Embrace The Chaos! Experiential Marketing In The Real World

There once was a time when experience simply referred to one’s reaction to a physical environment at a specific time and place. In the late 80’s and early 90’s we started hearing about user experience (UX) as it related to a person’s interaction with software on a computer or website. Now as we think about virtual worlds, virtual events, hybrid events, online gaming, social media, digital interaction and mobile devices, experiences have become quite complex.

During virtually every conversation we are attempting to have with our audiences, we are competing with their internal monologue, simultaneous social media conversations, emails, text messages, and other environmental factors.

We are no longer singularly focused. People generally do not live in the moment. Monologues and dialogues have become polylogues and we now live in a world where chaos, distraction and multi-tasking is the norm.

Audiences are harder to reach. People are more difficult to persuade. Competitive advantage is harder to achieve. It is exceedingly difficult to cut through the clutter and get your message out.

As experiential marketers, we are faced with an interesting challenge. Where we were once entirely focused on creating experiences which activated the emotional and rational levers of our audiences from a face-to-face perspective, we now have to account for the distractions of laptops, netbooks, and mobile devices. Additionally, social media has created a powerful back-channel which competes heavily with the experiences we work so diligently to engineer. Instead of contributing the the noise, if we take a targeted approach to engaging our audiences across their communications channels, we will be able to take what many see as an impediment to our success and turn it into an opportunity. Here are some thoughts on how.

Create Indelible Experiences. If you want to keep attendees engaged, the most important thing you can do is create experiences which naturally capture and hold their attention. Effective experiences tell a story, include attendee interaction, are authentic, on brand and immersive. These experiences engage the senses and activate both emotional and rational triggers of your audience. For more information check out Are You Experienced?.

Drive And Engage In The Conversation. Marketers too often take a broadcast approach to their messaging. We create environments, graphics, pictures, signs, videos, etc. to propagate our message. “Here are the features and benefits of our product,” Here is why you want to do business with our company” and the like. Instead of approaching audiences with answers, try using questions to tell your story: “What is your biggest challenge?” “What do you think about…?”, etc.  Spending some time in your audience’s shoes and understanding their needs will help build relationships based on trust. At an event it means more than setting up a booth. It requires speaking sessions, networking activities, etc. Online it means more than setting up a Facebook page or Tweeting about your products. It requires listening and engaging with audiences. Becoming an integral part of the conversation will ensure long-term brand success.

Create Social Destinations. Use Blogs, FaceBook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, Flickr, branded social networks, etc. If you build them, they might come. Think outside of the event in terms of audience, content and relationships. Building the channels and the content is just the first step. It’s critical you stay engaged and keep content fresh. These platforms are excellent for participating in the conversation. Make sure you do. Listening, reacting, commenting, etc. is the purpose of social media. Spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time engaging the community. Social media destinations and audience engagement should be executed before, during and after the event.

Facilitate The Backchannel. Concerned about the lack of control you might have over brand perception in the social space? Participate! Research where your audiences are most likely to engage in social media and help facilitate and influence the conversation. Create official #hashtags. Use the social destinations suggested above. Create content that encourages audience participation. Ask provocative questions that rally your communities around an idea. Consider yourself the grand facilitator of all things directly or indirectly related to your brand both face-to-face and online. Use your physical presence to drive conversation into the backchannel – without distracting audiences from the live event. This is an important point. You’ve spend a great deal of time, money and effort to build a face-to-face audience. Engage and captivate your audience. Any social media activities should be additive and complement your efforts by addressing audiences beyond the attendee, not pull your attendees out of the face-to-face discussion, but be omnipresent.

Create A Mobile Playground. The most persuasive distraction brands compete with during a face-to-face event is the mobile device. Attendees are constantly checking email, texting, using mobile applications, social media and otherwise. Again, being omnipresent is an opportunity to engage attendees wherever their attention may be focused. Capture attendee mobile contact information at registration. Send emails and texts to attendees during the event to keep them engaged. Consider creating branded mobile applications that tie into the subject matter or theme of the event that engage attendees. Mobile games an sweepstakes are another approach. Use third-party mobile social media applications like Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp to build interesting and engaging campaigns or mashups to keep audiences interested and immersed in your brand’s message.

Immerse Audiences In Virtual Experiences. In my earlier post Six Things to Consider on the Way to the New World, I talked about what a virtual event is, and what it is not. Virtual events are powerful tactics indeed. Consider adopting hybrid models to complement your physical events. Hybrid events bolster attendance, increase access to content, extend the life of a physical event, leverage and reuse assets, increase reach, drive buzz, enhance attendee value and improve ROI. Again, the idea is to be omnipresent within the community and to own the conversation wherever possible.

Always Look To The Future. Use RFID to track attendees areas of interest and behaviors or to personalize experiences. Consider using holography or augmented reality to create experiences that truly immerse and engage attendees in your experiences. Be forward leaning in your approach to investigating and adopting new technologies in your program. a good resource for ideas here is TED. Check it out!

These are just a few innovative ideas to motivate and activate your audiences. The key is to create physical and virtual environments and activities which attract, capture, engage and build lasting relationships with your audiences. Be on brand, be omnipresent and most importantly, be valuable.

Have other thoughts? Please share!

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