Experiential Marketing | 5 Ways to Overcome Challenges & Build Meaningful Brands

Branding

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Memories elicit emotional responses. If we didn’t have those moments stored in our brains, our histories would be characterless and bland.

Brands and marketers have long recognized the potential of experiences to tie products and services to personal journeys—by making memories. My company has been doing this for 14 years. As an experiential marketing agency, we’re focused on forming memories through experiences, living by the mantra, “The right moment can transform someone forever.”

But to make a memory stick and to truly make a moment transformative, marketers face unique challenges beyond those of traditional or digital marketing. One of the biggest hurdles for experiential marketing campaigns is translating a brand—a company’s identity—into physical space in a way that encourages memory creation.

The problem is that a brand is not often understood as an experience. When we ask our clients to show us their brands, we typically receive logos or toolkits. But these are just visual representations, not the values and ideas that built the company. Strategic experiential activations require you to think beyond visual representation—you must consider whether your audience’s experience will organically represent the brand.

And even if an experience represents a brand perfectly, the resources available for building that experience don’t last forever. You can always reshoot a commercial, edit a blog post, or change an ad in Photoshop, but experiences are built in a much more finite landscape. So how do you create memories in a way that reflects not just a brand logo but what the brand truly is?

Give yourself lead time

Don’t fall into the trap of planning an experiential marketing occasion for next week or even next month. When events are thrown together last-minute, they hardly classify as experiences. Instead, make sure you have the time to think through each branch of event execution thoroughly. Ask yourself whether each part of the experience is aligned with the brand identity. If it’s not, and you’ve timed things right, you’ll have the leeway to realign instead of simply throwing something in the mix to meet a deadline.

We stay on track by developing branding grids. We use the grids as a baseline and work backward to create a schedule of deliverables and deadlines. This reduces the need to rush around and risk putting on an event that isn’t truly representative of the brand’s identity.

Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground

Let your creative team get excited about the concept of your experiential marketing, but align their imaginative thoughts with logistical possibilities. It’s fine to talk about hosting a party on the moon as long as you’re not wasting valuable resources trying to make it happen. Ideas may stretch all the way there, but that doesn’t mean you’ll logically ever make it.

With the help of in-house producers, custom fabricators and experiential designers though, you may be able to recreate your version of the moon for an out-of-this-world space. Big ideas do have a place – they just need to align with brand and consumer insights for a truly impactful experience.

Don’t do what other brands are doing

Challenge your team to think of activations only your company could pull off. This means you’ll have to come up with new ideas, not simply reiterate what has been done before.

Brainstorm with your team and write down every single idea. Some may be terrible, but none will be worthless—even the bad ones can lead to good ones. You’ll probably realize a few concepts are fantastic but have little pertinence to your current brand identity. If you can’t tailor them to meet your brand specifically, trash them. That way, you won’t be investing in experiential marketing that could easily be replicated by a competitor.

Pay attention to nitty-gritty touchpoints

Walk yourself through the experience a million times before it happens, and consider forming focus groups of diverse individuals to do the same. The key is to make sure you’ve considered every way consumers will perceive and interact with your message.

HBO took this to heart when creating experiential marketing for The Inspiration Room, a project devoted to studying women’s diaries and intimate beliefs. The project includes many chances for audiences to hear from female voices as wide-ranging as Agatha Christie, Lena Dunham, and Gentleman Jack. From podcasts to workshops, HBO is controlling the narrative by anticipating how people will emotionally react to its brand and carving a niche for itself.

Take a deeper look into experiential data sets

Measuring the impact of experiences is notoriously challenging. Impression metrics and social shares can’t tell you how deeply your experience impacted your audience. Going beyond traditional marketing strategies means you must go beyond traditional metrics as well. Fortunately, new technology has been making waves in experiential analytics and helping return more useful metrics.

Radiofrequency identification technology, for instance, is one of the ways marketers can gather more consumer data on attendees. Attendees need only swipe RFID wristbands to enter an event or make purchases, and marketers can access more data on each attendee, including social accounts that can be monitored to see what’s being said about the event. Social listening, in general, is a big way marketers can measure the impact of events, and Brand Lift surveys can help gauge this pulse as well.

Marketing brands through experiences present a whole new array of hurdles that other marketing strategies don’t, but when done right, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. When brands and marketers overcome these hurdles, they create an unforgettable event. The five steps above can help you tackle the challenges to build an experience that will transform people and plant a brand in the lives and memories of attendees.

What are some strategies that your team is using to build an unforgettable brand? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.