Carrying Torch, Connecting With Communities

I recently arrived in London, where plans are underway for the 2012 Olympics. For Olympics-involved marketers, there is hardly time to recover from one extravaganza before the next one starts.

In my role, helping to create a beverage giant's activation around the Olympic Torch Relay and ensuring the next is just as unique as the last, it seems like only yesterday we were dealing with blowing snow and ice as the Olympic Flame crossed Canada during the 106-day Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay.

Several of the lessons and experiences along the way apply not only to plans for future torch relays, but to any marketer looking to connect with consumers in a meaningful way. Three examples:

Keep it real. The most successful branded events I've seen and have been part of have tapped into the genuine passion of a community for (something), instead of concentrating the hype around the product itself. People lining the streets of the torch relay are there because of community pride and to be part of the history-making Olympic celebration.



So, "engaging" them is more than putting a product in their hand; it's making it personal by giving them the ability to nominate their local torchbearer, providing (branded, of course) premiums personalized with their city's name on it, creating access to an up close and personal experience with the torch, and setting the stage (through music, crowd interaction, etc.) to deliver a better experience.

Even on a much smaller scale, marketers who think in terms of what the consumer already wants, and find compelling, unique ways to deliver, will outshine marketers who focus on trying to make the consumer want what they are selling.

Leave a legacy. What can you create or share that lives beyond a one-day experience? As part of the tour, the beverage giant launched a program that showcased Aboriginal art across Canada, enlisting local artists and introducing the art to visitors from around the world during the Olympic Games, then auctioning it off for a youth fund.

Looking at "legacy" from a different angle, marketers have a responsibility to mitigate any negative impacts of experiential campaigns. Going "green" isn't a trend, it is a must for any brand to be responsible and competitive in today's environment.

This is another area that applies to any-size experiential campaign: Can you source branded t-shirts from an environmentally responsible company? (Most likely, and without increasing costs.) Are there plenty of recycling receptacles? Are your "giveaways" things that people can actually use? What can be made from recycled or recyclable material?

Assume everything will go wrong, because something will. As optimistic and enthusiastic brand marketers, we spend a lot of time envisioning our ideal consumer experience, and bringing it to life. But go ahead, spend some time imaging the worst ... and then plan for it.

What if the beverages freeze? What if a truck carrying the event stage breaks down? What if the social media feed is hacked? What if a torch becomes extinguished? (Yes, we travel with backups lit by the genuine Olympic flame). Thorough planning dramatically improves your confidence and inherently increases the chances of providing people with an experience that is unforgettable -- for all of the right reasons.

While there are certainly many aspects to pulling off a successful campaign, these examples will enhance that success and reach your consumers on a deeper level. Savvy consumers don't want to be viewed as dollar signs, but as human beings. They'll reward the brands that go out of their way to appreciate and value the effort put forth to attend and participate in the campaign.

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