Bootstrapping startups spend endless hours creating extravagant online and social media marketing campaigns to build brand recognition, and for good reason: they are an inexpensive way to spread word of the company to their target audience. Notwithstanding traditional and non-traditional media marketing avenues, entrepreneurs need to expand their approach to include experiential marketing and make the most of their opportunities by engaging customers or possible investors, and building excitement with the public in general.
Experiential marketing is the process of creating an experience for consumers which results in a sensory connection to a brand or company and its products or services and leaves a lasting positive impression. An example of a recent successful experiential campaign involved MOOLAGRAM, a new app that is a community where people and businesses connect on their terms. ICE Factor (the experiential marketing agency where I work) was hired and given the objective of engaging consumers and encouraging them to download, register, and actively use the app, all while developing brand awareness.
The campaign involved Brand Ambassadors and “Moolamen” in red morph suits with QR code boxes strapped to their chests, explaining the app to festival attendees and helping them register. The first activation took place over three days, within which time approximately 640 users were registered and 10,000+ interactions/impressions took place.
The Moolamen served a number of different purposes. First, the bright red morph suits drew the attention of festival attendees and served as an icebreaker for engagement. The outfits also reinforced branding, as the business portrays itself as an exciting and dynamic company, and red is the color of the app. Most importantly, the QR boxes alleviated one of the steps of the download and also provided real-time, measurable data regarding the success of the activation. Almost all festival attendees had experienced the team and brand by the time they left the event.
Various business professionals estimate that the growth of experiential marketing now exceeds digital advertising, and with the development of social media, you have a new monster altogether. Experiential marketing fits the requirements of early-stage companies because the startup does not have to dish out previously budgeted resources for publicity. At the same time, engagement campaigns allow the consumer to experience the brand, burning a significant imprint in their memories.
In the past few years, the emergence of social media and other platforms has facilitated the evolution of the consumer. Now, successful marketing must target the experiential consumer who requires engagement to stimulate various senses to strengthen their connection to the brand. Creating a positive impression upon the consumer through innovation will eventually influence the way they feel about the brand. Below are eight essential tips that startups can incorporate into their experiential campaigns to ensure successful branding:
1. Be “The One”
When planning campaigns with teams attending events or expos, strive to be the one booth that everyone at the event recognizes. The goal is to be the most visible brand at the event. A successful campaign should be judged by how many attendees experience the brand.
Another vital element is ingenuity, which is something that cannot be taught. The concept of advising someone how to plan an effective activation is similar to a company commissioning a viral video, in that the ability to project how a viewer or consumer will perceive the brand is analogous to fortune telling.
Brainstorm ideas with those who best know the brand, what it represents, and the objective of the campaign. It is critical that every idea mentioned at these sessions be explored and investigated, as the most memorable and unforgettable promotions are regularly derived from profound and provocative ideas which will ultimately spur raw emotional reactions within consumers.
3. Appeal to the Five Senses
Dig into your memory bank and think back to kindergarten when learning about sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As mentioned throughout this article, success hinges upon the ability to appeal to the consumers’ senses. The beauty is when a company strikes a nerve with its audience who experiences the brand; the payoff can be tremendous and potentially be that elusive tipping point sought after by so many startups.
4. Make the Campaign Manageable
After a concept has been agreed upon, the process turns to designing the initiative to be both manageable and cost-effective. A startup can have the best idea in the world, but if they cannot figure out how to pull it off (and sometimes repeatedly), all they have is an idea and no campaign. Accordingly, it is necessary to be reasonable when strategizing. Breaking down a promo booth or equipment can be time consuming and extremely taxing when doing it on a weekly basis. With that being said, you must also “GO BIG” or at least fake it, but never lose the illusion that you have put all available resources into the activation.
5. Appear as Organic as Possible
Not in the context of food, but rather ensuring that the consumer’s experience is as natural an impression as possible. A campaign that doesn’t seem organic will resonate less with consumers. As a result, it is imperative to create a measurable campaign while maintaining its memorable qualities and quirkiness, which help connect the consumer with the brand.
6. Be Memorable
There are numerous marketing activations that have effectively had consumers talking for years at minimal cost to the company. For the most part, the largest resource involved was the time invested by the marketers to canvas the targeted area. And the time of startup founders and their employees is one of the few resources that (although valuable) is readily available. This is why experiential marketing is so powerful for startups.
7. Maintain a Level of Professionalism
Energy and enthusiasm are often main components of a successful marketing effort. However, ambassadors must remain professional throughout the campaign even in the most enticing atmospheres. During promotions, there are plenty of opportunities for those involved to veer off track. However, to make the most of the opportunities, everyone must realize that during the event is neither the time nor the place. Celebratory cocktails can wait.
8. Utilize Technology
Based on the new development of the experiential consumer, implementing data collection with the experience is of the utmost importance. Collecting data clarifies customer trends, allowing marketers to tailor campaigns to fully engage and convey an impression upon the end user. Technology can serve as a tool to provide that data.
The ultimate goal of experiential marketing is for the consumer to remember the experience and discuss it with others after the campaign. More importantly, the consumer should recognize the brand and how it applies to their world. Experiential marketing is a perfect fit for startups, given that innovation and ingenuity, along with manpower (rather than disposable capital), are the perfect blend for an impactful campaign.
While the value of digital marketing cannot be undermined and should not be overlooked, startups should consider a more gripping approach. If done right, witnessing a group of brand ambassadors in memorable branded outfits, running through the streets or a festival handing out sample products or tickets to an upcoming event, will have as profound of an impact upon a consumer as any of the most creative digital campaigns.
The term “startup” is interpreted by many as the beginning of a new project, venture, or company. The natural progression after the initial launch of a project includes building momentum toward an ultimate goal. A valuable tool to achieve that goal is growing brand recognition. Given that traditional customers have evolved into experiential consumers, startups must modify their marketing strategies to include this additional and important aspect, as the relationship and associated opportunities between startups and experiential marketing is undeniable.
Guest author John Guidos (@JohnGuidos) is an avid enthusiast of the Chicago startup community. He serves as the Director of Business Development at ICE Factor (@ICEFactorbrand), an Experiential Marketing Agency based in Chicago. John continually strives to connect his passions of marketing, business, and entrepreneurship. Learn more about ICE Factor at www.ICEFactor.com.