From Live Builds to Light Bulbs: Radical Change for Experiential Marketing
COVID-19 tested, and continues to test, experiential marketing like no other marketing discipline. “Pivot” was the most frequently used term last year, but in truth, the smartest agencies didn’t pivot so much as elevate into territories where smarter, more strategic insights and thought became the key currency. As we begin to re-enter experiential marketing in parts of the country, agencies ability to place strategic smarts ahead of channel loyalty (aka only physical events) will be key to their success and survival.
Strategy for the Win
One of the first shifts experiential marketing agencies were required to do (at the speed of light!) was move into strategizing, conceptualizing and executing virtual experiences for their clients. As these experiences typically live in the digital realm (the lead channel for many brands), experiential agencies found themselves competing against brand and digital agencies. As they developed and expanded this strategic muscle, many experiential agencies were allowed to reinvent themselves to play effectively in the digital space.
An example of shifting strategic gears is how The Sunflower Group partnered with our retailer client to reimagine its physical grand openings when live events were no longer possible. With COVID, we needed to put safety first and halt our live events. The brand had historically been reliant on in-person grand openings that engaged the local community through entertaining local market events featuring DJs, contests, free sample bags, and fun family activities.
When COVID-19 hit, it was important to continue to drive awareness and celebrate these grand openings and sustain key community touchpoints as they had long been a family favorite activity and one the retailer's shoppers and store management looked forward to. Fortunately, we were able to create digital experiences for its shoppers during this time that helped to drive awareness and keep customer engagement high during this unprecedented time. We were able to replicate community participation and generate buzz virtually via the inclusion of social ads that were customized to each grand opening location and the addition of local micro influencers who helped to bring their authentic brand story to life. These actions helped to generate positive engagement around the brand.
Content is King
Social media influencers were already becoming more and more integrated into our live brand experiences — content from these influencers and the event itself weren't just maximizing experiential return on investment, but, at times, leading as a key part of our engagement and distribution strategy.
Sunflower Group’s work with JuicyJuice is an example of quickly pivoting during strict COVID-19 restrictions to develop rich social content when traditional studio and location shoots were no longer viable. As Ilene Bergenfeld, chief marketing officer for Harvest Hill remembers, “When COVID hit, we were anxious to figure out how we would continue to produce the content our community expected from us. Now, more than ever, our target was looking to us for ideas and inspiration, but restrictions meant our established production model wasn’t an option.”
Sunflower Group’s team established relationships with known brand lovers and talented content creators, onboarded them with our brand standards, and partnered with them to capture the authentic content this iconic brand has become known for.
In the past, much of experiential marketing has been associated with emotive brand-building opportunities with little or no proven connection to sales. While the discipline has kept up with digital engagement tactics, it hasn’t necessarily done so when it comes to the more commercial aspects of consumer engagement. The clear exception, however, is in-store activations where brand building and selling are closely linked to a proven ROI. But with COVID, these retailer/brand experiences came to a rapid halt literally overnight.
When this happened, the Advantage Solutions Strategy & Innovation Demo team quickly tested an augmented reality (AR) Perfect Pour experience for Stella Artois with a regional retail banner. The multifaceted program, which was executed outside of stores via targeted media and in stores with point-of-sale displays, placed the product virtually in consumers' hands, educated them on the brand’s flavor profile, and immersed the consumer in the Stella Artois brand. The strategic focus was to replicate all the effective aspects of a traditional in-store activation (sans the ability to taste).
“We were very impressed with the way the Stella Artois AR program performed,” noted Brittany Susnik, Anheuser-Busch retail sales director. “Typically, we would have invested in in-store tasting events. However, when that wasn’t an option, we knew we had to get the Stella Artois brand in front of consumers in a meaningful way, and the Perfect Pour AR program delivered.”
When the client approached us with the opportunity, this team took a very strategic approach to constructing the Stella Artois AR program. We were focused on solving very specific objectives that previously would have been addressed through in-store tasting events: Creating an approachable experience with stopping power that drives brand awareness and inspires crave-ability, ultimately leading to purchase. In the end, using technology and purposeful design, this team was able to deliver measurable bottom line value back to the client.
Dee Hall is executive general manager, agency, at Advantage Marketing Partners, the marketing arm of Advantage Solutions and an award-winning collective of specialty marketing agencies.