both similar and different industries to engage with their audiences. — What’s working? What’s not? What might work for your industry / audience?

Point in time vs. ongoing relationships

Keep in mind, an experience is a point in time. Experiences can be physical, digital or human. Experiences are omni-channel. You are playing the long game and the experience you are creating is only part of an ongoing dialogue with your audience. In some cases, you will control the experiences, and in others you will not. The discipline of focus on what to accomplish at this particular interaction in the relationship is what will build a platform for success. There are different approaches, and different tools for each stage of a relationship. Broader, multi-tactic strategies, such as those used in Portfolio Planning, will help ensure meaningful, sustainable relationships with your audiences.

Operational considerations

Timing, budget, agency capabilities, partnerships, resource availability and allocation, quality vs. quantity and other factors should all play a role in strategy development. If there are mission critical requirements to your strategy, or even minor nuances which are dependent on any of these things, it’s important to recognize them up front, plan for them or shift to an alternate strategy. Strategy that is not truly actionable is not a strategy at all. It is time and resources wasted. That which can go wrong, will, and contingencies must be accounted for.

Do your job

The role of an experiential strategy is to achieve objectives by motivating audiences to act on these objectives through the use of tactics which activate emotional and / or rational triggers. Your strategy and the tactics which bring it to life, must make them think, create understanding, make them feel something, and above all, persuade them to do something.


To quote Ram Charan, “Execution is the only strategy consumers see.” I’ve worked with dozens of strategists in my career, and the best of the best know that a strategy must be able to be simple enough that it is clearly understood and actionable above all else. There is a great deal of work that goes into setting measurable objectives, understanding all necessary inputs and crafting a brilliant plan. That said, your team need not read a 100-page dissertation to understand the strategy. Get to the point. Create a hypothesis, be able to support it, share the plan, articulate outcomes, and show how the plan can be executed. The best strategies are “tweetable”.

So for me, strategy is establishing measurable objectives, interpreting the marketplace, and creating an effective, executable plan that everyone can understand. What’s your perspective?

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The Art of Experiential Marketing

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” The same holds true for any experiential or event marketing program. If you want to breed success, it is critical you create and work within a strategy.

Strategy means many things to many people. For some, its about the activities that are engineered for the audience to participate in. For others, its bringing the brand to life online. For others still, its about the right events or digital activities to participate in. I submit it’s all of these things and more.

Creating or adopting a strategic framework for the needs of your experience or program is a good place to start. From there, taking time to think about how you will approach each component lays the foundation for success. Here are some tips for creating a strategic framework that will help you rally the troops and march onward toward victory.

1. Clearly articulate and prioritize all objectives. What are you trying to accomplish with the event / experience / program? If you accomplish only one thing, what must it be? Because there are many lieutenants in the work we do, there are also many opinions on what the objectives should be. Try to foster agreement on as few objectives as possible. Honing the list down to no more than 1-3 objectives will ensure your squad focuses on the right things.

2. Think about measurement first. Now that you’ve established your objectives, it’s important to understand if, when and how you’ve accomplished them. Create a measurement strategy that reports on how these objectives are being met. no more, no less. Make sure all officers and troops alike are in agreement on success imperative and the measurement plan before the event / experience / program is launched.

3. Know how your battle contributes to the war effort. Always understand the input and outputs of what you’re doing. What other programs might influence your work? What contribution does your event make to the campaign? Understanding will also help ensure your are focused on the most important things.

4. Take time to get to know the target. Think beyond the demographics and psychographics of audiences. What are their interests? What are their triggers and inhibitors? What emotional and rational needs do they have that your brand can fulfill? What media do they consume and how do they consume it? This will lay the foundation for relevant experiences and build meaningful relationships.

5. Play to your strengths. Know thyself. Stay on brand and execute those tactics which are most likely to succeed. Apply the 80 / 20 rule for experimental activities and focus on tried and true methods first. Also know your weaknesses and be prepared to overcome them.

6. Survey the battlefield. What else is happening in the marketplace? What are your competitors up to? What socio-economic factors, marketing trends, business challenges, online and offline influencers need to be considered? Knowing the environment in which you are operating can help determine the types of activities executed at right time and place to maximize success.

7. Draft a comprehensive plan of attack. How will you attract an audience? What experiences will motivate them to act on your objectives? How are you representing your brand? What’s the sales strategy? What about follow-up? Promotions? Digital engagement? Ensure there are sub-strategies to your overarching strategy.

8. Develop contingencies for defeat and victory. Flexibility is key. Know what you will do if all or part of your program begins to fail before the event / experience / program is executed. Alternatively, know what you will do if the work is wildly successful. Sometimes an inability to support success can be more damaging than an outright failure. Make sure you have immediate, quick-strike plans in place as well as intermediate and longer-term ideas in your arsenal.

