Have you heard the term “brand activation”? Are you ready to use it to attract a crowd? You should be. While it’s not hard, there are critical things you must know in order to create a strong brand activation campaign.
The term “brand activation” is a lot simpler than it sounds. At the surface, it appears to be “marketing speak.” You know, the type of words that marketers make up to sound like they have an advanced degree in something that’s hard for laypeople to understand.
But brand activation is focused on using an experience or brand interaction as a catalyst to entice people to act. Brand activation is the ongoing way(s) in which you introduce yourself (event, product, or service) to others. The key here is “ongoing.” While you may not continue the same kind of brand activation through the lifecycle of your brand, it is necessary to continue something.
Brand activation is not a fluffy, showy marketing campaign. A successful brand activation campaign includes a measurable return on investment (ROI), which is created through a strategic initiative. It’s never brand interaction for interaction’s sake.
Brand activation uses methods like experiential marketing and other marketing subsets including:
- Promotional marketing
- Digital marketing
- Sampling campaigns
- Guerilla marketing
So how do you use brand activation at events? Follow these steps:
- Set a goal.
- Create a budget.
- Understand and appeal to your audience.
- Create a call to action that will help you reach your goal.
- Use channels to deliver your message.
How to Create a Strong Brand Activation Campaign
Brand activation doesn’t need a big budget but it does require cohesion and planning. It must fit your marketing strategy and event brand or it won’t meet your goals. Brand activation shouldn’t be a stand alone marketing activity for lagging ticket sales. For it to work effectively, it must be part of a larger marketing strategy and budgeted for accordingly. You should:
Step 1. Set a Goal
Decide what it is you want to accomplish with brand activation. Do you want to sell 10% more tickets to an event than last year? Or is this a public service message that you want everyone to perform a specific type of check on themselves and their loved ones? Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, you need to keep it in mind. Make sure it’s measurable and specific. Ideally, you’d follow the SMART goal formula for greater success.
Using SMART goals ensures that everyone is clear about the goal for the campaign and knows how it will be measured and achieved. The goal is less likely to become a moving target this way and is easier to hit.
Step 2. Create a Budget
As mentioned previously, you don’t need a huge budget to create an effective brand activation campaign. However, because there are components of making an impression as well as measuring and analyzing your work, you want to make sure there is some money in your marketing or event budget for brand activation.
It’s difficult to carve that sort of time or expense out of a marketing budget without it being a line-item. At the very least, you’ll be allocating staff to analysis and promotion so factor those activities in.
Step 3. Understand and Appeal to Your Audience
A brand activation campaign will not be successful if it doesn’t appeal to your target audience. That’s why it is important for you to understand their likes and their challenges. You want to catch their eye with your campaign.
But the details and interests of your target audience could change depending on the length of the campaign and the geographic location of your brand activation exercise. For instance, a campaign in the Midwest most likely won’t be the exact same thing you use on the West Coast, or in a country outside of the U.S.
Step 4. Create a Call to Action That Will Help You Reach Your Goal
Every brand activation campaign needs a call to action. After all, you’ve just gone to extraordinary lengths to reach your ideal audience. If you leave it at that, it’s like taking the stage, picking up the microphone, clearing your throat, and then walking away.
You have their attention now use it with a well thought out call to action. A well thought out call to action is one that is in keeping with your goal. For example, if your goal is to increase free trials in your client’s software, your call to action should invite them to click on the URL to start their free trial, or at the very least, ask them to watch a video about the software. Don’t assume they know that your client is a software company and they want people to check out a demo. Ask them to. Repeatedly.
Step 5. Use Channels to Deliver Your Marketing Message
Again, you’ve gone out of your way to get their attention. Why stop there? Most experiential marketing goes viral because it’s placed on the Web and people watch it. It does not go viral just because a few hundred people saw it in person.
In order to use social media to your advantage and expand your reach, you need to have the following tools at work:
- A hashtag for the event.
- Easy access for your audience to post on your profile pages or references to where you are on social media.
- A continuation of the conversation or story on social media.
- A way to stay in touch with those who are interested in you/your client.
- Something fun to share. Standing on the street corner handing out pamphlets won’t entice people to share your efforts on social media.
- Easy sharing technology like tweetable quotes on your site or QR codes that create auto posts for the audience.
As seen in the examples above, you shouldn’t be the only one sharing your marketing message. But you are the only one you have full control over. Make sure you’re sharing what you’re doing. Pay attention to capturing the fun people are having. After all, fun is contagious. People want to to be entertained, educated, and inspired. Look for ways to give them that and you’ll get more shares and likes, and general interaction with your content.
The One Thing People Often Neglect in Brand Activation
Most people assume that the marketing event, or the brand activation, is enough to carry them through to their goal. They fail to see that the brand activation concept must still be marketed. It does not market itself.
