August 1, 2019


Marketing’s flavor of the moment can and should mean so much more than creating a cute weekend retail space or spending a few days at SXSW

AdAge by Ted Nelson // August 1, 2019

As our lives—and most of marketing—become more and more digitally based, the role of the physical experience is elevated as a vital way to connect in an emotionally authentic manner. Beyond traditional retail, most of a brand’s physical interactions have taken place at large, multi-brand tentpole events such as SXSW and Coachella, or in the form of a pop- up store. It’s hard not to notice that—in a somewhat lemming-like manner—pop-ups have come to dominate experiential marketing, especially for ubiquitous food, beverage and fashion brands.

Yes, branded pop-up experiences have long been trending as the marketing tactic du jour, but experiential marketing can (and should) be about so much more. Especially when it comes to using the power of in-person brand engagement to work for brands beyond the usual suspects. The challenge is how. The opportunity is to think more broadly about what an experience should be, through employing a “no lazy assets” approach. This means leaving no stone unturned in identifying consumer touchpoints that can serve as an extension of your brand’s message, whether it’s a park, delivery truck or your parking lot.

To think through fresh approaches to experiential, start by asking the following five questions:

What aspects of your brand lend themselves to physical interactions?

It doesn’t have to be the entirety of the brand, it might just be one dimension. When AllWays Health Partners wanted to show consumers they care, and bring to life their people-first, “you in every way” approach, it set up stands around Boston and handed out free Valentine’s Day cards. They were cute and fun for everyone, and also included health tips to share with loved ones. This small alteration of a traditional holiday allowed AllWays to take one aspect of their business—caring for their consumer—and turn it into an experience.

Who are the people who can best represent my brand in person?

Are they influencers? Celebrities? Designers? An unexpected touchpoint might be offering consumers the opportunity to interact with someone interesting or influential who represents your brand in some way, rather than a physical manifestation of the brand itself. For example, Adobe tapped Erik Johansson, an expert in Photoshop, and stationed him outside a bus stop in Sweden. He then pranked people by Photoshopping them into digital movie poster ads displayed next to the bench. The entire experience was documented with hidden cameras and shared via social, an element that plays into our next question.

Is there an opportunity to create an event that lends itself seamlessly to social content?

As just described, Adobe used the experience to connect with people who were there in person. But it also saw the potential to make the connection via social, so it adapted the content into a video and allowed everyone to see the stunt. Adding this extension gave everyone the opportunity to experience it without alienating those unable to be physically present.

How can an event serve as the culmination of a provocative digital marketing or social-media-based outreach?

In this case, prospects and customers can actually be driven to an encounter at a certain date and time. For example, the Citi Bike Summer Scavenger Hunt challenges its users to engage in a weekly, citywide contest instead of just riding from point A to point B. After posting a puzzle that hints at a specific destination, participants pedal to the location and post a photo with their Citi Bike to social channels to win a prize. This experience allows the brand to engage with its consumers and drive user growth, all while connecting with them on social.

Is there an opportunity to draft off an existing event?

If there’s an event where your desired audience is already gathered, consider it as an activation platform. This could be a music festival, convention or sporting event. It’s even more interesting to push beyond the usual suspects to identify places where other brands aren’t competing for attention. Think high-traffic, high-utility places such as public transportation, parks and even portable toilets.

The opportunity to stand out in a unique way is enhanced when you break from pop-up conventions and figure out ways to create physical brand experiences that are more relevant. Once you identify your brand’s true purpose, and where it intersects with your consumer’s day, knowing how to convey that purpose through an impactful activation will quickly follow.