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The lure of cultural tentpoles is nearly impossible for brands to ignore. What is a cultural tentpole? "A major happening that captures the public imagination before and after the main event, with an apex in the middle. A graph drawn of this trajectory will look a bit like...a tentpole," according to Braze.

By activating at such well-known events, marketers can make massive inroads with tens of thousands of attendees at once—that is, if they understand how to craft, deliver, and spread the right message.

At big events such as the Cannes Film Festival, Comic-Con, and Coachella, audiences are looking at brands to add value to their experiences. According to "EventTrack 2018," one-third of consumers said they'd actually paid for the chance to attend at least one branded event in the last year. But don't be surprised when they ignore brands that fail to provide personalized, relevant experiences.

The Event Marketing 2019: Benchmarks and Trends report found that between 2017 and 2018 the number of brands organizing 20-plus events a year increased 17%. And the competition is heating up. The same report states that the most successful brands are spending nearly twice the average marketing budget on their live events, and more than 60% of marketers said they plan on spending more on live events in the future.

Accordingly, breaking through the noise is harder than ever. Brands have to home in on audience members' wants—and deliver on those desires with events that offer real, memorable value, no matter where those events take place.

Audiences want special opportunities, such as exclusive access to branded areas. They want to engage with influencers in the spheres of the tentpoles they attend. And they want a good reason to share their experience afterward. In short, they expect more.

To multiply the engagement of in-person attendees into larger, more lasting interest, marry experiential tactics with social extensions before, during, and after your next cultural tentpole activation.

1. Before: Set up the story with a social strategy

One study on the relationship between vacations and happiness found that people reach peak happiness eight weeks prior to their holidays. In other words, anticipation is half the fun. Tap into that "vacation anticipation" by building hype around not just the tentpole itself but also your part in it.

Doing that can be as simple as teasing your experiential activation on Instagram Stories with influencer partners or offering sneak peeks of the set pieces your team is building for the activation. Keep consumers buzzing by executing "micro-activations" in that eight-week sweet spot. Take small pieces of the larger activation and transform them into bite-size appetizers for potential attendees.

Combine hype marketing with gamification to give attendees something tangible to look forward to. Allow followers to unlock special early access on the website to view exclusive content, and offer limited-time keys that people can physically bring to your activation site to unlock backstage access.

2. During: Enhance experiences through reality-altering technology

Reality-altering technologies no longer surprise audiences, but that doesn't mean people are tired of them. In fact, the Virtual Reality Consumer Sentiment Survey found that 79% of consumers intend to seek out more VR after their first introduction.

However, you cannot rely on the awe factor of cool technology. Ask yourself how virtual elements will entice more engagement or emotion in audiences, and choose your technology based on what you want to offer. VR tools like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, for instance, offer high-definition imagery but low portability, as they're tethered to computers. Is portability important to the experience? If so, look elsewhere.

Base the technology you use on the experience you want to provide; don't provide an experience based on the technology.

When HBO teamed up with Snapchat at SXSW 2019, it did a great job of incorporating user-friendly, reality-altering elements to an already impressive activation. The Game of Thrones setup involved a castle and battle-training area where huge banners featuring characters hung outside.

With Snapchat's augmented reality (AR) marker tech tool, users were able to scan the banners on their phones to see them splatter with blood. Another lens showed a map light up in flames. To engage in the experience, all users had to do was pull out their phones and open Snapchat—a huge part of the appeal.

3. After: Cultivate micro-communities to act as brand megaphones

People's love for exclusivity doesn't end after the experience. Keep that VIP feeling going by leaning on those who attended to share their experiences with the world.

Instead of springing for big-name influencers, invite micro-influencers to the table and empower them with content to spread the word to their online audiences. Micro-influencers are brand advocates who have valuable peer-to-peer connections within "closed communities" online.

Word-of-mouth advertising is and will always be the most powerful form of marketing, and even though micro-influencers may not have as many fans, their followers tend to be more invested. Feed into people's need to feel special by showing them that their favorite niche influencers are your brand's favorites, too.

* * *

The call for experiential marketing activations before, during, and after cultural tentpoles is growing louder—as is the call for something better. Brands that can deliver exciting, thought-provoking experiences will extend their reach while endearing themselves to audiences.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Brett Hyman

Brett Hyman is the president of NVE Experience Agency, an experience-marketing agency and event-production company guided by the principle that the right moment will transform someone forever.

LinkedIn: Brett Hyman

Twitter: @bretthyman