Yes, you’ll have people share at the event but the reach still needs your touch to ensure your message is heard. People will share it on social media but it will not necessarily be in the context you’re hoping for or with the message you want. Don’t try and change theirs, simply add your voice to the conversation.
Types of Brand Activation
The point of brand activation is to catch your audience’s attention to cause them to perform an action. There are many ways to do this but some of the most common are experiential marketing, promotional marketing, digital marketing, sampling campaigns, and guerilla marketing.
Experiential marketing is as the title sounds - all about the experience. Marketers create an experience that makes an impression on their target audience. An example of this is the WestJet airline Christmas campaign. In it, they asked one flight’s travelers what their Christmas wishes were. As those travelers were in route to their destination, the airline made their wishes come true. By the time they landed their gifts were waiting. What an experience that was!
Promotional marketing is better known to laypeople as swag. Swag can be incredibly effective advertising. According to the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), promotional products are a $22.9 billion industry. Swag’s form of traveling advertisements for brands makes a lasting impression and builds brand awareness.
Digital marketing, also known as data-driven marketing, is a broad term that refers to any sort of online marketing or marketing using digital technologies. This includes social media, search engine marketing, mobile marketing strategies, and email marketing. Drip campaigns where periodic emails are sent to build brand awareness and interest in an event or product can also be very effective in brand activation.
If you’ve ever been to Costco on a weekend, you understand the wild popularity of sampling campaigns. Just as they sound, sampling campaigns offer audiences the ability to sample or try out a product. They can be small undertakings, like setting up shop at the local grocery store, all the way through to national campaigns like the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
Guerilla marketing overlaps with experiential marketing in that it starts with grass roots efforts that have an appeal for the audience. But while experiential marketing is aimed at a large experience, a huge impression, guerilla marketing can be a much less expensive undertaking that still makes an impact.
Why Is Brand Activation Important?
There’s a lot of noise out there today and fewer places that people are exposed to it, making the competition for attention fierce. Years ago, brands could get to consumers in traditional ways that they couldn’t shut off, like outdoor advertising, television advertising, newspaper ads, and radio ads.
Today, your audience’s heads are tilted towards their mobile devices so they’re not looking up. They’re recording or streaming their favorite shows and fast-forwarding through commercials. They’re not reading the newspaper, preferring to get their news online. And radio has morphed into on-demand playlists, Pandora, and subscription programs.
While there are ways to still reach them, creating an experience is the most memorable. Plus because of the large amount of noise, and shortened attention spans, subtle touches don’t stay with your audience in quite the same way a personalized experience would.
Technology now allows us to not only put on an amazing event for our intended group(s) but also personalize it to them making sure it meets their interests. This is largely becoming a matter of marketing peer pressure as more and more brands embrace this kind of marketing, it is quickly becoming an expectation of the audience.
Do’s and Don’ts of a Strong Brand Activation Campaign
The ultimate list of do’s and don’ts would be compiled in reference to your audience as their preferences are the most important in achieving success. But in general these are the things that make a successful campaign versus an expensive dud. I write “expensive” because even if you’re not spending a lot of money on your campaign you will spend a lot of resources on this type of marketing with data analysis and manpower.
- Keep your audience in mind when creating a brand activation campaign.
- Ensure your branding is always present at your event. Don’t leave any doubts as to who is putting the campaign on.
- Get them talking. Invite them to share on social media or provide share-worthy experiences.
- Show others having fun or experiencing your brand.
- Share the stories and content that your campaign spurs.
- Overstay your welcome. While it’s important to always be running some sort of branding or marketing campaign, using the same one for prolonged periods of time will become tiresome. Many of the most effective campaigns are but a flash in the pan. They come out of nowhere, and entertain, educate, and/or inspire, and then they are gone leaving people talking about them. The Ice Bucket Challenge from ALS is a good example of that. Campaigns have a shelf-life. Pop-ups close. Flash mobs end. Otherwise, they lose their effect.
- Assume they know who you are. Insert your branding into every campaign.
- Forget your market research. You want your brand activation to appeal to your target audience.
- Forget to monitor your results and track them towards your goal. Brand activation requires analysis to be effective.
Brand activation is an essential part of marketing and staying on your audience’s mind. It makes an impact but will only be successful when tied into a solid goal with measurable metrics. Don’t let the term fool you. There’s nothing standoffish or unapproachable about brand activation and it can be done with any budget. The hardest part is finding the right thing(s) to appeal to your audience and creating a way to track that you’re doing what you intended.
Additional Resources on Brand Activation and Experiential Marketing
3 Steps to Escape the Trap of Reactive Event Marketing
The Event Planner’s Guide to Experiential Marketing
3 Examples of How to Use Moment Marketing
10 Trends in Experiential Marketing for 2017 [Webinar]