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!

Building Brand Through Event Marketing

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: In my earlier post, Are You Experienced? I discuss some tips on how to turn your event into an experience. 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. Check out Storytelling to learn more.

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? Please share!

8 Ways To Use MySpace For Events

As of late, there has been some discussion discounting MySpace as a viable channel for marketing. While Facebook has skyrocketed globally to more than 300 million users, MySpace has still been quietly delivering millions of visitors every month.

According to Quantcast, as of November 2009, MySpace has just under 60 million regular users per month, making it the second largest social network in the US. 57% of users are female and 43% are male. As far as age is concerned, 46% of MySpace visitors are 18-34, followed by 13-17 at 26% and 35-49 at 17%. MySpace also boasts a large Hispanic and African American population.

Like all marketing, the trick for brands is to fish where the fish are. In other words, make sure the digital properties included in any social media strategy attract your target audience. Its also a good idea to align your brand appropriately with the content of the property to ensure relevance for the community.

MySpace attracts a younger audience than Facebook, and the content is more entertainment focused, including, celebrity, fashion, video, sports and most importantly, MySpace is building their business largely through music. With recent acquisitions of imeem, and iLike, as well as the build out of MySpace Music, News Corporation appears to be focused on billing MySpace as the premier social destination for all things music.

So how can event marketers leverage MySpace for events? Here are 8 ideas to get you started.

1. Its not about the event, its about the community. This may sound familiar from my earlier posts, but it bears repeating. As marketers, its important we change our thinking from using MySpace or any other social media platform for an event, to understanding how we can incorporate our event into the community. Changing our state of mind will help ensure we are focused on the right things and enable long-term success. What’s most important is approaching social communities comprised of the right audiences for our products or services. In some cases, there will not be an organic fit between branded content and community interests. Content should be carefully crafted to align, or alternate channels should be explored if content alignment is not possible.

2. Create a profile for your event. Although designed for people, a profile can be built for an event. This is really easy to do on MySpace. Make sure your presence is branded appropriately and community centric. Myspace is completely customizable. You can change the layout and background or create a custom look and feel using CSS tools. From here you can add different modules that display exactly the kind of information you want to display on your profile. Take advantage of appropriate modules for your presence like:

  • Blurbs – Shows the “About” Section of your profile
  • Details – Miscellaneous details about your event
  • Interests – Here you can include the subject matter of the event
  • Companies – Here you can list participating companies
  • Friend Space – Friends or fans listed (think attendees or other interested parties)
  • Events – Create and manage all your events or curriculum / agendas
  • Calendar – Displays important dates about your event

3. Add multimedia content to your profile. Keep it updated to educate, inform and excite your audiences.

  • Music Player – If your event is entertainment focused, this is the place to keep and showcase it (under MySpace Music)
  • Video Player – Record or upload your own videos (under MySpace Video)

4. Keep the information fresh, interesting and engaging. Other modules can be used to better communicate and engage with your community. Use them daily.

  • Status and Mood – Keep your audience apprised on event activities
  • Activity Stream – Publishes everything you do on MySpace
  • Comments – Allows you or others to post comments to your profile

5. Create additional value for attendees. Still other modules can be used to help attendees navigate the locale around your event

  • Local Reviews – Helpful for destination events where attendees may be looking for hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc.
  • MySpace Local – Can be used for attendees during regional events to find restaurants, hotels, and attractions

6. Identify, attract and befriend the right audience. You don’t need to boil the ocean here. Start by searching MySpace for people who you know who are already part of the community and “friending” them. You can also invite people you email or IM via your contact list to join MySpace. The next step is to use MySpace search functions to conduct searches of Profiles, Groups and Forums to identify folks who might be interested in your content and your event and “friend” them. Finally, you can promote your MySpace presence off site to attract others to become your friend.

7. Engage your community. If you build it, they might come. In order to be truly successful, you must engage and interact with others. Reach out to other MySpace profiles with related content (industry, fan, speaker, exhibitor, etc.). Post photos, videos, music, stories, links and updates that will keep your audiences interested and engaged. Also take full advantage of MySpace:

  • Blogs – Allows you to create your own blog or view others blogs – update your blog regularly. For more guidance on using blogs effectively at events, please check out my earlier post, The Importance of Blogs in Experiential Marketing.
  • Groups – Join relevant groups or create your own group based on the event – make sure you participate actively.
  • Forums – Start new discussions or participate in other revelvent discussions actively to foster your community and drive interest in the subject matter of your event.

Here are some thoughts on the kind of content you should post regularly.

  • News about event content (again, think community interest first) and  event operations
  • Links to outside blogs (speakers, exhibitors, industry sites, subject matter experts, etc.)
  • Links to other MySpace pages (speakers, exhibitors, industry / subject matter groups, etc.)
  • Photos and videos (speakers, experiences, exhibits, demonstrations, previous events, subject matter relevant, audience and fan provided)

Remember, the beauty of social media, is you don’t need to create everything, you can leverage and share what others have done, provided it is on brand, relevant to your audience and appropriate for your presence.

Think long-term. This is not just about awareness and audience generation for your event, but an engagement strategy that will make your event a vital component of the community and an important accentuation point in the relationship with your audiences, whether they be attendees, speakers, exhibitors, press, analysts or otherwise.

8. Leverage appropriate applications. There are hundreds of applications in MySpace. Browse application categories or search apps based on keywords. You can also create your own applications to be included in the MySpace universe. Here are some I’ve found useful:

  • Custom Countdown: Allows you to create customized countdowns for your events
  • iTwitter: Syncs your tweets to your MySpace profile
  • RSS Reader: Include RSS feeds from your blog, news sites, subject matter experts, etc. on your MySpace profile
  • Create Free Polls: Survey your MySpace audience and report the results
  • YouTube Post: Post your YouTube videos directly into your MySpace profile
  • Business 3.0: Integrate your business information, products, services, etc. into many social media platforms

Building a MySpace engagement strategy (or any other community engagement strategy)  is easier said than done. Participating in communities takes time and diligence, but with the right focus, your event can become a prominent fixture both within the MySpace community and beyond. Remember to observe, create, share and engage and long-term success will be yours.

These are just some of the things you can do with MySpace. There are many other uses and applications for events. If you have other ideas or ways in which you’ve used MySpace for events please share!