Too often, sponsorships and promotions are viewed as secondary efforts to a brand's above-the-line efforts. In flush times, they are nice to have. In bad times, they are easy cuts. And, with the digital channel serving as a direct conduit to a brand's consumers, it is even easier to dismiss live efforts as expensive and hard to measure.
But there couldn't be a more important time for brands to directly engage with their enthusiasts. When dollars are limited, decisions are more thoroughly informed and more profoundly made. Now is when people are fundamentally reaffirming which brands are of meaningful value to them.
Concurrently, as cash-strapped consumers favor "stay-cations" or local entertainment over pricey travel, they depend more than ever on free events, fairs and festivals for family fun and distraction. This summer may well represent a unique perfect storm for live brand engagement.
Right now brands have a unique opportunity to understand how they can matter more to consumers by delivering beyond the product and value proposition and contributing to an individual's experience.
There are three keys ways of exacting more value from experiential marketing this season:
First, events are more than marketing. Experiential programs are as much about marketing as they are about R&D, PR and HR. As a result, they should be informed and funded by all these groups.
Enthusiasts want to know everything that stands behind a brand: product, people and purpose. Create experiences around the event such that you are able to survey current products, test new ones, promote the company's additional initiatives and recruit around the culture. Don't put up tents on the sidelines hoping people will drop by; reach out to them with every hand you can.
Second, think smaller. A brand doesn't have to "build it so they will come." Consider alternate venues or provide the elements (content, products, activities) around which consumers can stage their own event.
Opera houses have successfully drawn secondary audiences by relaying live events to cinemas or outdoor venues. Acquire the rebroadcast rights to relevant live content staged elsewhere to create a smaller scale event.
Giving people the content and the product with which they can stage their own Summer Festivals encourages them to build their own branded events. It's easy to suggest content, provide exclusive access to content and direct them to other events in town. Do so online, or better yet, live at the venue where you would've staged an event, and explain why you're doing it this way. While there, give them ideas for making more of their own Summer Festival, and give them your product to enjoy with friends and family at home and help build word-of-mouth interest.
Third, just give to get. Every gesture that demonstrates a brand is in touch with its consumers' experience in good times and bad can generate infinite good will.
While consumers still want for a summer full of their favorite activities, consider other acts of well-timed kindness: a cold bottle of water while at the park; a free cup of coffee for one's commute; a free movie ticket. This is an opportunity where it is not imperative for the gesture to directly relate to your brand, but simply to show you're thinking about your consumers' experience.
Yes. All of the above costs money, but when consumers are re-evaluating all of their choices, a brand cannot afford to miss out on reaffirming the relationship it can or should have with its consumers. And, as we all know, great relationships are forged when we look each other in the eye and demonstrate that we understand each other, no matter the season.