Are You Experienced?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"A few weeks ago, I was having a discussion with one of my clients on the difference between event marketing and experiential marketing. Interestingly, there is a lot of confusion between the two and quite often the words “event” and “experience” are used interchangeably.
I offer that although there are similarities and the two often complement each other, they are fundamentally different.

Simply stated, in this context an event is a gathering of people at a predetermined place and time for the purpose of exploring and sharing information that is of common interest. There are several different types of events, ranging from large trade shows and conferences, to panel discussions, networking meetings and intimate proprietary engagements. Each event type has a purpose in the sales and marketing cycle, but is an event in itself an experience?

A brand experience can be as complex as a visit to Walt Disney World, or as simple as a discussion with a customer service representative over the phone. We all have experiences every day. Some are positive, some are negative, but few are designed effectively.

An effective experience engages all senses. It activates the emotional and rational triggers within us and motivates us. A typical event marketing program will employ some experiential tactics, but few completely. Here are seven ideas that will help you integrate powerful brand experiences into your event marketing program.

  1. Start with the audience. In order to design an effective experience or series of experiences, its important to understand your audience first. What are their emotional and rational triggers and inhibitors? What do they need to feel and understand in order to act on your objectives? Make sure your experience puts your audience in a position of power and confidence. After all, its all about them, not about you or your products. Although you are creating an experience for the masses, its important you drive a sense of intimacy with each and ever member of the audience. Make it as personal as possible. This foundation can be used not only in experience design, but in product development, sales process, customer service training and beyond.
  2. Know your objective. Event marketers often get trapped in their own repetitive cycle of events. Year-over-year they build and plan the same events, perhaps swapping out products and messaging from time-to-time. Its important to step back and examine the business, marketing and sales objective of your program, and then the contribution of each event tactic to that program. Establishing appropriate objectives for your event is the easy part. Sticking to these objectives and designing unique experiences which truly deliver against these goals is often the challenge. Focus on as few objectives as possible. This will ensure you invest time, budget and resources appropriately to drive success.
  3. Design the experience to be immersive with all six senses in mind. Yes, I said six. The sixth being a sense of belonging. If it all comes together, your attendees will feel and think they “belong”. Its important your experience is as immersive as possible, surrounding attendees from all sides and use external influencers to effect internal responses. Event marketers often focus on the visual, sometimes the audible and seldom any of the other senses. Here are some thoughts on engaging the senses.
    • Sight: Make it compelling: exciting video,vivid photography, appropriate colors and graphics all play a part.
    • Sound: The volume is often just as important as the audible content itself. Remember to use ambiance and silence to your advantage. These can be powerful engagers or distractors.
    • Touch: Give your attendees something to touch, and to engage with. Think about texture. Holding something in their hand has been proven to drive value perception and ownership. Also don’t forget about temperature or air quality. At a trade show even plush carpet with a thick pad creates a welcome retreat for foot-weary business infantry. In speaking sessions, make seating comfortable, but not too comfortable.
    • Smell: Site inspections are important. If a hotel conference room has a mold or mildew problem, this can detract from the experience. The same goes for strong cleaning products. Plan for the aroma of attendees. Ambient smell can be just as distracting as ambient sound.
    • Taste: Especially important for hospitality settings. Make sure the food and drink is of the highest quality possible.
  4. Don’t forget about interaction. Interaction with things, as well as people. Arguably, the most important part of any experience is the people present and audience interaction with those people. Human interaction can make or break an attendee’s experience. Be professional, be engaging, be friendly, and most of all, be human. This is what will build real long term brand relationships.
  5. Tell a Story. incorporate effective storytelling as a tool to engage and interact with audiences on both an emotional and rational level. You can tell a story at a single event or across several tactics. Success will be determined by your audience, your message and the way in which the story is told.
  6. Stay on brand. Do not sacrifice your brand intent to create an experience. Ensure the type, quality and tonality of your experience reflects well against your brand personality. Anything else will hinder audience engagement and long-term retention of message and brand association with the experience.
  7. Be authentic. Authenticity is critical in driving trust with your audiences. Ensure your experiences are genuine, authentic and true. Consider adopting a case study approach within your experiences driven by customers, partners, etc. to further empower authenticity.

Is your event an experience? These are just some guiding principles to get started. As marketers, we should walk around in the shoes of our audiences as often as possible to build effective and relevant experiences both face-to-face and virtually. As always, if you have other ideas, please share!

originally published 11/10/09 www.experientialmarketing20.com

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Brand Building Through Event Marketing

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"Branding. In event marketing it’s more than plastering your logo on a pen, sponsoring a lunch or hanging the largest banner allowed by show management over your booth. To truly build a brand that leaves an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of audiences, event marketers must adopt a more strategic, holistic approach.

Think of it this way. People build perceptions through five lenses: emotion, reason, knowledge, personality and experience. It is exceedingly difficult to effectively address these through logos, signage and the like. To truly build a positive brand impression requires the building of trust and relationships.