9. Remember measurement. Measure and diagnose your event / experience / program. Understand success, the degrees to which you were successful, and the reasons behind success or failure. Consider what successful tactics can be replicated elsewhere or improved upon. What were the reasons for failure? How can this be prevented next time? Create a plan for continuous improvement so each battle is won with fewer casualties.

Sun Tzu also wrote, “The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” By creating a strategy and calculating the outcomes before you launch your plan, you’ll be able to mitigate failure and drive overwhelming success.

originally published 5/25/10

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Portfolio Planning: 10 Tips For Creating The Right Mix

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"

Winter is here is here. For many companies, this means planning is in high season. We’re all working diligently on trying to figure out the right number, frequency, type and cadence of events to include in our portfolio to drive relationships, sales and ROI. This is no easy task. There are several factors that can influence the mix. Some of these include: industry, types of suspects and prospects pursued, audience behaviors, company products and solutions offered, state of current pipeline, the economy, budget, etc. What’s even more challenging is these factors are in a constant state of flux and are changing all the time. We are trying to hit a moving target and our plans must be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the environment we work in.

Here are 10 thoughts on how you can create an effective and efficient event portfolio plan.

1. Collaborate: Ensure you have all the right people involved in the process: brands and business units; corporate headquarters and countries or regional offices; event marketers, advertisers, direct marketers, digital teams, PR and sales; agencies; business partners, etc. Having the right people involved at the right level from the beginning of the process with help you build an integrated plan that has a much higher probability of success. This will also facilitate buy-in and help things work much more smoothly as the year goes on.

2. Build Value: Relationships are predicated upon a mutual exchange of value. Remember this when working with your internal and external teams during the planning process. Understanding the inputs, outputs and roles of each and every team member will help make the process run effectively and efficiently. Respect for individual roles and establishing an environment of trust are critical. Success of the plan, and ultimately the company trumps individual needs.

3. Think of the Audience First: People do not live their lives via a media plan or event schedule. Most will only attend a few events per year. Who are your target audiences and what events are they most likely to attend? Event marketing portfolios should be built from an audience perspective first.

4. Give Every Event A Job: Some events and tactics are good for generating awareness and thought leadership. Others are better for lead generation.  Still others have strengths in nurturing and closing the deal. Don’t forget about loyalty events. While its true that few events have a singular purpose, consider the promary objective of each event in your portfolio, and ensure you have the right tactics in place at every stage in the sales cycle. Remember that large third-party events are best for the early stages of the cycle (awareness, lead generation) and smaller, proprietary engagements are most appropriate toward the end (nurturing, conversion, loyalty).

5. Act Globally And Locally: There are some industry events which have the power to attract audiences from near and far – destination events. Start with these. Otherwise, audiences tend to operate within a certain market. Execute proprietary activities regionally to nurture, convert or drive retention and expansion of your audiences. Its often a lot easier for someone to attend a local breakfast seminar than book a flight to Las Vegas.

6. Select Events Carefully: Create and adhere to a robust decision-making process. Use the right criteria. Are your target customers at the event? Can you drive the audeince? Does the event audience meet your target demographic? Is it a key industry event? Is there an opportunity to tell your story?

7. Use Data-Based Business Rationale: “We’ve always attended.”, “Our competition will be there.”, “What will the industry / our customers think if we don’t go?” Are not sound business strategies or reasons for exhibiting. Do the math. If the event has the ability to meet your marketing and business objectives, then go. Otherwise, leave it on the table.

8. Decide Which Activities To Add, Change Or Remove: Understand that some events are underperformers because they fail to deliver the right audience. Others deliver the audience, but the way in which you participated may need to be adjusted to take better advantage of the opportunity. There are also always new opportunities available to reach your audiences. These opportunities may be created by third-party producers, or you can create them yourself. Explore all options before arriving at a final plan.

9. Save by Zero: If you have an event portfolio that is filled with legacy activities and potentially frought with waste. Start from scratch. Build your plan from the ground up. Make no assumptions. Treat every event with the same scrutiny when evaluating it for inclusion in you plan.

10. Keep The Plan Alive: Remember, no plan is ever final. Event portfolio planning is a continuous process that must be monitored throughout the year and adjusted regularly based on performance, learning, the environment and your own pipeline.

Portfolio planning can be a complex and sometimes politically-charged process. The right alignment to marketing and business objectives, strong team integration and disciplined process, will help increase your chances at delivering a flexible plan built for success. If you have any additional ideas or challenges you’ve faced in creating your plan, please share!

originally published 10/1/09

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