Here are 13 ideas to help you build your brand through broader and deeper audience engagement at your events.

Everything Matters: Every touch point with your audience has the opportunity to make or break their perception of your brand as well as your relationship with them. Take nothing for granted.

Booth Layout: The look and feel of your booth is a good starting point. Remember, what’s not in your booth is just as important as what is. Keep it open, inviting and comfortable.

Signage: Use messaging as a strategic weapon. Adopt a messaging hierarchy for your presence. Consider what your messaging strategy is, and what high level and detailed messaging you will include to draw people into your booth and entice conversation with your staffers. Hint: you don’t have to tell the whole story from across the convention center. Also, the amount of messaging, fontography, and integration with pictures and video is critical. All elements need to work together simply and seamlessly, to tell your story. You have 3-5 seconds. Go!

Experiences: Given that one of the key foundations of building perception is experience, you should really focus on this one. Make your events authentic, engaging, interactive and immerse your audience and you’ll go a long way to bolstering brand perception.

Storytelling: Use case studies and stories to build positive brand impressions from an audience perspective. Using guest speakers on panels or use video both at the event and online to draw your audiences in and show how your brand addresses their needs and makes them a hero in their own story.

Trained Demonstrators: It is true that no one in your company knows your products better than the folks who created them. It is also true that delivering demonstrations based on audience needs (not product features and benefits) presenting ideas effectively in a public forum and engaging audiences in meaningful conversations, is a skill in it’s own right. If your staff is trainable (meaning they could pass as a professional speaker or demonstrator) by all means train them. If not, use them as company and product experts after the pros energize, excite and engage the crowd.

Educational Sessions: Whether you are participating in a third-party tradeshow, conference or planning a proprietary event, it’s important to add value to your audiences. In many cases this means offering some sort of education. The tracks you participate in, the type of knowledge you impart, the number of sessions, the quality of the speakers and the breadth and depth of content you provide all say something about your brand. Also, keep in mind that any educational session should be designed so it is entertaining, easily digestible and shareable beyond the session itself. Think about how audiences will use this content in social media.

Speaking Opportunities: Like educational sessions, speaking session should be treated as critical for appealing to the emotion, reason and knowledge lenses of your audiences. Work with show producers to secure the most prominent speaking session(s) possible whether through purchasing sponsorships, or building such a reputation in the marketplace for excellence, the mere presence of your rockstar executive will draw crowds to the event.

Private Meetings: The most important audiences are those who  align themselves with your organization. This is true for prospects, customers, and loyal advocates. Holding special off-floor activities just for them will make them feel special and validate their affinity with your brand. Make sure these activities are of the highest quality,  valuable, entertaining and allow for networking with peers.

Audience Generation: Aside from “just do it,” remember the type and frequency of touches you have with your potential attendees before the event creates an important brand perception. Here you have an opportunity to show you care about these audiences, which activates emotional triggers.

Promotion: Although niche themes for your event can be fun and all, try to resist the temptation of going way off brand. Whatever promotions, gameshows, sweepstakes, giveaways, contests, booth themes, etc. you choose, they should be first and foremost designed to add real value to your audiences. Secondly, they should be aligned with your core brand values and messaging. The promotion should never outweigh the prominence of your brand. here’s a simple trick. Try saying the promotion name with your competitors brand and message as part of the slogan. If it works, it’s not for you.

Follow-Through: The speed and authenticity of your follow-up activities with your audiences after the event also have a tremendous impact on brand perception. make sure you have a plan for how to manage hot, warm and cold leads after the event. Ensure any information captured on site about the audience is shared with the sales or field staff responsible for post-event contact strategies. Audiences should be contacted as close to immediately after the event as possible, or they will shop your competition, and you have lost an opportunity to build deep, meaningful relationships, not to mention negatively impacted your return on investment.

Social Media Integration: Think beyond the event in terms of audience, content and relationships. Social media activities and audience engagement should be planned for and executed before, during and after the event. An event is a point in time, a relationship lasts far longer. Make sure you participate where your audiences are already congregating. Do your research. It may not be where you think.

An event is the best place for audiences to look a company in the eye and become immersed in a ‘brand experience’.  Second to this is the pervasiveness of the digital channel in providing interactive ‘brand experiences’ for many audiences. Outside of events, digital marketing provides an experience which engages audiences in a two way conversation with a brand. This often leads to a transaction that is immediately measurable. However, this transaction is far less indelible than a face-to-face conversation which helps build a long term relationship based on shared experiences, a mutual exchange of value, and the building of trust. You may meet your mate on Match.com, but (hopefully) you won’t marry them until you have built a face-to-face relationship.

Have other ideas for building your brand through events and experiences?

originally published 1/26/10 www.experientialmarketing20.com

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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 www.experientialmarketing20.com

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